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William Kelly

Golf History

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The Legend of Johnny McDermott – America's Forgotten Golf Hero – By William Kelly

http://kellysgolfhistory.blogspot.com/

The legend of Johnny McDermott cannot be exaggerated. He espoused the spirit of America as the spunky, brash, young teenager who finally beat the Europeans at their own game.

Americans might have won the Revolution, but they couldn't beat the British and Scotts at golf until McDermott came along. He was the first American, and at nineteen, still the youngest to win the U.S. Open, and he did it twice, back-to-back in 1911 and 1912.

John J. McDermott first appeared on the national scene at the U.S. Open in 1910 when he found himself in a three way playoff with brothers McDonald and Alex Smith, who hailed from Carnoustie, Scotland. Alex won that match, but the eighteen year old McDermott, while losing the game to a thirty eight year old professional, caught the world's attention by beating Mac Smith by two.

The son of a Philadelphia mailman, McDermott was a good student but dropped out of West Philadelphia high school to work as a caddy at Aronomick Country Club, where he was first introduced to the game. After working at the Merchantville Field Club in Camden County, New Jersey, and making a name for himself in tournament play, also winning the 1910 Philadelphia Open, McDermott took the golf professional position at the prestigious Atlantic City Country Club in Northfield.

"McDermott was a quite, mannerly, young man," says Robert Sommers ( in The U.S. Open: Golf's Ultimate Challenge, Athenaeum, N.Y. 1987), "he didn't drink or smoke, and he rarely missed Sunday mass."

McDermott did have a passion for golf. "Johnny drove himself," wrote Sommes. "He began the day's practice at dawn, often at five o'clock, when he opened the shop. After closing late in the afternoon he played until dark, then practiced putting by lamp light. McDermott's mashie became the stuff of legend. He practiced by hitting shots at a large tarpaulin spread out on the ground about 150 yards away, reducing the target gradually to spread out newspapers."

"The more he practiced the better and more confident he became. Early in 1911 he challenged Philadelphia professionals to eighteen hole matches for $1,000 each. After he won three straight, the competition dried up. By then McDermott was definitely ready for bigger things."

After winning the Philadelphia Open (which he did three times), and tying the Smith's for the Open championship, McDermott arrived at the 1911 U.S. Open in Chicago to find himself up against Alex Ross (from Dornoch, Scotland), George Simpson and Mike Brady. After missing an opportunity to take the championship outright, he faltered into a three way playoff with Simpson and Brady.

"Johnny normally played a Rawlings Black Circle ball," wrote Sommers, "but when a manufacturer offered a $300 bonus if the playoff winner used a brand called the Colonial, he switched, then hit two of them out of bounds from the first tee...Neither Brady nor Simpson was a match for McDermott this day though." He beat Brady by two and Simpson by six to become the first American born champion, and at nineteen, the youngest as well.

"He had ended the domination of immigrant British golfers," wrote Sommers, "and was leading a wave of young homebreds…who were to revolutionize the way the game was played….McDermott's victory had not only shown that American born golfers could outplay the best of the imports, it also quickened interest in the Open."

The following year the 1912 Open moved to Buffalo, New York, where McDermott trailed Brady and Alex Smith by two strokes after two rounds. "Brady had a wretched start in the afternoon," wrote Sommers, "and McDermott continued to attack…At the 155-yard sixteenth, McDermott hit a tee shot that covered the flagstick all the way and came down only a few yards from the hole. Using the style of putting that had developed in the United States – heels together, erect stance, pendulum stroke – McDermott rolled the ball dead into the heart of the hole for a birdie 2."

That gave him a three stroke lead with two holes to play, permitting him to go on to take the round with a 71, and win the championship with a 294.

"Never had American golfers seen such sensational scoring…McDermott was clearly the better golfer. He had now won the Open twice before he had reached the age of twenty-one, and he was being compared to Willie Anderson. There seemed to be no limit to what he might accomplish. He was doing well himself financially: Clubs were marketed under his name, he endorsed balls, played exhibition matches, gave lessons, and invested his money. The world was a lovely place."

But 1913 was an unlucky year for McDermott. With Brady and McNamara, McDermott traveled to Holyoke in England for the British Open. The year before he had arrived at Muirfield as the brash American champion and announced that he came to win, an attitude that ruffled the feathers of the stuffy English. He did well in practice, but then failed to qualify and was gone before the game began.

"Some of McDermott's problems," Sommers wrote, "had been caused by his method of striking the ball. Americans by then had developed their own type of golf swing, a long, loose, flowing motion somewhat like the old St. Andrews swing of the feather ball period., but with more body turn. Because it emphasized a flattish motion, it often caused a hook, which Johnny couldn't control at Muirfield. The British swing, on the other hand, was shorter, with a restricted follow through that made more use of the arms and wrists. Johnny's swing was well under control at Hoylake." He finished fifth overall, the best an American had ever done.

"Just as life was looking ever brighter, though, Johnny McDermott's good times were ending. When he arrived home, he was shaken to learn he had lost heavily in some stock transactions. He kept the news from his family – he was a bachelor and lived with his sisters and their parents, but he brooded so much they knew something was wrong. Other problems deepened his depression."

The 1913 Open was held at the same time as the great British golfer Harry Vardon was on one of his occasional tours of the states, this time accompanied by Ted Ray, the winner of the 1912 British Open. Varden and Ray entered a tournament at Shawnee-on-the-Delaware, which attracted nearly the same field as the U.S. Open. McDermott shot eight strokes better than runner-up Alex Smith, and thirteen strokes better than Vardon, one of the greatest British players of all time. Ray was a stroke behind Vardon."

"McDermott was boosted on a chair at the presentation ceremony and the crowd called for a speech…Cocky to the point of arrogance," wrote Sommers, "McDermott was quoted as saying, 'We hope our foreign visitors had a good time, but we don't think they did, and we are sure they won't win the National Open.'"

"The crowd was stunned," Sommers noted. "The Englishmen's faces flushed, but they said nothing. Trying to smooth things over, their friends only added to the embarrassment. American players seemed more indignant than the foreign born pros; they felt the remarks were particularly ungracious coming from McDermott, since the British had received him so cordially on his two visits."

"American professionals can be sure of a cool reception abroad for years to come," one of them remarked, but McDermott had not been aware that he had said anything wrong. When he was told, he tried to apologize. "The older men were understanding. Realizing that Johnny was young and flushed with victory, they accepted the apology. Others were not so forgiving." The USGA sent McDermott a letter regarding his "extreme discourtesy" and threatened to reject his entry in the U.S. Open, even though he was the two time defending champion.

"Even though his entry was accepted," says Sommers, "he was depressed when he went to Boston for the championship, which was out of character for him, but he was such a great player he missed tying for first place by only four strokes."

While McDermott missed the hat trick of three consecutive U.S. Open championships, he did help Francis Ouimet, the young American amateur who grew up on the Country Club at Brookline course and kept McDermott's promise that the foreign visitors wouldn't take the national championship trophy home with them that year.

On their tour of the states Vardon and Ray won every match, except for the loss to McDermott at Shawnee. Near the end of the Open, Vardon and Ray found themselves in a three way tie with Ouimet, the twenty year old Massachusetts state amateur champion, who lived across the street from the country club. He was invited to play to build up the amateur ranks.

The next morning, before the start of the playoff round, as Ouimet walked towards the first tee, Johnny McDermott took his arm and said, "You're hitting the ball well; now go out and play your own game and pay no attention to Vardon and Ray."

"As Francis teed up his ball and saw the large gallery crowding around him, he felt his first tinge of excitement," wrote Sommers. "It was as if at last he had realized both what he might accomplish and what he was up against. Vardon and Ray weren't concerned about him; they were confident the championship would be settled between them, and at first they paid him little attention."

"He remembered McDermott's advice, and as the holes flew by, the crowd grew to enormous proportions. Some estimated 10,000 spectators crowded around the three golfers as marshals armed with megaphones shouted them into order." By the tenth hole, Ouimet took the lead for the first time.

"Vardon was stunned," said Sommers. "He was even more shocked when Ouimet increased his lead…The crowd had barely been held in check through those final moments, and now, as Francis, his knees trembling, holed that final putt, it broke loose and swarmed around him, a few men lifted him onto their shoulders and paraded him around the grounds…"

John J. McDermott and Francis Ouimet were national heroes, and because of their roles in the 1911-12 and 1913 Opens, McDermott and Ouimet are credited with making golf a popular spectator as well as participant sport.

After returning to Atlantic City, McDermott took a vacation to Florida, seemed to regain his confidence, and entered the British Open that year.

But, "He didn't even tee off," notes Sommers. "He missed the ferry….and the round was already underway when he arrived. "Understanding officials offered to let him play even though he was late. Johnny refused, saying it wouldn't be fair to the other players. Downcast, he booked passage home on the Kaiser Wilhelm II."

McDermott was in the barber's chair of the ocean liner when, in a thick fog, the Kaiser Wilhelm collided with the Incemore, ripped it's hull beneath the waterline, and began to sink. "A steward led him to a lifeboat, and he was picked up a few hours later and returned to England. While he seemed unharmed, the experience affected him more than anyone realized."

"This series of events over the last year," explained Sommers, "his stock collapse, the incident at Shawnee, then the shipwreck, preyed on his mind. He entered the 1914 Open, but by then his spirit was shattered, and he was never in position to win. Later that season he blacked out as he entered the professional's shop at Atlantic City. Only twenty-three, his career was finished. He was taken to his parent's home in Philadelphia and spent the rest of his life in and out of rest homes taking an endless series of treatments. He never played in another golf tournament, although he watched a few. He saw his last Open in 1971 at the Merion Golf Club, close to his home in Philadelphia. Not long afterward he died, quietly and in his sleep. He would have been eighty within a month. He could have been the greatest of them all."

Today, John J. McDermott remains the youngest U.S. National Open Champion.

Editors Note: In this article, originally published in Golfer's Tee Times in April, 1995, I utilized a single source, Sommers history of the U.S. Open. Afterwards, I wrote The Birth of the Birdie - A History of Golf at Atlantic City Country Club, which includes a chapter on McDermott that utilized additional sources. I also wrote another profile on McDermott for Afluent Golfer Magazine. I will post both the chapter on McDermott from the book and the article in AGM when I have a chance.

William Kelly

Edited by William Kelly

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Thanks for a fascinating article. I must say I consider myself a student of golf but had never heard of Johnny McDermott - given recent Ryder cups what the USA wouldn't do for a player like that now :cheers

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Thanks for a fascinating article. I must say I consider myself a student of golf but had never heard of Johnny McDermott - given recent Ryder cups what the USA wouldn't do for a player like that now :cheers

Have you heard of that guy Woods?

Thanks for reading it Andy. I knew it would strike a cord with somebody.

I thought of McDermott with the US Open this week.

I also wrote a review of the movie The Greatest Game, in which McDermott is misportrayed as a tall, boisterous red head with a handlebar mustache.

http://kellysgolfhistory.blogspot.com/2008...ver-played.html

An final note on McDermott. Near the end of his life he attended the 1971 Open at Merion in Philadelphia, where a friend of mine (Billy Papus) was a young, rookie assistant pro at the time. McDermott, in his late 70s, wearing a rumpled old suit he probably had for decades, looked like a bum, and my friend asked him to leave the pro shop because he was in the way. McDermott quietly left, and my friend was repremanded by the pro "You just kicked a two time winner of the US Open out of my pro shop."

Arnold Palmer had recognized McDermott and had put his arms around him and was asking him how he can improve his game.

"All you can do is practice," McDermott said.

BK

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Guest Gary Loughran
Thanks for a fascinating article. I must say I consider myself a student of golf but had never heard of Johnny McDermott - given recent Ryder cups what the USA wouldn't do for a player like that now :cheers

Have you heard of that guy Woods?

Thanks for reading it Andy. I knew it would strike a cord with somebody.

I thought of McDermott with the US Open this week.

I also wrote a review of the movie The Greatest Game, in which McDermott is misportrayed as a tall, boisterous red head with a handlebar mustache.

http://kellysgolfhistory.blogspot.com/2008...ver-played.html

An final note on McDermott. Near the end of his life he attended the 1971 Open at Merion in Philadelphia, where a friend of mine (Billy Papus) was a young, rookie assistant pro at the time. McDermott, in his late 70s, wearing a rumpled old suit he probably had for decades, looked like a bum, and my friend asked him to leave the pro shop because he was in the way. McDermott quietly left, and my friend was repremanded by the pro "You just kicked a two time winner of the US Open out of my pro shop."

Arnold Palmer had recognized McDermott and had put his arms around him and was asking him how he can improve his game.

"All you can do is practice," McDermott said.

BK

The book certainly was far better than the film - as your great review states. Also the treatment of McDermott, particularly in the book, is at odds (to a degree) with your writing. That's also a nice story about your friend.

I think a good film on the Haigs life is overdue (unless there is one I'm not aware of). Of all the older golfers, Hagen's attitude, at least ostensibly, is the one I think every

hacker can relate to.

I'd just been thinking golf was under represented in these parts and was going to start a US Open topic today. One mainly inspired by the heroics of Eldrick. He makes staying up to 3.30am worthwhile with his finishing holes of recent days.

Butch Harmon has been touting Westwood all week on Sky Sports - and despite idolising Tiger, I wouldn't mind a Westwood win. Then again I really like Mediate and his back did rob him of a major in recent years.

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The book certainly was far better than the film - as your great review states. Also the treatment of McDermott, particularly in the book, is at odds (to a degree) with your writing. That's also a nice story about your friend.

I think a good film on the Haigs life is overdue (unless there is one I'm not aware of). Of all the older golfers, Hagen's attitude, at least ostensibly, is the one I think every

hacker can relate to.

I'd just been thinking golf was under represented in these parts and was going to start a US Open topic today. One mainly inspired by the heroics of Eldrick. He makes staying up to 3.30am worthwhile with his finishing holes of recent days.

Butch Harmon has been touting Westwood all week on Sky Sports - and despite idolising Tiger, I wouldn't mind a Westwood win. Then again I really like Mediate and his back did rob him of a major in recent years.

A Westwood win is very possible. His long game is in great shape - I remain unconvinced however about whether his putting will stand up to the intense pressure of the final round. I don't think Tiger will win this one despite his heroics of yesterday (if only you had 12 like him eh? :cheers ). I can't believe that he will continue to get lucky with some of the dreadful tee shots he is hitting. Even if he does I think he also risks losing the rest of the season by playing through such an obviously troublesome injury. A good outside bet is Jimenez. Unfortunately I won't be watching at 3.30 am as I have played 27 holes myself today and am old creaky and tired!

http://kellysgolfhistory.blogspot.com is a great site William - thanks for sharing it and for reminding me that I have been thinking of setting up a golf history and coaching web site for some time - I am particularly interested in researching golfers of great ability who may have slipped under the radar either because of their unusual approach or eccentricity such as Moe Norman, Bobby Locke, Bill Melhorn - a project for my retirement perhaps

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Thanks for your interest Andy and Gary. And Andy, let me know if you are serious about the Golf History web site and I'll contribute to it.

Westwood the Englishman, missed a putt that would have put him in a three way playoff with Woods and what's his name - Mediate?

Mediate is from Pittsburgh, and if he pulls this off he will be the oldest Open winner at 45.

The current oldes is Edward R. G. "Ted" Ray, from the Isle of Jersey, who won the British Open in 1912 and accompanied Vardon on his USA tour in 1913, and was a participant in the infamous Shawnee tournament (when he got into a fistacuffs with Wilfried Reid) and the 1913 Open at the Country Club at Brookline (ie. "The Greatest Game Every Played").

While I like Mediate as someone different, I would't be against Woods, though I just noticed that he got a birdie on the par 3 third to get back in a tie.

By the way, my book is called "Birth of the Birdie - 100 Years of Golf at Atlantic City Country Club" because the term "birdie," for one under par, was coined there on the old 12th hole in December 1905.

I will recount the story if there's interest.

BK

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Thanks for your interest Andy and Gary. And Andy, let me know if you are serious about the Golf History web site and I'll contribute to it.

Westwood the Englishman, missed a putt that would have put him in a three way playoff with Woods and what's his name - Mediate?

Mediate is from Pittsburgh, and if he pulls this off he will be the oldest Open winner at 45.

The current oldes is Edward R. G. "Ted" Ray, from the Isle of Jersey, who won the British Open in 1912 and accompanied Vardon on his USA tour in 1913, and was a participant in the infamous Shawnee tournament (when he got into a fistacuffs with Wilfried Reid) and the 1913 Open at the Country Club at Brookline (ie. "The Greatest Game Every Played").

While I like Mediate as someone different, I would't be against Woods, though I just noticed that he got a birdie on the par 3 third to get back in a tie.

By the way, my book is called "Birth of the Birdie - 100 Years of Golf at Atlantic City Country Club" because the term "birdie," for one under par, was coined there on the old 12th hole in December 1905.

I will recount the story if there's interest.

BK

if its on "par" with your Jersey shore stories, then by all means recount it! :lol:

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Thanks for your interest Andy and Gary. And Andy, let me know if you are serious about the Golf History web site and I'll contribute to it.

Westwood the Englishman, missed a putt that would have put him in a three way playoff with Woods and what's his name - Mediate?

Mediate is from Pittsburgh, and if he pulls this off he will be the oldest Open winner at 45.

The current oldes is Edward R. G. "Ted" Ray, from the Isle of Jersey, who won the British Open in 1912 and accompanied Vardon on his USA tour in 1913, and was a participant in the infamous Shawnee tournament (when he got into a fistacuffs with Wilfried Reid) and the 1913 Open at the Country Club at Brookline (ie. "The Greatest Game Every Played").

While I like Mediate as someone different, I would't be against Woods, though I just noticed that he got a birdie on the par 3 third to get back in a tie.

By the way, my book is called "Birth of the Birdie - 100 Years of Golf at Atlantic City Country Club" because the term "birdie," for one under par, was coined there on the old 12th hole in December 1905.

I will recount the story if there's interest.

BK

if its on "par" with your Jersey shore stories, then by all means recount it! :)

Hey David

How hot is it where you're at?

I don't have a digital copy of story of The Birth of the Birdie, but will try to find one.

If I can't find it I'll recap it.

If you want stories of the Jersey Shore check out:

http://jerseyshorenightbeat.blogspot.com/

http://athepoint.blogspot.com/

http://whitedeercafe.blogspot.com/

http://kellysgolfhistory.blogspot.com/

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Thanks for your interest Andy and Gary. And Andy, let me know if you are serious about the Golf History web site and I'll contribute to it.

Westwood the Englishman, missed a putt that would have put him in a three way playoff with Woods and what's his name - Mediate?

Mediate is from Pittsburgh, and if he pulls this off he will be the oldest Open winner at 45.

The current oldes is Edward R. G. "Ted" Ray, from the Isle of Jersey, who won the British Open in 1912 and accompanied Vardon on his USA tour in 1913, and was a participant in the infamous Shawnee tournament (when he got into a fistacuffs with Wilfried Reid) and the 1913 Open at the Country Club at Brookline (ie. "The Greatest Game Every Played").

While I like Mediate as someone different, I would't be against Woods, though I just noticed that he got a birdie on the par 3 third to get back in a tie.

By the way, my book is called "Birth of the Birdie - 100 Years of Golf at Atlantic City Country Club" because the term "birdie," for one under par, was coined there on the old 12th hole in December 1905.

I will recount the story if there's interest.

BK

if its on "par" with your Jersey shore stories, then by all means recount it! :)

Hey David

How hot is it where you're at?

I don't have a digital copy of story of The Birth of the Birdie, but will try to find one.

If I can't find it I'll recap it.

If you want stories of the Jersey Shore check out:

http://jerseyshorenightbeat.blogspot.com/

http://athepoint.blogspot.com/

http://whitedeercafe.blogspot.com/

http://kellysgolfhistory.blogspot.com/

hey Bill....

the real deal or for public consumption? 113 off-strip [the real deal] 103 in the shade under the D concourse [for the visiting public]. Thanks for the Jersey shore link.

Thought Rocco had a real shot today... sigh! Can't wait to see/read "Birth of the Birdie"

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Guest Gary Loughran
Thanks for your interest Andy and Gary. And Andy, let me know if you are serious about the Golf History web site and I'll contribute to it.

Westwood the Englishman, missed a putt that would have put him in a three way playoff with Woods and what's his name - Mediate?

Mediate is from Pittsburgh, and if he pulls this off he will be the oldest Open winner at 45.

The current oldes is Edward R. G. "Ted" Ray, from the Isle of Jersey, who won the British Open in 1912 and accompanied Vardon on his USA tour in 1913, and was a participant in the infamous Shawnee tournament (when he got into a fistacuffs with Wilfried Reid) and the 1913 Open at the Country Club at Brookline (ie. "The Greatest Game Every Played").

While I like Mediate as someone different, I would't be against Woods, though I just noticed that he got a birdie on the par 3 third to get back in a tie.

By the way, my book is called "Birth of the Birdie - 100 Years of Golf at Atlantic City Country Club" because the term "birdie," for one under par, was coined there on the old 12th hole in December 1905.

I will recount the story if there's interest.

BK

I'd like to offer to do what I can on golf site as well.

I've no idea what age Ted Ray was but wasn't Hale Irwin 45 or so when he won his second US Open. Mediate, as I'd mentioned earlier, was robbed of a major in the last few years. I'm not 100% sure which one though :) (on edit - from Golf World: At the 2006 Masters he was tied for the lead playing the 9th hole on Sunday when his back went out, and he hobbled his way to a 10 on the par-3 12th hole.). What I do know is early on the last day and Rocco doing great - his back went - and he slapped the ball home, nearly in tears afterwards. I really took to him that day.

Interesting to see what damage Woods has done and how long he'll be out for. Could be the season?

I'd be interested in your book (or summary). I genuinely like to read golf stories especially the old pros. I love watching Mo Norman's swing and the tales of no putting - the competition was to hit the flagstick. I think Mo once hit 6 in a round.

I've family in Pennsauken, just across the river from Philly. Seen Steve Carlton pitch and Pete Rose bat back in 1983 or so at Veteran's stadium. Of course, I've also spent a lot of time at Wildwood -there used to be a haunted castle style attraction near there - Brigantine, I believe - I don't think it exist now - at least I don't remember it being there last time I was out.

Edited by Gary Loughran

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Thanks for your interest Andy and Gary. And Andy, let me know if you are serious about the Golf History web site and I'll contribute to it.

I certainly will and thanks. I was thinking of mixing history of golf with online coaching as am taking a level 3 coaching diploma in the autumn.

Extraordinary performance by Tiger. He's now only four away from Nicklaus' record something only 10 years ago we thought no one would ever get near.

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Guest Gary Loughran
Thanks for your interest Andy and Gary. And Andy, let me know if you are serious about the Golf History web site and I'll contribute to it.

I certainly will and thanks. I was thinking of mixing history of golf with online coaching as am taking a level 3 coaching diploma in the autumn.

Extraordinary performance by Tiger. He's now only four away from Nicklaus' record something only 10 years ago we thought no one would ever get near.

Very good Andy. Is this the WGTF (or some such) diploma which runs in Bedfordshire? I'd looked into that once myself. I'm very interested in coaching and techniques in golf as well. The PGA qulaification route is just too demanding for someone who has a full time job.

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Very good Andy. Is this the WGTF (or some such) diploma which runs in Bedfordshire? I'd looked into that once myself. I'm very interested in coaching and techniques in golf as well. The PGA qulaification route is just too demanding for someone who has a full time job.

I've gone for the egtfl http://www.egtf.co.uk/EGTF.html option mainly because they run the course 20 mins from my house. I understand that some years ago there was an egtf/wgtf split but they still seem to be offering what amounts to the same course at the same price. The PGA has loosened up a little over the last few years but it tries to cling determinedly on to its once very closed shop.

I approached the PGA but they couldn't really offer a sensible route to a 43 year old who has been a category 1 golfer for 30 years. What I will do with a coaching qualification remains to be seen but I thought I'd better do it now before my back seizes up for good :blink:

My proposed golf site will appear soon at http://www.educationforum.co.uk/golf should anyone wish to contribute - will feature a link to a discussion forum based here I hope

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