High Five

J.H. Taylor

Joe Pinnington celebrates the centenary of J.H. Taylor’s heroic Open championship win at Hoylake in June 1913.

At the height of the English summer of 1913 the Open returned to Hoylake for the fourth time in a space of sixteen years. All the leading players of the game arrived, led by The Great Triumvirate. Of the three previous championships that had been played at Hoylake, neither Harry Vardon, James Braid or J.H. Taylor had won the Open but one of them was runner up to Harold Hilton in 1897, to Alex Heard in 1902 and to Arnaud Massy in 1907. Now must be the time for the record to be corrected. Surely?

(Just to make a point about climate change and all that stuff, the weather in the middle of June was shocking: high winds, rain, just vile - the usual cyclical trends of weather perhaps?)

But I digress. The championship was played over four days with all players having to qualify first.

He realised that 1913 was in all probability his last chance

John H. Taylor qualified by the skin of his teeth, with only a single shot to spare. So he made it to the championship itself over two days and then had to play four more rounds of golf. In his splendid book, Golf: My Life’s Work, J.H. Taylor gives a vivid insight into the events of that Championship and states naturally that only his first Open win at Sandwich in 1894 ranked higher. He thought his time had come and gone on the Cheshire links. This was a disappointment to him as, ever since his caddie days at Westward Ho!, he had looked upon Hoylake as a second home. In those early days of English golf Hoylake was as good as a next door neighbour and, what’s more, it was the home of his other great hero, Johnnie Ball. The thought of never winning a championship here disturbed him a great deal and he realised that 1913 was, in all probability, his last chance.

So before the Championship proper he had the fright of his life as he only qualified with that single stroke to spare. “Most of the competitors had finished the qualifying two rounds and playing the thirty sixth-hole I remember asking George Duncan what the qualifying score was, and it came as a shock that a five was necessary at the last hole to get in,” he recalled. “The last hole is not a difficult four, a driver and a pitch over the cross bunker (why have these wonderful bunkers gone out of fashion?). Most probably it was nerves but I failed to make proper contact and the ball ended in the bunker. I dug it into some rough stuff at the back, scuffled it out to within a couple of yards. As I faced up to it I remember saying to myself, “Well, Taylor my lad, there’s only one place for this and that is the bottom of the hole and that’s where it went after a wobble on the rim.”

The 1913 Open Championship not only provided J.H. Taylor with his fifth and last win, but also gave him the opportunity to play one of his finest rounds of golf. His third round of 77 in a gale was one of the most wonderful demonstrations of dogged and determined play ever seen at Hoylake.

J.H. recalls that, as he approached the first tee, dear Old Jack Morris was on faithful duty like a Roman sentry and wished him well. He stopped and watched Mike Moran, who was only a couple of shots behind, struggle to even stand up and swing the club in the wind. It seems extraordinary that such a fine player (all be it only about nine stone in weight) would take five shots before he rounded the out of bounds; but he did and word came that he had taken a 10 and his chances were scuppered. In his memoirs J.H. Taylor recalls how sad he was to see such a fine player struggling to such an extent, and added that he was even sadder to hear Moran had been killed only two years later fighting as a trooper in the Irish Horse.

Taylor also struggled at the first and he took two full wooden shot to reach the corner.

Fortunately the wind was blowing off the out of bounds copse so he could hug closely. Another full Brassie shot failed to reach the green but he took only two more to finish with a creditable 5. Then the rain got up but he continued to score reasonably, even though drenched. A gentleman who was following him helped considerably by providing numerous towels that Taylor suspected had been raided from the lavatories. These towels were kept under his waterproofs and withdrawn one by one so that Taylor could dry his hand between each shot.

At the Briars or 6th hole there was a mighty carry even in a slight breeze, and on this day the wind was blowing something akin to a hurricane. J.H. made his par by risking the bushes, playing a safe approach and ending with a well planned 5. From then to the end of the round he played solid golf that no one could match and believed it was the finest round he ever played and was 4 shots clear with just one round to go.

The ball seemed to make a hole in the wind as it bored its way along

In the afternoon the wind had died a little and the rain ceased. He led a procession and recalled the memorable shot again at the Briars. He took a bolder line for his drive and the second he ripped home with a driving mashie which nearly knocked the pin out and left the ball a foot beyond the hole. Bernard Darwin described the shot as follows: “The ball seemed to make a hole in the wind as it bored its way along.” It was a shot of which Taylor would be forever proud.

The procession ended in victory and the win was one of Taylor’s greatest triumphs. To win by 8 shots a championship that included Vardon, Braid and Ray is a feat that shall be remembered as long as golf is played and recalled. J.H. himself never forgot that morning of the last day when he battled with and triumphed over the “Hoylake wind”.

John H. Taylor returned to Hoylake for the 1924 Open and after 36 holes was in contention, but a bout of lumbago finished his chances on the last day and he finished in fifth place, pretty good for a man of fifty three. And it was during this championship that he registered the course record of 70.

In recent years the Royal Liverpool Golf Club has acquired some notable pieces of golf memorabilia, including the splendid J.H. Taylor Baffy that was presented to the Club by the soon to be disbanded Tanganyika G.C. The Baffy was the Club’s President’s Prize and was one of the clubs J.H. used when playing in the 1924 Open.

Taylor must have enjoyed the air in the North West of England as he had an outstanding Championship at Royal Lytham and St Annes’ first Open in 1926. Furthermore, he was the architect that Royal Birkdale engaged to transform the course in 1934. Previously the course was played over the sand dunes but it was Taylor’s idea to play through the valleys of the dunes that we see today.

What a life. What a legacy. What a man.

Bernard Darwin believed that J.H. would have been a success in any walk of life he chose. He was a moving spirit in the formation of the Professional Golfers Association in 1901 and instrumental in the creation of two public courses in Richmond Park. For many years he was the acknowledged head of his profession and it was due to him that professional golf climbed out of its unsatisfactory condition.

He was born in the vicinity of Royal North Devon Golf Club and also died there, aged 92.

Few men in the history of golf have done more across the whole spectrum of the game and few men deserve greater acknowledgement and praise than John Henry Taylor.

What a life. What a legacy. What a man.

You may like to know?

I received a telephone call from out of the blue late in 2003 from a gentleman called Denis Quinn from the old Tanganyika Golf Society. Denis was its secretary. He told me that the club was about to be disbanded and asked if Hoylake would be interested in receiving the President’s Prize, the J.H. Taylor Baffy (an old lofted wooden club).

Tanganyika was a land long ago in east Africa within the British Empire named after the Lake Tanganyika. In 1964 it merged with Zanzibar to form the new country of Tanzania.

The Baffy, I was assured, was used by J.H. Taylor when, at the age of 53, he recorded the course record at Hoylake in the 1924 Open. In all probability he could have been using the same club in 1913. True, it was 11 years previously but, taking the European war of 4 years into consideration and the lack of development in club manufacturing during this period, it is certainly possible. And I like to think it is certain! The club is on display in the Royal Liverpool Club House.

jht_002.jpg J.H. Taylor in full swing

jht_003.jpg Arnaud Massy photographed a few years earlier