MEMORIES OF THE OPEN
Golf professionals of the 1850s (left to right): James Wilson, Willie Dunn, Bob Andrew, Willie Park Sr, Tom Morris Sr, Allan Robertson, David Anderson and Bob Kirk. Park and Morris each won The Open Championship four times. The great Allan Robertson died at the age of 44 in 1859, the year before The Open started.
1961 at Royal Birkdale
The wind during the final round at Royal Birkdale had twisted Arnold Palmer’s drive into the deep rough on what is now the 16th hole but in that Open was the 15th. Discretion called for a safe shot back to the fairway, sacrificing a par. But Palmer thought a bogey would cost him the lead and the tournament. “My basic attitude is,” he said, “ when you’re in the rough, go for the green.”
With a swipe of a 6-iron so vicious it left a foot- long scar in the weeds (“Few will see it, for it is an unfrequented spot, ringed by perdition,” wrote an English sports writer), Palmer landed the ball on the green. “Two putts,” he would recall, “and I had my par and my plaque.” The plaque was installed on a rock at the 16th, celebrating his shot and the first of his two Open victories.
1974 at Royal Lytham & St Annes
Already with one Major victory for the year at the Masters, Gary Player came to The Open at Royal Lytham & St Annes with confidence and determination. “People have always called me the best golfer of those who travelled all over the world,” said the South African. “What I’ve worked so hard to become is one of the best golfers in the world, full stop.”
He achieved his third Open victory and eighth Major, despite an untidy finish. His 4-iron at the 72nd hole came to rest against the bricks of Royal Lytham’s Victorian clubhouse. He took a left-handed swing with a putter, knocking the ball to eight feet (2.5 metres) of the cup and then got down in two for a bogey and a four-shot margin. “I’m playing the best golf of my life,” he said. “I’ve never been so well prepared. I can’t believe anyone else was as ready for this as I was or wanted it as badly.”
1978 at St Andrews
Jack Nicklaus, a two-time Open winner, had gone three years without a Major championship win when he arrived at the Old Course. There were questions whether, at age 38, he could win another. The previous year he had stood on the 71st tee tied for the lead in the Masters, The Open and the PGA Championship without delivering.
When the New Zealander Simon Owen chipped for a birdie on the 15th hole, it seemed Nicklaus would be disappointed once more. “I’ve been here before,” he remembered thinking, alluding to the “duel in the sun” against Tom Watson in 1977 at Turnberry. At the 16th, Owen bogeyed while Nicklaus birdied, striking a beautiful 9-iron to six feet (1.8m) of the hole. Then Jack Nicklaus played the Road Hole, the 17th, cautiously and sensibly, while Owen went off line. “Experience counts at St Andrews,” Nicklaus said after the triumph.
1984 at St Andrews
For a few days before The Open at St Andrews, Bernhard Langer was wondering if he would be well enough to play. He had been bedridden for a week with the flu, which then resulted in a sore back when he finally began practising. Unhappy with his game, Langer called in Willi Hofmann, the noted swing doctor, whose advice buoyed Langer. “I was not happy with my driving,” he said, “but the new swing was coming along, and I felt very comfortable.”
Comfortable enough to tie Tom Watson for second place, two shots behind Seve Ballesteros, equalling Langer’s runner-up finish in 1981. “The only golfer to play as splendidly from tee to green as Ballesteros,” said golf writer Dan Jenkins, “was the young and friendly Langer.” By the end of that year he had won the Order of Merit in Europe and when the first official World Ranking was released in 1986, Bernhard Langer was number one.
2004 at Royal Troon
It was a confident Phil Mickelson who showed up at Royal Troon, buoyed by a victory in the Masters, his first Major, and a second-place finish in the US Open. He had modified his take- no-prisoners style of play. “I still want to be aggressive,” he said, “but from the middle of the fairway, not the tee.” After a sluggish 73 in the first round, Mickelson stormed back with a 66.
He would take the lead with seven holes to play the last round but finished a stroke behind Todd Hamilton and Ernie Els, who went into a play-off, Hamilton winning. “I felt I played very well,” said Mickelson, whose only other top ten finish in The Open was in 2000 at St Andrews. “But to miss by a shot is disappointing. In the past I did not feel comfortable with the shots needed here, meaning less spin on the ball, but I have worked on those shots. What I love about the Majors is the variety of golf required. At The Open, you have to control the trajectory, use a variety of shots around the green and putt well in the wind.”
2005 at St Andrews
The third day at St Andrews, Retief Goosen, having opened with a birdie, drove into the rough on five, hit through the green and bogeyed. He was par for the round, 3-over for the tournament and in a negative mood, especially after having played poorly the last day of the US Open a month earlier. “I said to Colin [his caddie, Colin Byrne], ‘I think we’re out of it now. We probably need to birdie four of the next five holes.’ I birdied three in a row, and suddenly things started looking better.”
He would birdie seven of the final 12 holes, eight overall. His 6-under par 66 matched the second lowest round of the week and lifted him into a tie for third after 54 holes. Despite a 74 on Sunday, Goosen would shoot a 7-under, 281 total to tie for fifth. Tiger Woods won with a 274. “I would just like to give myself a chance every time on Sunday in a Major,” said the two-time U.S. Open champion, “and hopefully it works out and you win again. That’s all you can do in this game.”
2008 at Royal Birkdale
When South African Trevor Immelman arrived at Royal Birkdale he was reminded of the past. The last time The Open had been held there, in 1998, it was won by Mark O’Meara, who, four months earlier, had won the Masters. Immelman thus had the opportunity to equal O’Meara. Immelman was excited because The Open, no matter where it’s held, has always been his favourite tournament.
“I love the history and tradition behind The Championship,” he said. Immelman, who, as a 5-year-old, was lifted onto the shoulder of countryman Gary Player, said he had been struggling with the demands on his time after winning his first Major. “Something I was definitely not used to,” he recalled. Immelman put together four consistent but unspectacular rounds of 74-74- 73-73 for a final score of 294, 14-over par, tied for 19th and 11 shots behind winner Padraig Harrington.
2009 at Turnberry
Heading to Turnberry, Martin Kaymer had won back- to-back tournaments at the French Open and the Barclays Scottish Open. Mentally the wins had taken a toll. “I was kind of exhausted, so my expectations to finish well were not that high.” He was revitalised by 59-year-old Tom Watson’s game, who led until losing a play-off to Stewart Cink. “That was very exciting, to be in a tournament where Tom played so well. That’s my best Open memory.”
Kaymer was four shots off the lead after the second round, eventually tying for 34th. He finished pleased with his results. “It was nice to go to the tournament and have the big names coming up to me,” he said. “Ernie Els came over and said, ‘Well done the last couple of weeks.’ That was awesome.”