The year has ended on a low note with the passing of former Ryder Cup player Tommy Horton aged 76 after a long battle with illness.
The Englishman joined John Jacobs, Bernard Hunt, Christy O’Connor Snr and Christy O’Connor Jnr in that great golf course in the sky and his passing leaves just Neil Coles, Brian Huggett and a couple of others from that fine group of British and Irish golfers who played a seminal role in the birth and early development of the European Tour.
Horton and his colleagues were in their prime during an era when almost all the top players held club jobs which they returned to in between tournaments. They were equally adept at club repairs as splitting fairways and, in winter time at least, earned considerably more from giving lessons than from competing against each other on tour.
Horton spent much of his working life at his beloved Royal Jersey and it was from there that he mounted the sorties which were to see him win eight times on the European Tour and a further 23 times on the Senior Tour. The latter was a record until that haul was surpassed by Carl Mason just a few years ago.
As the Senior Tour’s freelance press officer, I was fortunate to witness several of those victories and to get to know both Horton and his wife, Helen, and I can confirm that he was not just an exceptional golfer but also wonderful company and a gentleman too. Dinner with the couple was always entertaining and his diverse interests were such that the conversation was seldom restricted to golf alone.
Horton served for many years both on the European Tour’s board of directors and the Senior Tour committee and his immense contribution was recognised back in 2012 when he was awarded Honorary Life Membership of the European Tour. Earlier he had also been conferred the MBE in the 2000 New Year’s Honours list.
Like his own first sponsor, Ernest Butten, Horton was particularly committed to helping young professionals find their feet on tour and it was for that reason that he regarded his prime role in setting up the European Tour’s annual training school for rookie members as one of his finest achievements.
One of Horton’s main tasks at the now defunct Apollo Week was to host a short game clinic and I still recall watching in amazement as he hit a series of 3-irons shots out of deep greenside bunkers to within a few inches of the pin. It was a skill he shared with Seve Ballesteros but one which none of his much younger onlookers could emulate no matter how hard we tried.
Horton played during the halcyon days of the Senior Tour during the late 1990s and early 2000s when it was common for 24-25 events to be played each year so it was perhaps fitting that he should pass away on the same day as it was announced that leading travel insurance provider, Staysure, had signed a 10-year deal to become the tour’s first title sponsor and to put its name to the £400,000 Staysure PGA Seniors Champion.
That news would have delighted Horton, who won the PGA Seniors Championship in both 1992 and 1998, and he would be even more pleased to learn there will be 19 events on the enlarged 2018 Staysure Tour schedule, including new tournaments in Russia, Denmark and the Costa Blanca.
That marks an incredible turnaround for a tour which seemed dead on its feet just a couple of years ago and it is something which I hope is repeated when the 2018 Ladies European Tour schedule is announced in the coming weeks.
The ladies tour has also struggled of late and I for one would be delighted if as part of its own resurgence the Staysure Tour and the LET got together to revive the old Praia del Rey European Cup which was contested three times between 1997 and 1999 and resulted in both tours winning once and the other match being halved.
Horton captained the seniors team on all three occasions against LET squads led by Marie-Laure de Lorenzi so it would be entirely appropriate if the two teams played for a new Horton Trophy. That would be a fitting gesture for a man who contributed so much.