Wee Willie!

August 30, 2018

Chances are you have never heard of Willie or his brother Mungo, but they both have one thing in common: They were both world class golfers. Mungo is the lesser known of the two because he went to sea for twenty years before trying golf again in his mid-thirties. Willie on the other hand started his career like many future hall of famers by being a caddie and later went into the club- and ball-making business. His real knack for making money was in challenge matches, but more on that later.

The Rest of the Golf Story

Willie Park, Sr. was born in Wallyford, Scotland on June 30, 1833 and grew up loving the game of golf. His family was not rich, but as a caddie Willie found ways to play on his local golf course.

Since golf clubs and balls were expensive, he made his own driver out of a curved stick of wood (similar to a hockey stick) and hit long, straight drives and then putted with the same club.

He was known as a brilliant putter inside 12 feet to the cup. He was a tall slender man with a dark beard, but no mustache. He often dressed in the attire of the day to play golf, which was a dark suit coat, tie, vest and light colored pants.

Willie also wore a short-brimmed, wool cap, which is still the style in Scottish daily life.

Park knew he was a good player, but let his playing style do all the talking on the links. He made a good living by challenging other golfers to a 100 pound (approx. $150.00 in today’s money) matches on a regular basis.

He often lured golfers into the challenge by playing with one arm or driving the ball while standing on one foot. In one match, which he won, he even played the ball off the tee by using the face of his watch as the tee (reportedly, the watch was not scratched).

In 1860, Park became a legend for the ages when he won the first British Open. The field included eight other golfers who played 36 holes at Prestwick Golf Club.

In those days, the golfers played three rounds of twelve holes with a gutta percha ball, which could only travel a maximum distance of 180 yards. Willie shot a 174, beating Old Tom Morris by two strokes.

In the first eight British Open tournaments, Willie won four times (1860, ‘63, ‘66, and ‘75) finished twice in second place and two times in fourth. Overall from 1860 to 1886, he finished sixteen times in the top ten.

Now if you have forgotten about his brother Mungo, I will bring you up to date.

Mungo also loved the sport of golf, but as a young lad he went to sea to try and make his fortune.

In 1870, after 20 years of hard work, he returned to his home town of Mussleburgh, Scotland and resumed the game of golf. Just like a true Scotsman, Mungo worked hard at his game and won the 1874 British Open with a thirty-six hole total of 139.

He played in the Open tournament until 1886 with four top-ten finishes. He later became a teacher and worked making clubs and golf balls throughout the rest of his life.

But wait a minute … there is still another Park to mention. Willie Park, Jr., son of Willie Park, Sr., was a chip off the old block.

Following in his uncle and dad’s footsteps, Willie, Jr. won the British Open in 1887 and 1889 to become the only father/son/uncle combo to win the tournament to date.

19th Hole Trivia:
  • Willie Park, Sr. was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2005.
  • Willie Park, Jr. was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2013.
  • Mungo Park is a long shot to ever make the World Golf Hall of Fame.
  • From 1860 to 1864, the Nicklaus/Palmer players of that era were Willie Park, Sr. and Old Tom Morris Sr. Willie won the British Open twice and Old Tom won three times.
  • And finally, here’s something the Scots never had to worry about. Before the USGA tests new golf balls for regulation play, the balls are warmed to 72 degrees for seventy-two hours.

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