He won’t get much of a mention in the build-up to Oakmont but Willie Anderson is the only golfer to win the US Open three years on the trot.
He also shares the record number of wins (four) with none other than Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus. Some company.
The Scot, a native of North Berwick, learned the game as a caddy on the West Links from the age of 11. School wasn’t a priority for a teenage Anderson and, at one point, he was suspended for two weeks by the caddymaster after missing school in favour of working on the links.
When Anderson left school he worked as an apprentice club maker under Alex Aitken in Gullane. Horace Hutchinson, the Amateur champion at St Andrews Links and Royal Liverpool, considered the teenager to be one of the best in Scotland.
Then, at the age of just 16, his father Thomas, who was the head greenkeeper at North Berwick, emigrated to the United States with him and brother Tom. Their new home was a country where he would become very well known before too long. On arrival, Willie took up the professional’s post at Misquamicut on Rhode Island.
A year later, in just the third US Open, he finished second behind Joe Lloyd. The Englishman, who grew up at Hoylake, eagled the last for a 79, a 162 aggreagate and a one-shot victory. No golfer has since won the Open with an eagle on the final hole.
And so Anderson’s love affair with the US Open had begun. By the end of his career and 14 appearances, he never finished worse than 15th, with 11 top 10s including those four victories.
The first, in 1901, came via a play-off with his countryman Alex Smith at Myopia Hunt in Massachusetts. The championship, now played over four rounds, would need a fifth with Anderson (85) beating Smith by a shot.
The winner’s purse was £200, as it was for all four triumphs. Smith would also finish second to Anderson in his fourth victory, again at Myopia Hunt, and he commented that ‘most likely, had he lived longer, Willie would have set a record for Open championships that would never be beaten.’
In between seeing off Smith he almost threw away a six-shot lead at Baltusrol – somewhere he would later become professional, one of 10 clubs he would work at – before beating another Scot, Davie Brown, a slater all the way from Musselburgh.
The year after, in 1904, he produced his most comfortable success by fi ve shots from Gilbert Nicholls. On completing the hat-trick against Smith he received a gold medal and the trophy was given to his club. It is worth noting that Anderson also won the Western Open, considered a Major at the time, four times.
The World Golf Hall of Fame describes him as ‘a sturdy man with muscular shoulders, brawny forearms and exceptionally large hands’. It adds that ‘he played with a flat, full-sweeping action that was characteristic of the Scots and known as the ‘St Andrews swing’.
Deadly accurate, he gave nothing away with his body language. Anderson died at the age of just 31 from epilepsy and is buried in Philadelphia.