08 Dec 17
Fulsome tributes have been paid to Tommy Horton, a former PGA captain and Ryder Cup player, who has passed away at the age of 76 after a long illness.
Not least by two of his successors.
“Golf has lost a great ambassador,” said John Heggarty, the current PGA captain.
“He was a gentleman and ultimate supporter of the game and those involved in it,” said Alex Mollin, an Advanced PGA Professional at the Royal Jersey Golf Club where Tommy was head pro.
Having begun his career as a professional at Ham Manor Golf Club, Sussex, in 1959, he moved to the Royal Jersey Golf Club in 1974.
Tommy, who was born in St Helens, Lancashire, had grown up in the Channel Islands and served the Royal Jersey Golf Club for 25 years before retiring in 1999.
However, he maintained his long association with the club and it was there prior to its annual general meeting on December 7, that he was taken ill before passing away later that evening in hospital.
His well-earned reputation as an accomplished golfer, gentleman and ambassador for the game extended way beyond the Jersey coastline, however.
He played in the Ryder Cup on two occasions and won eight times on the European circuit.
Four of those victories came prior to the setting up of the European Tour in 1972, a development in the professional game that Tommy, along with John Jacobs and Neil Coles championed.
“Tommy really was someone who cared for and set up today’s European Tour,” said Ken Schofield, the Tour’s chief executive from 1975 – 2005.
“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.”
Once the Tour was established, Tommy finished in the top 10 three times. His best year was 1976 when he was fifth. He also tied for fourth-place in The Open that year, one of four top 10 finishes he achieved.
His record on the Senior Tour was even more impressive. As with the European Tour, Tommy played a key role in setting up the Senior equivalent.
It was founded shortly after Tommy reached the qualifying age of 50 in 1991 and he was the dominant figure in its early days.
He finished top of the rankings to win the John Jacobs Trophy in five seasons – 1993, 96, 97, 98 and 99 – and led the Tour’s career prize-winning chart until 2007 when he was overtaken by Carl Mason. His total of 23 victories was also a record and stood until Mason surpassed it in 2011.
However, the head of the European Senior Tour, David MacLaren, is convinced one of Tommy’s records will not be broken.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
Despite his success as a player, Tommy, who was known as ‘Last green Horton’ because of his ability to hole key putts, felt his biggest achievement was establishing the young professionals’ school for aspiring Tour players.
Ian Woosnam, Robert Karlsson and Padraig Harrington are all graduates and former European Tour chief executive George O’Grady said: “He was an absolute rock at the Tour’s annual graduate training week and a wizard with his short game, passing on his extensive knowledge to benefit countless other players.”
Tommy was awarded the MBE in 2000 for services to golf but throughout his career at the game’s highest level, either on the course or in the corridors of power, he was first and foremost a PGA Professional.
“He flew the flag for the Association at every opportunity, especially during his year as captain in 1978,” said PGA chief executive Robert Maxfield.
“The days when club professionals like Tommy could excel on the Tour are long gone but he never lived in the past and was always mindful of the game’s future.
“To that end he was the first honorary captain of the European Junior Ryder Cup team for the match in 2008 and for the two subsequent encounters.
“He also kept in touch with The PGA and attended the most recent biennial Past Captains’ Lunch in March.
“He was accompanied by Helen, his wife, and we extend our deepest sympathy to her and his family at this desperately sad time.”
Tommy Horton (left) with Helen, his wife, and PGA executive president Sandy Jones at the Past PGA Captains' Lunch in March.