World Golf Hall of Fame Profile: Tommy Armour
Tommy Armour was the third of only nine golfers in history to win the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA Championship. The Silver Scot followed Walter Hagen and Jim Barnes, and preceded Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Lee Trevino and Tiger Woods, finishing his career just a Masters victory short of achieving the career Grand Slam. While not achieving the ultimate measure of golfing greatness, Armour did, however, win the Western Open, an event then regarded as a major championship, as well as three Canadian Opens and 24 other events in the United States. The Scotsman was considered a closer who played his best golf on the toughest golf courses. Known as an exceptional striker of the ball, and one of the finest wood-club players of all time, Armour played the game with a conservative philosophy: "It is not solely the capacity to make great shots that makes champions, but the essential quality of making very few bad shots."
In 1927, Armour won the first U.S. Open played at Oakmont by finishing with five pars and a birdie, then defeating Harry Cooper in an 18-hole playoff. His next major championship victory came in the 1930 PGA at Fresh Meadow on Long Island. Armour lost five of the first six holes against Johnny Farrell in the quarterfinal, but came back to win, 2 and 1. His opponent in the final was Sarazen, who was playing on his home course. All square going to the 36th hole, Armour won with a par. The following year, he won the first British Open played at Carnoustie, shooting 71 in the final round. It was considered Armour's finest moment, since the victory was recorded close to his birthplace in Edinburgh.
Bernard Darwin was most impressed with Armour's ability to strike a golf ball. "I do not believe that (J.H.) Taylor or (Harry) Vardon at their best ever gave themselves so many possible putts for three with their iron shots as he does," Darwin once wrote. "His style is the perfection of rhythm and beauty."
In The Story of American Golf, Herbert Warren Wind described Armour's uncanny ability to finish out a tournament: "Whenever the Silver Scot played himself into a contending position, he always seemed to have that extra something that was the difference between barely losing and barely winning. He was singularly unaffected by the pressure of the last stretch. His hands were hot but his head was cool."
After he retired from competitive golf, Armour became one of the most successful instructors and golf club designers in the world. Based at Winged Foot in the summer and the Boca Raton Hotel in the winter, Armour taught both duffers and the world's best golfers, using the same philosophies and techniques that were part of his best-selling book, How to Play Your Best Golf All the Time. Julius Boros called him a genius at teaching you how to play your best golf. Lawson Little claimed that Armour was responsible for whatever success he had in golf.
The great golf writer, Charles Price, described Armour as having "a dash of indifference, a touch of class, (and) a bit of majesty." In Golf's Greatest, Ross Goodner wrote that "Nothing was ever small about Tommy Armour's reputation. At one time or another, he was known as the greatest iron player, the greatest raconteur, the greatest drinker and the greatest and most expensive teacher in golf." Some called him dour and temperamental, yet Bobby Cruickshank, claiming to know Armour for 60 years, said, "He was the kindest, best-hearted fellow you ever saw."
Certainly, Tommy Armour was a complex man and misunderstood, but he seemed to like it that way.