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After winning the Claret Jug in 1931, the Silver Scot was proud to say he mastered golf in the United States. (Getty Images)
After winning the Claret Jug in 1931, the Silver Scot was proud to say he mastered golf in the United States. (Getty Images)

Armour's 1931 victory was turning point in Scottish golf

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Carnoustie hosted its first Open Championship in 1931, a delicate time for golf in Scotland. And, says Brett Avery, the great Tommy Armour's triumph provoked mixed feelings in both the United Kingdom and the United States. 

By Brett Avery, PGATOUR.COM Contributor

It was a delicate time for golf in Scotland, with questions raised about whether the nation would regain its former role the dominant source for golf champions.

So it was understandable that when Tommy Armour won the 1931 Open Championship at Carnoustie that newspaper and magazine stories engaged in a tug-of-war over his heritage.

Armour was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, and won the 1920 French Amateur but moved to the United States and became a citizen a few years later. He soon thereafter became a prominent player on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, claiming the 1927 U.S. Open and 1930 PGA Championship.

He made his way to Carnoustie at a time of much handwringing in the United Kingdom. There had been only one British winner of the Open Championship in the last decade (Arthur Havers in 1923 at Troon). During that stretch Walter Hagen had won four times, Bob Jones three, Jock Hutchison and James Barnes once each.

In fact, it was a new look to the Open and championship golf. Jones had retired the previous year after winning the Grand Slam, leaving the game looking for a leading light.

And Carnoustie was hosting its first Open, the course recently stretched and reconfigured to develop what is now know as one of the most difficult finishes at a championship course. At 6,701 yards it was the longest major championship course in history.

The fervent hopes of the home isles grew in the final days before the Open. Macdonald Smith, born in Carnoustie but now a U.S. citizen, emerged as the pre-tournament favorite.

He roared to the front during qualifying -- in those days 36 holes whittled the entry list to the field for the tournament proper. His 70 at the nearby Panmure Golf Club in Barry and a 71 at Carnoustie set the course record at both places. But Smith could not continue the onrush and wound up tied for fifth in the tournament proper.

Henry Cotton of Britain and Jose Juardo of Argentina shared the 36-hole lead, Cotton off a first-round 72 and Juardo matching Smith's course record from two days earlier. Armour stood a shot back at 148, the first U.S. player in a cluster that put Johnny Farrell, Gene Sarazen and Joe Kirkwood within three of the lead.

Armour went 77-71 in the double-round final day, winning while sitting in the clubhouse when the Argentine drove into the Barry Burn at the 17th en route to a triple-bogey 7, then made bogey at the 18th when his par putt to force a playoff slid past the hole.

Among those crushed by his misfortune was the Prince of Wales, who had been taking lessons from Juardo. But the rich consolation was the victory by Armour, who trailed Juardo by five shots beginning the last 18.

"Carnoustie was my favorite course in my younger days," Armour wrote in a first-person story carried the day of his victory by the North American Newspaper Alliance. "I have always played well here. Although the course has been lengthened and James Braid's many new bunkers have added to its difficulties, I felt entirely at home on the course today.

"When I went out this morning I had a sort of premonition that this would be a red letter day in my life. In the morning round when I found myself in trouble at the long sixth hole, my confidence wavered, but when I saw a long putt at the next hole waver on the brink and then drop in, giving me a birdie three, I felt pepped up."

Despite some ragged putting leading to his morning 77, Armour wrote that in the afternoon he "was often in the happy position of getting my iron shots so near to the pin that holing long putts was not required." He cited a long par-saving putt at the 16th, then played at 235 yards, as bringing the title.

"The Earl of Airlie paid me many undeserved compliments tonight when he presented me with the championship cup," Armour wrote. "He referred to the pleasure it gave to Scotsmen to know that the championship was won by a brother Scot.

"I am a Scotsman, but I should like it to be known that I learned my golf in the United States."

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