PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) – It’s hard to blame Brooks Koepka for not knowing much about the man whose record he’s chasing. For decades, pretty much everyone forgot about him.
His name is Willie Anderson. And though Anderson will never be confused with Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods, his accomplishment back in 1905 – winning his third consecutive U.S. Open – is something nobody has been able to match.
“We were in Scotland, and we saw his name on a building where he used to live, or something like that, which is pretty cool,” said Koepka, who will try to match Anderson’s three-peat this week at Pebble Beach. “But I don’t know too much about him.”
Hardly anyone did – not even at the club in Wisconsin where Anderson taught in 1900, lured by a fellow Scot, Alex Smith, who himself would go on to win the U.S. Open in 1906 and 1910.
Not until the Club at Lac La Belle, known decades ago as Oconomowoc Golf Club, changed hands four years ago did some of the history start coming into view again. Another set of investors bought the club last year, and they are in the process of a full remodel of the course. The clubhouse will feature memorabilia from early in the 20th century, and will pay homage to Anderson and many other young Scots who came to the United States, hoping to teach Americans how to play golf.
Many of those Scots played big-money tournaments at Oconomowoc back in the day.
“The previous owner spoke with guys in their late 80s and 90s, and they remembered hearing the name, but over time, it sort of got washed away,” said the new owner, Matt Morse. “You think about what these guys did as 16-, 17-, 18-, 19-, 20-year olds, jumping on a ship and landing in New York and teaching golf, that was their calling in life. Pretty amazing.”
According to information from the USGA archives, Anderson was born in Scotland but moved to the United States in 1894, when he was 15. He and the champion of the inaugural U.S. Open (1895), Horace Rawlins, traveled to California to play tournaments and exhibitions against each other. Anderson won his share of the one-on-one matches, though Rawlins wasn’t fully convinced of his opponent’s talent until he challenged Anderson to hit a ball off a beer bottle without knocking over the bottle.
Anderson did it multiple times and Rawlins said, “Now, I see by this I have been mistaken. This man is a grand golfer.”