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News > OP updates > Prejudice, triumph and tragedy : the story of Jack Allan

Prejudice, triumph and tragedy : the story of Jack Allan

8 Apr 2022
Written by John Sadden
OP updates
The Victorian school and an uncharacteristically hatted Jack Allan
The Victorian school and an uncharacteristically hatted Jack Allan

The current British feel-good movie, The Phantom of the Open, starring Mark Rylance and Sally Hawkins, is based on the real-life story of Maurice Flitcroft, “a chain-smoking crane operator from Barrow”, who was dubbed “the world’s worst golfer”. He bluffed, hoaxed and gate-crashed his way into the British Open golf championship and successfully rattled the prejudices of the golfing establishment.   

Like Maurice, Jack Allan was a self-taught golfer. Like Maurice, Jack played in an unorthodox fashion for which he was criticised. But unlike Maurice, Jack attended Portsmouth Grammar School and was not rubbish at golf. In fact he went on to win the British Amateur Golfing Championship at Muirfield.   

One of seven children born to a Scottish father and an English mother, Jack (born Alexander) was admitted to PGS in 1885 and stayed for two years. His father was a military surgeon whose postings meant that Jack had frequent changes of school. Despite this, he successfully passed the entry requirements for Edinburgh University School of Medicine and it was while he was studying there that he fell in love with golf. His academic studies took second place to his passion and within two years he had reduced the local public golf course record to 69 shots and won various university golf prizes.  

In 1897, Jack entered the British Amateur Golfing Championship. To the surprise of many he cycled the eight-mile round trip to Muirfield throughout the tournament, and he did so wearing the same ordinary shoes that he played in. The fact that he did not wear studded golf shoes or a hat while playing also raised eyebrows. But it was his unconventional style of play that especially attracted the attention of critics. Instead of “stiffening his wrists and taking the ball from his right foot” he used “an open circular stroke”. To his biggest critics, who were English, Jack was also guilty of being Scottish.   

When Jack won the Championship, the critics said he was lucky. If there was any element of truth to this, his luck was not to last. It was probably in the course of examining patients as a student that he contracted tuberculosis, a disease that was rife in the densely populated, poorly housed working-class areas of Edinburgh. Jack qualified as a doctor but never got the opportunity to practice. The following year he died at the age off 22, a tragic loss both to medicine and to sport.  

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