Horace Rawlins: The US Open trailblazer

The Scoop

We look back on the life of the Isle of Wight assistant who won the very first US Open. And how...

They will play for $12 million at Erin Hills. It was a little different when the US Open journey began in 1895.

The inaugural American professional championship was an afterthought – a sideshow bolted on to the end of the first US Amateur.

It was an inauspicious start for a tournament which now forms one of the four majors and it began with 10 professionals and an amateur lining up at the Newport Country Club in Rhode Island.

Among their number was the host club’s assistant professional – 21-year-old Horace Rawlins.

US Open

Born on the Isle of Wight, Rawlins pitched up on America’s East Coast to join Willie Davis where he was told to “teach golf, tend greens and stay out of the way”. But his journey began at Mid-Herts, who played a crucial role in his development.

Having caddied at Royal Isle of Wight, Brian Gregory, Mid-Herts’ unofficial historian, reveals that the club’s rst minute book, on February 11, 1893, notes that: “Mr Horace Rawlins had been engaged as Groundsman at a salary of 17 shillings a week”.

The St Albans club had been established a year earlier and Rawlins, still a teenager, was part groundsman/part club pro. His association there was relatively brief and after two years he moved to Raynes Park in London.

His brother Harry had already taken the ‘steamer’ and, after a short stay at Crowborough Beacon, Rawlins was on the way to join him.

This is how he ended up at Newport. The course was a nine-holer – far from uncommon in the late 19th century – and the championship was played over four rounds in October 1895.

Willie Dunn, designer of the timeless Shinnecock Hills, was the favourite and part of a three-way tie at the top after the first two rounds. Rawlins, who began with efforts of 45 and 46, was two adrift but it was on the second two loops where he pulled off his grand surprise. Successive 41s were enough to edge him two shots clear of Dunn and shock the game.

“Rawlins is a mere lad, who was scarcely considered as a probable winner,” scoffed the Washington Evening Star.

He won $200 for his efforts – an amount that would be around $5,000 today – but gave a quarter of it back for the cost of the winner’s gold medal.

There were plenty who dismissed Rawlins as a flash in the pan but he finished runner-up the following year at Shinnecock Hills. Rawlins had spells at a series of American clubs but, having married in England in 1911, he ended his career after his mother died – taking on the family drapery business.

His ambitions ended but the memory of his victory lives on. Mid-Herts celebrate their 125th anniversary this year and a statute, by sculptor Ben Twiston-Davies, will be placed in front of the clubhouse – forever remembering the trailblazer who kick started the American professional game.

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