Remembering Gentleman Tommy Horton
Tommy Horton, one of the most influential and respected players in the development of both the European Tour and the European Senior Tour, has died at the age of 76 and the world of golf is lesser place for his passing.
Some years ago I had the pleasure of interviewing Horton at Seckford Golf Club, near Woodbridge in Suffolk. He had been giving a clinic and I had been promised 30 minutes with him when he was finished. At the time, Horton was one of the leading lights on the European Seniors Tour.
He was a delight. His clinic was both informative and funny. He took time to explain how to play specific shots and then demonstrated them to perfection. Horton moved the ball at will from left to right, right to left, high in the air, low as if into a strong wind. What he provided that day was a masterclass in shot-making, laced with jokes and anecdotes.
It was clear that he enjoyed himself as much as we enjoyed watching and listening to him. He answered each and every question from his audience fully and when the questions ran out he turned to me and said: "Right then young man [his eyesight may not have been what it once was], now it's your turn, so let's go and chat."
We walked over to the clubhouse and the two of us sat down together. Horton quickly realised that I was a fan and that I had followed his career closely and knew a little bit about golf. Our "30 minutes" turned into two hours and it was only when his manager begged him to go that he finished the interview, telling me that it had been a pleasure to meet me. Believe me, the pleasure was all mine. He then gave me his phone number and told me to ring him any time I wanted.
I subsequently wrote an article about Horton for The Sunday Times. He was in his prime when golf was a different game. He related a story about playing a practice round with Jack NIcklaus during The Open at Royal Birkdale. Horton was struggling in the wind and after a few holes, Nicklaus reached into his bag and gave the Englishman some golf balls. "Here Tommy, try these. I think you might find they will make a difference." And they did. Horton went on to finish fourth. Can you imagine such a gesture taking place today?
Horton was a gentleman. He was also a formidable golfer, winning eight times on the European Tour and 23 times on the Seniors Tour, as well as playing in two Ryder Cup matches in a professional career that began way back in 1957.
He won the John Jacobs Trophy as the Senior Tour’s Number One player on a record five occasions and in 2012 he was awarded Honorary Life Membership of the European Tour in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the game, as a player, coach and administrator, having served on the European Tour Board of Directors and then the Senior Tour Committee for 22 years.
The Englishman was also a renowned course designer, broadcaster and author, and was always conscious of passing on his knowledge to subsequent generations, including as an instrumental figure in setting up the European Tour’s Annual Training School which was formerly held at the start of each year in southern Spain to give aspiring Tour players a holistic grounding in life as a professional. Anybody who learnt anything at all at the feet of Horton was a very fortunate individual indeed.
Born in St Helens, in 1941, Horton moved to Jersey in 1945 where he was brought up and educated. He was a mainstay of the European circuit in the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s, and recorded four top ten finishes in The Open Championship, including a share of fourth in 1976 at Royal Birkdale. Horton also played in two Ryder Cups, representing Great Britain & Ireland against the United States in 1975 and 1977.
He dominated the Seniors Tour, winning 23 times, which stood as a record until Carl Mason overtook him in 2011.
Tommy Horton was one of finest gentlemen I ever met in the game of golf.— Thomas Bjørn (@thomasbjorngolf) December 8, 2017
His contributions as a player and a coach has formed many young men into great players.
Thanks for everything you gave!
RIP @EuropeanTour @EuroSeniorTour
He died on Thursday, on the eve of the Senior Tour’s season-ending MCB Tour Championship.
Horton’s role in the early development of the Senior Tour should not be underestimated, particularly as part of the Senior Tour Committee from 1992-2006, serving as Chairman from December 1996 onwards. Prior to that, he was appointed to the Board of Directors of The European Tour on December 4 1984 and remained there until May 1993.
His contribution to the game was recognised in 2000, when he was awarded an MBE.
Keith Pelley, chief executive of the European Tour, said: “Tommy Horton was an incredibly influential and respected figure in the world of golf, as a wonderful player and coach and as someone who was central to the development of the European Tour and the European Senior Tour.
“After the passing of John Jacobs in January, we have lost two of the true gentlemen of the game in 2017. The thoughts of everybody at the European Tour are with Tommy’s family.”
Ken Schofield, chief executive of the European Tour from 1975 to 2005, said: “Tommy Horton was a great player in his own right and also a great gentleman. Together with John Jacobs and Neil Coles, he really was someone who cared for and set up today’s European Tour. He gave so much to his peers and will be remembered as much for his victories, including the Dunlop Masters, and his two Ryder Cup appearances, as he will for the role he played in setting up and paving the way for today’s European Tour.
“We started the year with the loss of John Jacobs and end it with the loss of Tommy, two pioneers of the game. Indeed, they were inseparable during the graduate training weeks when coaching the latest rookies on Tour and many players competing today will remember those clinics. He will be remembered with great fondness and the legacy of Tommy Horton will always live in the European Tour.”
David MacLaren, head of the European Senior Tour, said: “Tommy was not just a giant of the European Senior Tour but one of the most important figures in the development of the modern professional game in Europe.
“His record of five John Jacobs Trophies is an achievement that is unlikely to be bettered and stands as a testament to his stature as one of the Senior Tour’s most notable players.
“Both Tommy’s personality and ability were key elements in the growth of senior golf in Europe, and we will remain immensely grateful for his many and lasting contributions.”
Tommy Horton will be sadly missed by all those whose paths he crossed.
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