Armour, Thomas Dickson ("Tommy")

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ARMOUR, Thomas Dickson ("Tommy")

(b. 24 September 1895 in Edinburgh, Scotland; d. 11 September 1968 in Larchmont, New York), major championship golfer who was known as the "Silver Scot" and was one of the game's most respected and most quoted teachers and authors.

Armour was the son of a confectioner who had a consuming interest in golf (his parents' names are unknown). He spent much of his youth in the company of his older brother, an accomplished golfer who was a Scottish Open champion. The two became friends with Bobby Cruickshank, from whom Armour learned to use long irons and woods, later a defining characteristic of his game.

It is remarkable that Armour's career ever began. He enlisted in the British Army in 1914 and was a machine gunner with the Black Watch Highland Regiment in World War I. He lost the use of his left eye in a gas attack at the Battle of Ypres, in Belgium. In another battle, his tank was hit by a shell. The explosion injured Armour's head and shattered his left arm. As a result, metal plates were inserted in his head and arm.

Armour had been a student at Edinburgh University before the war, but decided to concentrate on golf. He married Consuelo Carrera in 1919; they had two children. Supported by his wife's wealth and practicing against several of Britain's top professionals, Armour began his amateur career in 1919, placing second in the Irish Amateur Open and winning the Dispatch Trophy. In 1920 he won four tournaments, including the Scottish and French Opens, and won his match in a pre–Walker Cup international tournament.

The popularity of golf in the United States convinced Armour to emigrate in 1921. He became an American citizen in 1922 and won three minor tournaments that year. In 1924, Armour represented the United States in a match against Britain, the only golfer to have competed on national teams from both countries.

Armour turned professional in 1924. He had a flair for strong finishes. His five pars and a birdie on the last six holes of the 1927 U.S. Open put him in a playoff with "Light-Horse" Harry Cooper. In the playoff Armour shot seventy-six to Cooper's seventy-nine. Armour won five other tournaments in 1927, including the Canadian Open, his first of three titles in that event. In 1928 he won four more titles, and in 1929 set a 72-hole record of 273 to win the Western Open.

An affinity for aphorisms and carefully delivered critiques—along with his glibness—helped put Armour in demand as a speaker in the years between world wars. Armour was on a speaking tour in 1929 when he met Estelle Andrews. Later that year Armour divorced his first wife, married Andrews, and adopted her son.

In the 1930 PGA Championship at Fresh Meadows on Long Island, New York, Armour began the quarterfinal by losing five of the first six holes to Johnny Farrell. Armour beat Farrell, won his semifinal match, and faced Gene Sarazen in the final. On Sarazen's home course on the thirty-sixth and final hole, Armour won with a par.

By 1931 Armour had become only the third player to have won three major tournaments in his career: the 1927 U.S. Open at Oakmont, New York; the 1930 Professional Golfers Association (PGA) championships at Fresh Meadows on Long Island; and the 1931 British Open at Carnoustie, Scotland. Armour's final-round score of seventy-one at Carnoustie gave him the victory. Among his tournament appearances between 1931 and 1935 were two victories in the Miami Open, and a victory in the Canadian Open in 1927. He retired from golf in 1935, having won fourteen PGA tour tournaments.

Armour was in great demand as a teacher. Bobby Jones came to him for help in 1926; later that year Jones won both the U.S. Open and the British Open. Armour's students included Julius Boros, Lawson Little, Babe Didrikson Zaharias—and Richard Nixon. Armour charged $50 a lesson, a steep fee at the time, but there was always a line waiting. A session would begin with Armour watching the player hit twenty balls, then delivering a concise, brutal assessment. After that came another twenty balls and more of Armour's honesty. Armour also wrote several instructional books about golf: How to Play Your Best Golf All the Time (1953), which made the New York Times best-seller list and remained a steady seller for years; A Round of Golf with Tommy Armour (1959); and Tommy Armour ' s ABC ' s of Golf (1967).

Woods and long irons were the strength of Armour's game. His long waggle before a shot grew out of necessity—an adjustment to his war wounds. His power and finesse began with a pair of hands that Grantland Rice, the prominent sportswriter of the 1920s and 1930s, described as "two stalks of bananas." In How to Play Your Best Golf All the Time Armour wrote, "The basic factor in all good golf is the grip. Get it right, and all other progress follows."

Armour died in 1968 in Larchmont, New York. He has a posthumous connection to the golf club manufacturing company that bears his name. The Burke-Victor golf company, whose clubs Armour once endorsed, changed its name in 1985 to Tommy Armour Golf Company.

Armour's legend extends well beyond his twelve years as a professional golfer. His postcompetitive career was a blend of his own competitive enthusiasm and his passion for improving the game of golf. Ross Goodner wrote, "Nothing was 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 most expensive teacher in golf."

For information about Armour's career, see Ross Goodner, Golf's Greatest (1978); George Peper, Golf in America: The First One Hundred Years (1988); and Herbert Warren Wind, The Story of American Golf (1948). Obituaries are in the New York Times (14 Sept. 1968), Time (20 Sept. 1968), and Newsweek (23 Sept. 1968).

Ted Brock