James Edgar was born on this day in 1884, in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. He won the French Open in 1914. He coached the young player Tommy Armour, who became a prominent professional after 1920; Armour later praised Edgar as having helped him the most. The legendary Harry Vardon stated that Edgar was on his way to becoming a player who could surpass everyone.
Edgar emigrated to the United States in April 1919, following World War I. He was the head professional at Druid Hills Golf Club in Atlanta. Edgar played frequently with the young Bobby Jones at the Atlanta Athletic Club (the site of today’s East Lake Golf Club) from 1919-1921. He mentored and coached Jones during this period as well. Jones developed into one of the dominant golfers of the 1920s.
Edgar won the Canadian Open in 1919 at the Hamilton Golf and Country Club by a record 16 strokes (a winning margin which still stands for a PGA Tour event), with Jones second, and came back the next year to win that title again. He lost the 1920 PGA Championship, one of golf’s majors, in a match play final to Jock Hutchison. During 1919-20, Edgar was among the top players in the world.
Edgar wrote a golf book entitled The Gate to Golf, based on his discoveries made in England. Edgar had an ailing hip which he could not turn freely. Through experimentation, he found that a restricted hip turn still allowed a repeatable swing with excellent power and control. This book proved to have significant impact on golf instruction, right up to the present time.
Edgar’s death was mysterious. He was found late at night on an Atlanta street, bleeding heavily from a deep wound in his leg, and died in the street before any trained help could arrive. The case was turned over to police, but never solved. He left a wife and two children in England. In an article published in Sports Illustrated in April 2010, writer Steve Eubanks wrote that Edgar was having an affair with a married Atlanta woman, and that this likely played a central role in Edgar’s death. Eubanks’ article was an excerpt from his book To Win and Die in Dixie, a biography of Edgar published later that year.