Harry Vardon was born on this day in 1870. A professional golfer and member of the fabled Great Triumvirate of the sport in his day, along with John Henry Taylor and James Braid. He won The Open Championship a record six times and also won the US Open.
As a child growing up on the island of Jersey, he did not play much golf, but showed natural talent for the sport as a young caddie. Harry and his brother Tom Vardon, younger by two years and also interested in golf, were very close. Their golf development was held back by poor family circumstances; and their father was not supportive of his sons’ golf interest. Tom actually made the move to England first to pursue a golf career. Harry followed Tom to England in the spring of 1890, taking a job as greenkeeper for a club in Yorkshire.
Harry was the better player of the two brothers. By his early 20s, Harry developed a demanding practice program, the most ambitious seen to that time. Harry was the first professional golfer to play in knickerbockers – discarding the “proper” dress of an Englishman in an uncomfortable shirt and tie with a buttoned jacket. Within a few years he became golf’s first superstar since the days of Young Tom Morris.
In 1896, Vardon won the first of his record six Open Championships (a record that still stands today). In 1900, he became golf’s first international celebrity when he toured the United States, playing in more than 80 matches and capping it off with a victory in the US Open. He was the joint runner-up of the 1913 US Open, an event portrayed in the film The Greatest Game Ever Played. At the age of 50, Vardon was the runner-up at the 1920 US Open.
During his career, Vardon won 62 golf tournaments, including one run of 14 in a row, a record to this day. He won the German Open in 1911 and the British PGA Matchplay Championship in 1912. He popularised the grip that bears his name, one still used by over 90 percent of golfers. In his later years, he became a golf course architect, designing several courses in Britain, Llandrindod Wells Golf Club, Woodhall Spa and Radcliffe-on-Trent being notable examples. Following a bout with tuberculosis, he struggled with health problems for years, but turned to coaching and writing golf instruction and inspirational books.
During his peak years, Vardon was known for his exceptional accuracy and control with all clubs, the greatest ever seen to that stage. However, after his comeback to the game following a prolonged absence while recovering from tuberculosis, he experienced serious problems with his short-range putting as a result of nerve damage to his right hand, and several commentators claim that he could have added to his list of majors had this disability not afflicted him.
Vardon died in 1937 in Totteridge, Hertfordshire, England. After his death, the PGA of America created the Vardon Trophy. It is awarded annually to the player on the PGA Tour with the year’s lowest adjusted scoring average.