Remembering the man who brought the history of golf to life while living his own to the fullest
I met David (Doc) Malcolm in 2006. He was working on his magnum opus, Tom Morris of St Andrews: The Colossus of Golf, with Peter Crabtree, which wouldn't be published for two more years. Still he shared long-lost documents that became part of my book Tommy's Honor. How many authors share unpublished secrets? One, that I know of: Doc Malcolm, whose commitment to historical truth matched his generosity and humor, which makes it that much sadder that Malcolm died on June 4 in his hometown of St. Andrews, Scotland. He was 71.
Malcolm was a schoolboy soccer star, an expert golfer, horseman and thinker who carried on a lifelong love affair with America. As a postgraduate studying genetics at Johns Hopkins, he hitchhiked from Chicago to Los Angeles on Route 66 in 1963, crooning Sinatra and Glenn Miller songs under the stars, paying his way by playing pool for money.
After earning his Ph.D. he returned to Scotland, where he worked at the University of St. Andrews and taught at Madras College. A captain of the New Golf Club in St. Andrews, he brought academic rigor to his favorite sideline, golf history. To him the game's 19th-century pioneers weren't saintly figures from a golden age, but strivers who joked, quarreled, struggled, won and lost—they were real men.
In Australia he tracked down the unmarked grave of golf pioneer David Strath, the subject of an upcoming book that was his last project. In Bangladesh, serving as historian for a project sponsored by the R&A, the St. Andrews Links Trust and the Old Course Hotel, he lobbied for more public access to the game. And on visits to the Round Hill Club in Greenwich, Conn., and the Links Club in New York City, where he was an honored guest, he regaled listeners with tales of golf's evolution. Never one to mince words, he'd praise the game's early heroes and rip its toffs and blackguards, detailing with scientific precision how a Scottish seaside pastime grew into a sport that spans the world.
After Tom Morris of St Andrews won the USGA's Herbert Warren Wind Award as the best golf book of 2008 (Sir Nick Faldo paid ¬£15,000 for a special edition), Malcolm said he appreciated the award partly because he had caddied for Wind "a thousand years ago when he came to St. Andrews. I was a lad, and he was a bit of a windbag."
It was moments like that one—a mix of achievement and wit—that will make all of golf, and me especially, miss him. The last time we spoke, he left me with three words: "Cherish every minute."
GOLF PLUS will next appear in the Aug. 8 SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.
SI GOLF RANKING
PLAYER (FIRST-PLACE VOTES)
Rory McIlroy (9)
Luke Donald (6)
GOLF MAGAZINE TOP 100 TEACHERS POLL
WHO IS THE BEST AMERICAN GOLFER AT THIS MOMENT?
Phil Mickelson 42%
Steve Stricker 20%
Dustin Johnson 15%
Matt Kuchar 15%
Rickie Fowler 4%
Tiger Woods 4%
RUTH STIVEN (MALCOLM)
HOMEGROWN Malcolm grew up in St. Andrews and taught at the university there.