“Did You Know”
A golf professional with a bad hip was the father of the modern golf swing!
J. (James) Douglas Edgar was born in Heaton, England in 1884. At age 15 a golf course was built near his hometown, so he quit school and began caddying to provide money for his family. He soon began a four-year apprenticeship under the golf professional. At the age of 19 he became the head professional at the nearby Northumberland Golf Club.
That year, 1904, Edgar entered the British Open for the first time but missed the cut. His golf game kept improving and he set course records at many golf courses. For ten years he played in the British Open, even playing well several times, but never able to challenge the winners.
In his twenties his right hip began to deteriorate, which limited his ability to turn freely. Because of that he experimented with a shorter back swing while turning his hips very little, which alleviated the pain. He still rotated his shoulders. His golf shots became straighter and longer. At that time the great golfers rotated their hips nearly as much as their shoulders. Edgar practiced and practiced, hitting thousands of golf balls.
In 1914 he tied for 14th at the British Open in late June, which Harry Vardon won for a sixth time. A few weeks later Edgar won the French Open by six strokes over an entry that was nearly as strong as the British Open. Vardon finished second, Ted Ray third. Vardon, who was known to be quite reserved, was quoted as saying “This is the man who will one day be the greatest of us all.”
On August 4 England declared war on Germany. Edgar enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps but was discharged due to his hip problem. During the war years he played many exhibitions to raise money for the Red Cross and other wartime charities, at times defeating the greatest golfers of the British Isles. There were four years of no golf tournaments on the British Isles.
Northumberland Golf Club began having differences with Edgar. It was thought that he was too popular with the women. He gambled for more money than he could afford and imbibed in some alcoholic beverages at times. In 1918 Edgar and the Club parted ways.
Edgar had been hearing about lucrative club professional positions in America. In the spring of 1919 he left for the states where he soon found employment in Atlanta with the Druid Hills Golf Club.
The family of a 17-year-old golf phenomenon named Bobby Jones belonged to Druid Hills and East Lake Golf Club which was nearby. Jones played many rounds of golf with Edgar, often 36 holes a day. Jones said he always learned something playing with Edgar. Edgar would tell people that Jones was going to astound the golf world.
Edgar’s wife and his two children came to visit, but the heat and humidity of Atlanta was so different from England they didn’t stay long.
In June 1919 Edgar finished a disappointing tie for 21st at the US Open near Boston.
Sectional qualifying for the PGA Championship was in early July. With Georgia being in the Southeastern PGA Section at that time, along with all the states on the Atlantic Coast up to Pennsylvania, Edgar had to travel to Maryland to qualify. He won the third and last spot.
Three weeks later he was in Hamilton, Canada for the Canadian Open. Edgar put together a world record score, by five shots. His 72-hole total of 278, (72-71-69-66) won by sixteen strokes. Bobby Jones, Jim Barnes and the defending champion, Karl Keffer, tied for second. The sixteen strokes margin of victory is still the largest in a PGA Tour event, only tied by Bobby Locke in 1948.
At the PGA Championship on Long Island in September, Edgar lost in the quarter-finals.
The following year, 1920, the US Open, PGA Championship and Canadian Open were held on three consecutive weeks in August.
In July Edgar was in Philadelphia to qualify for the PGA Championship. Vying for one of four spots at Philmont Country Club he was the low man. The next week he tied for 13th at the Shawnee Open.
At the US Open in mid August Edgar tied for 20th. The next week he nearly won a major championship losing to Jock Hutchison in the 36-hole final of the PGA Championship, one-down. A week later he was in Ottawa to defend his title at the Canadian Open, which he accomplished by finishing in a three-way tie for first and then winning an 18-hole playoff.
In October at East Lake CC, Edgar won the Southern Open, with Bobby Jones second by two strokes. Jim Barnes and Atlantic City’s Clarence Hackney tied third.
In mid December 1920 Edgar left Atlanta to visit his family in England. He had planned to be back in Atlanta by spring but stayed overseas to play in the British open in late June, tying for 26th.
Perhaps due to being away from Druid Hills for so long, on his return he did not show up to defend his Canadian Open title and did not enter the US Open, which were in July.
Sometime after 11 p.m. on August 8, 1921, Edgar was found on Atlanta’s Peachtree Street in a pool of blood. He died a few hours later. At first it was thought to have been a hit and run auto accident, but the coroner determined that Edgar was not stuck by an automobile. His death was caused by bleeding from a deep stab wound on the inner side of his left leg which severed his femoral artery.
His murder was never solved. It was said that he had been seen with a women, whose husband had been charged with a previous murder, but had been acquitted. The woman was later seen visiting his grave site. Some said that there was hostility against Edgar in Atlanta because on several occasions he defeated Jones in golf matches where large sums of money had been wagered on Jones. He was pressured at times to throw contests, like the 1920 Southern Open, where he could have easily finished second behind Jones, an amateur, and still collected the top check of $1,050. It was questioned why he waited until July to return to his employment at Druid Hills?
In 1960 Tommy Armour called J. Douglas Edgar the father of the modern-day golf swing. Tommy Armour said that he took golf lessons from many great players but Edgar was the greatest and taught me the most.
In 1920 Edgar wrote a book on the golf swing titled “The Gate to Golf”. It can still be purchased online.