He swung with a divine fury and putted like a demon. Without him, there would not have been a Great Triumverate. But James Braid’s contributions to golf are not just based on his five Open Championship victories and his place in history next to Harry Vardon and J.H. Taylor.
He was a man of great character, who was a friend of princes, peers and commoners. He also left behind one of the world’s great golf courses and was a pioneer in elevating the status of professional golfers by helping to form the British PGA.
As a golfer, Braid was considered to be a late bloomer. He did not win his first Open Championship until Vardon and Taylor had already won three each. But once Braid won his first in 1901, there was no stopping him: He captured the Open again in 1905, 1906, 1908 and 1910, thus becoming the first man to raise the old claret jug five times.
"Keep on hitting it straight until the wee ball goes in the hole."
The difference between Braid’s winning and just finishing among the contenders at The Open was an aluminum-headed putter made by Mills of Sunderland that came into his possession after the 1900 Open at St. Andrews. He had finished sixth in 1896, second in 1897, fifth in 1899 and third in 1900. Once the putts began to fall, Braid began to rise ahead of Vardon and Taylor. In fact, it was Taylor who said, “I have yet to meet the player who could hole the 10-yard putts with greater regularity” than Braid.
When Braid won, he won by large margins. At Muirfield in 1901, he began with a drive out of bounds at the first hole, but from there on he played superb golf to defeat Vardon by three strokes and Taylor by four. At St. Andrews in 1905, he sailed to a five-stroke victory over Taylor and again at Muirfield in 1906, he triumphed by four strokes over Taylor.
His greatest performance came at Prestwick in 1908 when he shot the Open record of 291 to win by eight strokes over Tom Ball. That record stood until Bob Jones broke it by six strokes at St. Andrews in 1927. Braid finished runner-up to Taylor in 1909, but came back the next year at St. Andrews to win his fourth Open in six years, this time by four strokes over Alexander Herd.
James Braid’s worst finish in The Open Championship from 1901-1910 was fifth.
In 1904, he was also the first player in an Open to break 70, shooting 69 in the third round at Royal St. George’s. Born in Fife, Scotland, in 1870, Braid grew up in humble circumstances. His father worked behind a plow in the farming town about 15 miles south of St. Andrews called Earlsferry, and did not play golf or promote his son’s interest in the sport. Braid left school at 13 to become an apprentice joiner, sneaking in rounds of golf on his travels.
Three years later he was a scratch player, and at 23 he moved to London and became a clubmaker, working at the Army and Navy Stores for eight pence an hour. His golf came after work and on Sunday. Eight years later, he began his remarkable string of Open Championship victories. In his later years, Braid remained competitive. After World War I, he was still good enough to play in the first Britain vs. America matches, and in 1927, at the age of 57, fought his way into the final of the British Match Play Championship.
At that point in his life, Braid was playing most of his golf at Walton Heath, where he served as head professional for 45 years. He also enjoyed a successful career as a golf course architect, designing such lasting treasures as Carnoustie and the King’s and Queen’s courses at Gleneagles. James Braid died in London in 1950.