Bio of British Open Champ Willie Auchterlonie

portrait of golfer Willie Auchterlonie
Willie Auchterlonie was a British Open champion in the 19th century, and to the present time only one golfer younger than him has won the Open. But he had one of the briefer competitive resum├ęs among all Open champions. A native St. Andrean, he had a long association with the R&A, and the clubmaking shop he long ran still exists today.

Full name: William Penn Auchterlonie

Date of birth: August 7, 1872

Place of birth: St. Andrews, Scotland

Date and place of death: February 27, 1963 in St. Andrews, Scotland

His British Open Win

Willie Auchterlonie won the 1893 British Open carrying clubs he had made himself. He carried a 7-club set, but he actually used only five of the clubs during the Open.

He was in second place, three strokes behind Open debutante J.H. Taylor (future five-time champ) after a 78 in Round 1. But an 81 in Round 2 — the first day took place in a heavy rain — was good enough to produce a three-stroke lead at the halfway point.

Auchterlonie's lead was down to one after the third round. But after a final-round 82, he had a two-stroke victory over amateur Johnny Laidlay in second place.

Auchterlonie was 21 years and 22 days old, and that makes him the second-youngest winner of the British Open. Only Young Tom Morris won at a younger age.

For more than a century, Auchterlone had another distinction: He was the last Scottish-born golfer to win the Open Championship while still resident in Scotland. Not until Paul Lawrie won the 1999 Open did Auchterlonie give up that title.

More About Willie Auchterlonie

When Willie Auchterlonie died at age 90 in 1963, the headline in the Glasgow Herald newspaper called him "the grand old man of golf."

Just how grand? In 1935 he was named the honorary professional to the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. Only Old Tom Morris and Andrew Kirkaldy held that title prior to Auchterlonie. And Willie had the title for 25 years.

After his death, his son Laurie took over the position. Laurie was sometimes referred to as Laurie Auchterlonie Jr. to distinguish him from his namesake, Willie's brother Laurie. The elder Laurie Auchterlonie, nine years after Willie's Open Championship victory, won the 1902 U.S. Open, making them the second pair of brothers to win two different professional majors. Fred Herd (1898 U.S. Open) and Sandy Herd (1902 British Open) beat them by a few months.

Another brother, David Auchterlonie, was a partner in a St. Andrews club-making and -selling shop. Somewhere in the range of 1894-1896, after David's original partner quit, Willie joined as partner. Other brothers eventually worked for the company, too, and the Auchterlonies' golf shop still exists in St. Andrews today, very close to the 18th green of The Old Course.

Willie was "first and foremost a clubmaker," the R&A has written. He began making golf clubs as a kid, and in his youth Willie apprenticed legendary clubmaker Robert Forgan at his company R. Forgan & Sons.

He was 16 years old when he first played in the Open in 1888, tying for 18th place. Auchterlonie tied for eighth in the 1891 British Open. Then he won in 1893, which was the first time he played in an Open outside of St. Andrews. He had only one other Top 10 finish in the Open after that, fifth place in 1900.

The Glasgow Herald obituary noted that Auchterlonie "had a year or two of competitive play up and down the country in the early and mid-(1890s), but thereafter he never left St. Andrews, spending all his energies on the establishment of the club-making business now carried on by his son Laurie."

It's not entirely true that Auchterlonie "never left St. Andrews" after the mid-1890s, because he did play in several Opens not held in his hometown. But the larger point stands, that he mostly turned away from competitive golfing in favor of the Auchterlonie shop in St. Andrews. His final appearance in the Open was in 1910.

Auchterlonie was also a teacher of golf, and had a good reputation as an instructor. In the first years of the 1900s he spent some time as a teaching professional at North Berwick.

He was made an honorary member of the R&A in 1950. Born in 1872, Auchterlonie lived long enough to see, first-hand, the 100th anniversary Open Championship in 1960. Two years later, on his 90th birthday, Auchterlonie was presented a gold salver by all the living past captains of the R&A, etched with all their signatures.

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