He Plays a Grand Game o’ Gowf
One day after he had finished a cricket match at the Rosedale ground, Toronto, George S. Lyon leaped a fence to a neighboring golf course—he was in his thirty-ninth year—and, throwing away his bat, picked up a driver for the first time in his life.Next summer he went through to the semi-finals of the Canadian amateur golf championship. That’s the kind of athlete he is!
JAMES A. COWAN
GEORGE S. LYON is one of the world’s great golf figures, but that fact should not be held against him.
This warning is issued merely for the benefit of non-golfers, and also because the most rock-bound opinions concerning the game, peculiarly enough, are held by men unacquainted with it. On different occasions, individuals have been known to allege that the pastime is a delusion, silly, a bore, a nuisance, a waste of time, trivial and a so-called recreation which they have consistently and carefully avoided. The attitude of some persons towards any player of international reputation, including Mr. Lyon, might, therefore, be affected by a slight prejudice or antagonism against the game itself.
In the case of Mr. Lyon, they should take heed for their own sakes, lest the same thing happen to them as happened to Mr. Oglethorpe-Watkins. OglethorpeWatkins, it is true, is not the gentleman’s correct name and, in the words of the politician, it never will be. He met Mr. Lyon for the first time about four years ago and felt very much the same about it as everyone else does. He liked him very much.
“What a pity,” he said, shortly afterward, “that a man as fine as that should play golf.” He was admittedly an extreme case, a supersolid business man who had found support for his own beliefs concerning the game in gleanings from the humorous sections of his favorite periodicals.
Mr. Oglethorpe-Watkins met Mr. Lyon again— several times. Mr. Oglethorpe-Watkins’ friends now say that he plays quite a fair game, athough he still over-estimates his ability with the putter.
It must not be deduced from this that George S. Lyon is a kind of super-salesman boosting his favorite recreation. The exact fact of the matter, is that he has a rare sort of magnetism and charm. This is away and by far the most interesting and arresting thing about him, bar nothing. It is much more impressive than his record-breaking career on the links. He is one of those men who make a million friends.
He Started Golf at Thirty-Eight
TT IS generally assumed that any successful man 4 has a secret. Mr Lyon is no departure from the rule, but his secret is. To explain:
A Western newspaperman tells of being assigned to interview him when Mr. Lyon was a visitor to his city some time ago. “Since it was just about the first real interesting story I had been given a chance to tackle,” says the journalist, “I was over-eager about it. Three seconds after I met him, I blurted out: ‘Will you tell me, Mr. Lyon, the secret of your success?’ He was somewhat surprised and also amused. I don’t remember his exact reply but it was to the effect that he hoped it wasn’t absolutely necessary to have one.”
On the twenty-seventh of last July, Mr. Lyon celebrated his sixty-eighth birthday. This is duly proven to be true by the records in the family Bible, otherwise there would be many doubters. He has the physique of a man in his roaring forties and all the whole-hearted enthusiasm of a college undergraduate.
Ruling out his periodic forays after golf honors, he has, like his father before him, spent his entire life in Ontario and the better part of it in Toronto.
He can properly be termed the dean of American golfers, and he is the most unique golfer in Canada, or in America, for that matter. There is no record of any other man taking up the game at the mature age of thirty-eight and then becoming an internationally-known wizard of the links, which is what Mr. Lyon did. Nearly threescore and ten, he is to-day the finest senior player on the continent, and if all the experts of any age who could be certain of defeating him to-day were gathered in one place, there would be no mob visible.
How many championships, titles and trophies, of varieties too numerous to mention, he has accumulated, he himself does not know. He lost track of the exact number years ago. According tp the last count, he has in his possession over seventy-five cups, let alone the host of mementos representing moments of temporary glory now dimmed by his more spectacular victories.
He has played golf literally on hundreds of courses in Canada, in the United States and the other side of the Atlantic, but is particularly well-known to the great clubwielding public of this continent. Many an American business man, whose information concerning the Dominion is a hazy hodge-podge of mounted police, habitants, winter sports and summer resorts, wide, open spaces and no prohibition, knows of George S. Lyon. Such a man
is forced to admit to himself that the country cannot be exactly the wild stretch of territory the movies have dramatized for him if it turns out finished golfers of the' calibre of this famous Canadian.
A Famous Match
HIS greatest single triumph, perhaps, was the winning of the Olympic Cup at St. Louis twenty-two years ago. This is likely to remain the nearest thing to an actual world’s amateur championship that any human being can attain. In this advanced age, the number of good golfers on the earth’s greens is terrific and not even a Hercules with no other labors to perform could organize a tournament which would select the finest. To-day there are more titles and championships than there were excellent players at the beginning of the century. Henceforth, the picking of the world’s best must be done on paper only when it will cause much uproar and dispute but little else.
In the final at St. Louis, Mr. Lyon defeated Chandler Egan, then American amateur champion, by three up and two to play in a thirty-six-hole match. That year, as Jess Sweetser’s victory this season has recalled, was the last previous occasion on which an American carried off the British amateur title. Walter TraviB had returned victorious from the Old Country only to be decisively beaten by Egan in the play for the American title. Egan, in turin, met his Waterloo when he tackled Mr. Lyon. The latter can never be induced to assert that he was a world’s title-holder, but these are facts from the book and every man can draw his own conclusion.
It sounds highly reasonable to announce, then, that at the end of the 1904 season, a Canadian was sitting most definitely and unmistakably on the top of the heap.
The trophy which Mr. Lyon brought back from St Louis as tangible evidence of the laurels he had won was a majestic creation which, at that time, set a new record in the sporting world by reason of its all-round elaborateness. About two and a half feet high, it had been hand-hammered in sterling silver to the pattern of a Scotch thistle and in addition to the usual inscriptions, had engraved on one side a detailed picture of the Glen Echo Club House at St. Louis.
Now it holds an important place among Mr. Lyon’s collection of awards, not only because of the spectacular victory which brought it into his possession, but also because it represents, to him. the most gruelling week of golf he ever went through. He has since taken part in hundreds of contests büt not one has equalled the Olympic matches so far as that aspect of the game is concerned.
On Monday, eighty-seven crack golfers stepped out for the qualifying round which eliminated all but thirty-two, and in this round Mr. Lyon was seventh. Each day, for the remainder of the week, he played a strenuous thirty-six holes against an opponent of international reputation. The Canadian star evidently believed in getting away to a smashing start for, in four of his five matches, he did the first hole of the course, which was 276 yards in three. ’
Four years ago, at the invitation tournament held by the Chevy Chase Club in Washington, he won the Taft Cup, one of the classic trophies of the links. He was at the time sixty-four years of age and he was competing against a picked group of the continent's leading golfers. Naturally, the small replica of the Taft Cup which he received is one of his most carefully treasured trophies.
It is some years since Mr. Lyon carried off the Canadian title, but he created a record which is likely to remain one for all time to come when he succeeded in winning it eight times in twenty-two attempts.
“He’ll Never Make a Golfer”
/\ FEW years ago, the late Lord Shaughnessy offered a new cup for competition among golfers over fifty-five years of age. It carries with it the Canadian Senior title and so far Mr. Lyon has carried off both cup and title at every tournament, but one. There is every indication that he will continue this habit for manyy ears yet. In 1924, a series of matches for the Individual Senior Championship of America was held in Montreal, when both Canadians and Americans went after the honors. Here Mr. Lyon annexed still another title which he still holds.
Back in 1906 he made one of his most spectacular invasions of the United States when he went after the American title. He was runner-up for the championship and was only defeated after a spirited and thrilling match by Even Byers of Pittsburgh. Here and there, carefully preserved by ardent golfers, there are still to be found worn and yellowed clippings from the American press in which can be detected a note of pained surprise that a Canadian should step in and come within an ace of taking away from that country one of its most cherished awards.
Among the gallery during the match with Byers was Alex. Smith, the Scotch professional who won the open title in 1906 and again in 1910 and who is now at the Westchester-Biltmore Country Club. He viewed Mr. Lyon’s play with continuous wonder. Many years later, along with Jerry Travers, he was visiting Canada and a match was arranged for the pair at the Toronto Golf Club against Mr. Lyons and George Cummings, the well-known professional. The visitors, renowned as they were, went down to defeat in the thirty-six hole match by two up and one to play.
“Mr. Lyon,” said Smith, after it was over, with a rich Scotch accent which defies reproduction, “when I saw you playing against Byers in that American final, I said to myself and others, that with the Good Lord behind me and your luck, I could go out and lick any living man on the links. Yes, sir, at that time I thought your playing was a damn fluke. Now I realize that I was all wrong. I am now here to declare that it was no fluke.”
Smith had every reason to be led astray, since he had never seen Mr. Lyon play before he watched him in the American finals. The style of Canada’s great golfer is weird and remarkable and an everlasting cause of amazement. It was once described by a learned gentleman of the American press as a cross between Maud Muller raking hay and a butcher killing a steer. The description is an exceedingly good one, except in one particular. It is not correct.
Mr. Lyon is, however, generally accused of playing championship golf by defying all the principles of the game, a paradoxical situation which has brought about a hundred mix-ups.
For example, he had just finished a match with Chick Evans at Rosedale one afternoon and was standing on the first tee taking a few practice swings. On a bench near-by, Parkyn Murray, chairman of the greens committee, was sitting chatting with a man who was a stranger to Mr. Lyon. The stranger happened to notice Mr. Lyon in action.
“Just take a look at that fellow on the first tee,” he said, to Mr. Murray in a tone of pity, “and notice the way he is swinging. That chap,” he added, “will never make a golfer.”
Mr. Murray looked and solemnly agreed with the other’s verdict Then he mentioned the player’s name.
“Oh, for Heaven’s sake,” burst out the critic, “don’t ever tell him what I said.”
But Mr. Murray did and Mr. Lyon thus obtained one of his favorite golf yarns.
The style of the Canadian player is an unusually interesting topic at the moment since a noted sports writer, who has just completed a dissection of the game, devotes several galleys of type to a lament. He deplores that golf is, as he sees it, developing into a pastime for the automaton, that playing it is now a matter of going through carefully-rehearsed motions at the proper time and place and that to make a man a golLr, all that need be done is to coach him and train him till he conforms in every way with the present set standards.
One day, it is to be hoped, this authority will view Mr. Lyon in action and after that date refrain from bitter lamentations.
Another misunderstanding, much like the one described above, happened at the Lambton course, Toronto, this present season. A visitor went to the course with a business acquaintance for an afternoon’s recreation. As he and his companion approached the first tee, he noticed a white-haired man preparing to drive off. His appearance, in the eyes of the newcomer who prided himself on his expert appraisals, seemed decidedly awkward.
“We’re due for a slow game if we have to play around behind that chap,” he remarked. “He looks to be about fifty years old, too.”
As he spoke, the “old man” took a seemingly haphazard swipe at the ball which promptly rose and went sailing down the fairway with a speed and precision that left the expert appraiser dizzy.
“That’s impossible,” he gasped. “I know I’ve seen it but I insist it’s impossible anyhow. Who on earth is that?”
“George S. Lyon,” was the gleeful reply, and for the remainder of the afternoon the visitor was afraid to risk as much as a criticism of the weather.
Mr. Lyon’s style may not resemble the graceful collection of poses which we see exploited from time to time by the slow motion camera, but certainly it is both bold and aggressive.
He hits the ball with a glorious enthusiasm, walloping it firmly and heartily. Believing that the man who plays for safety is likely to be the loser, he enjoys taking chances and is one of the few people who appear to know accurately the dividing line between courageous playing and just plain foolhardiness.
In the earlier days, there was much heated discussion about his famous style, some arguing that he would be a greatly improved golfer if he let a pro. take him in charge and others insisting that such a move would be ruinous. The question will never be settled, but no one cares anything about it now.
After this debate died down, several hair-splitting experts analyzed his style carefully and declared that it was a most deceitful procedure. It looked peculiar but actual investigation showed that it was miles from being so far out as most players thought.
In any case, it has a perfectly logical, sound and interesting explanation. George S. Lyon did not play his first game of golf till he was nearly forty years of age. Up until that time he had attained Dominion wide fame as a cricketer. As a matter of fact, his record of 238 runs, not out, made in 1894 when he was playing for Rosedale against an eleven representing Toronto and Peterboro, has never yet been bettered in Canada. One of the best averages in the history of cricket here is Mr. Lyon, 54 for a season of 27 innings. This, peculiarly enough, his best mark, was made the first season he ever played golf, at a time when he was an eager devotee of both sports.
From Pitch to Tee
LATE in October, 1896, Mr. Lyon was enjoying himself on the Rosedale cricket grounds when a triend of his, John Dick, of Cobourg, who was playing golf near-by, spotted him. Mr. Dick gave him a hail and suggested he try his hand at the royal and ancient.
This proposal was received by Mr. Lyon with a considerable amount of hilarity. “Ha, Ha!” he said jovially. “Tip-cat, eh?” comparing it with a celebrated recreation of the small children of that day.
Nevertheless, he did climb the fence that marked the official dividing line between the two sports and made his first attempt at swatting the little white pill.
To the cricket records which he had already acquired, he thereupon added a record for the most suddden and complete golf conversion ever known to the science. From that time on, metaphorically speaking, he was never without a golf club in his hand.
His golfing style, therefore, was practically an adaptation of his cricketing methods, as any expert cricketer who watches him in action, even to-day, will testify. He worked out his own salvation on the links and did a most remarkable job of it, but that is no proof that the average person could repeat the performance in as much as a slight degree.
Mr. Lyon jumped from the cricket pitch to the golf tee one October. The following summer he was entered in the matches for the Canadian Amateur Championship. He went right through to the semi-finals before any player was able to scop him, when he was defeated by the runner-up for the title.
The next year, 1898, he went at it again and won it handily. The finals in that season will go down in history because of the fact that Mr. Lyon dtefeated the runner-up, F. G. H. Patterson, a former champion of Cambridge, by twelve up and eleven to play.
This victory gave him temporary possession of the Aberdeen Cup and later in his career, when he won-it three years in succession, the trophy, according to the rules in the deed of gift, became his in perpetuity.
An All-Round Athlete
IF ONE were to judge the question superficially, it might sound sensible to suggest that the annexation of all possible championships was one of George S. Lyon’s guiding aims in life, but this, singularly enough, is so far from the truth as to be funny.
He was born with a flair for athletics and, being of that vigorous temperament which hurls itself whole-heartedly into anything it enjoys, he proceeded to take part in strenuous competition with all the energy he possessed, which has always been something more than considerable.
Championships, titles and records, therefore, just had to follow as a matter of course.
He was very much of a sensation on the diamond in the early baseball era of the eighties. He captained the insurance nine in the Toronto Commercial League in 1886 and 1887, when he was an energetic and hard-hitting second baseman. His team won the league championship in both these years.
This, of course, was away back in the wicked old days when amateurs and professionals were not yet painstakingly segregated and every team in the league was allowed to enjoy the services of a salaried catcher. The gentleman who received at the home plate for Mr. Lyon and his team-mates was a certain Jim Scott, since lost in the onrush of more recent celebrities. For his services, Mr. Scott received the inpressive sum of two dollars a game, so that, in a good season, it was possible for him to make a clean-up —frequently totalling as much as twentyfive dollars.
At present, in his winter spare time Mr. Lyon curls. That, too, he has been doing well for more than a quarter of a century. In 1900 and 1901, he took part in the winning of the single rink championship, his share in the proceeds being a silver claret jug. He has been on the winning rink for the Walker Trophy four times and also has helped to win the Canada Life Cup. For twenty five years without a break, he has curled for the Ontario Tankard and, in 1915, was viceskip of the winning rink.
He trundles the lawn bowls with the best of them and plays five pins excellently whenever he gets a chance. His keen golf eye makes him a highly dangerous opponent at billiards. In his youth, he played both rugby and soccer and also carried off the Toronto amateur tennis title on one occasion. When he was eighteen, he took temporarily to field sports and in the pole vault, cleared the bar at ten feet six inches. That may not sound like a startling feat in these days, but George S. Lyon was the first Canadian athlete to reach this mark.
Golfers Require Steadiness
HAVING rapidly developed an amazing liking for golf, he promptly proceeded to play the game at every opportunity and when he had no opportunity to play, he at once set about making one. Since another of his characteristic traits is a great joy in mingling with his fellow-mortals and since golf soon became one of his chief interests, it was natural that he should display a desire to meet great numbers of his fellowgolfers. The better they were, the merrier it was.
Mr. Lyon picks one of the traits of character usually associated with the Scot as the golfer’s greatest temperamental aid.
“I believe that steadiness is the greatest mental quality a golfer can possess,” is the way he sums it up. His observations have led him to conclude that this part of a man’s make-up shows a steady improvement the longer he plays or, at any rate, that the absolute necessity of keeping level-headed on the links tends to keep a golfer on an even keel, mentally, no matter what he happens to be doing. Some business psychologist might enlarge on this and investigate the possible helpful effect of the game on more material lines of endeavor.
An incidental characteristic of some golfers, one which has received wholesale publicity and which has been known to irritate both other golfers and nongolfers to the teeth-gnashing stage, is the natural impulse to sprinkle all possible conversation with a purely golf lingo, and talk in technical terms of the intricacies connected with a great and popular recreation.
This is one of the things which George S. Lyon does not do. He can bring to his assistance as extensive a golf vocabulary as any man walking around, and does so whenever the occasion calls for it, but he does not inflict this variety of talk on those who are uninterested. His attitude towards this verbal golf is much the same as that of railway employees to the neat glass cases of red-handled tools displayed on all well-known trains: To be used only in case of necessity.
Not one of the many who know him has ever hesitated to affirm that George S. Lyon has practically all the requirements not only of a great but also a tremendously popular athlete, barring, of course, the numerous arguments about his style on the links. As far as golf is concerned, he has been publicly referred to as Canada’s grand old man of the game so often that the title is now as hackneyed as the title of a popular song.
Golf for the Millions
BUT his position in the van of the Dominion’s sporting celebrities, justly awarded to him for his own superb athletic efforts and because of his record personal popularity, is due in some measure to still another aspect of interest in recreation.
He has always devoted a large amount of effort to the purpose of attracting as many people as possible to active exercise. He lays the emphasis on the number of participants, not the crowds of passive spectators.
Since golf became his favorite, he has aided in the establishment of a dozen different clubs and, recently, has been concentrating on a new angle of the subject. Golf has long been listed as a rich man’s game, a classification for which there has been no small amount of justification.
With a great many others, he has been preaching, agitating and working for popular-priced courses. This, quite obviously, was the only way to go about it since the overhead on the older courses is huge and someone must pay it.
When the Humber Valley course was opened in Toronto some years ago, his efforts were publicly recognized by an honorary directorship. A year’s membership there costs only $15 and the waiting list runs into hundreds. The mode of procedure, too, is delightfully informal. A player may go round in a morning coat, munching a ham sandwich and no one thinks anything of it—an unbelievable sight at one of the more exclusive clubs.
Humber Valley is a municipal course and its success has caused a large outcry for more of them. When Ralph Connable, the millionaire head of a well-known chain of stores, was offering to provide the basis for a second experiment of this type near Toronto, Mr. Lyon was one of his most energetic and active supporters.
But as a finishing and final touch to any picture of George S. Lyon, he should be seen at his golfing headquarters, the Lambton clubhouse, when he rises, at the request of everyone within shouting distance, to lead the assembled mob in the joyful rendering of an old-fashioned ballad.
He is certainly more than Canada s greatest golfer. He is the high priest of Canadian golf.