Scheffler, Rahm, and Rory: Assessing golf’s new Triumvirate

Scottie Scheffler and Jon Rahm, 2023 WM Phoenix Open,Syndication: Arizona Republic
Scottie Scheffler and Jon Rahm, 2023 WM Phoenix Open,Syndication: Arizona Republic /
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Triumvirate, Scottie Scheffler, Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy
Harry Vardon, Ted Ray, James Braid, and J.H. Taylor. (Photo by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images) /

The Original Triumvirate

Golf devotees first began thinking in terms of a triumvirate during the latter years of the 19th century, prompted to do so by three legends of the early game, Harry Vardon, John H. Taylor, and James Braid.

There was only one tournament worthy of international recognition in those days. That was the British Open, and the trio who became known as the Triumvirate dominated it. Between 1894 and the onset of World War I, one of those three men won 16 of the 21 contested Opens.

And they did so with performances that dwarf anything done since for pure dominance. During the 20 seasons in which all three competed for the Open title – Braid missed the 1895 event – they only once needed as many as 97 percent of the tournament average number of strokes to complete the distance.

Their collective peak occurred in 1904 at St. Georges, when Braid and Vardon both got around in Relative Stroke Averages of .927, Taylor in .943. Any of those levels of dominance would be unthinkable today, yet all three did it in the same event. Their collective average worked out to .932

Ironically, none of the three actually won that remarkable Open. The championship went to a comparative unknown named Jack White who overtook third-round leader Braid with a closing 69 to win by one stroke.

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The problem with assessing the Vardon-Taylor-Braid Triumvirate is the lack of data. There was no ‘Tour’ as such in Britain in those days, and even if there had been it would have drawn only regional interest, given the constraints imposed by long-distance travel.

So we are reduced to judging the one-event record of the Vardon-Taylor-Braid triumvirate against the season-long data of more contemporary triumvirates.