1. Modest beginnings
The Open Championship is the oldest of golf’s four Majors. It was first played at Prestwick Golf Club, in 1860. That event saw eight golfers play three rounds of the 12-hole Prestwick in a single day. Willie Park Senior won, beating Old Tom Morris by two strokes. His ‘trophy’ was the Challenge Belt, but this changed to the famous Claret Jug in the 1870s, after Young Tom Morris was allowed to keep the belt following three consecutive victories (1868-1870). In 1870, Young Tom’s financial reward was £6 in old money. Today that equates to £10,600… a far, far cry from the £1.15 million (€1.34m) won by Zach Johnson last year.
2. Early Scottish domination
For the first 30 years, the winner was a Scot. In the last 30 years only Sandy Lyle (1985) and Paul Lawrie (1999) have lifted the Claret Jug for Scotland… and some would say that Lawrie only won thanks to the extreme generosity of Jean van de Velde.
3. Home of the Open
St Andrews may claim to be the Home of Golf, but Prestwick is the true home of the Open Championship. The event was held here from 1860-1872, and then again another 12 times up until 1925.
4. Start of the rota
In 1951, the Open crossed the water for the first and only time, to Royal Portrush. Englishman Max Faulkner won by two strokes from Argentine, Antonio Cerda. The year was also significant as the Open then began a rota system which was limited to just nine golf clubs: Carnoustie (5 times), Muirfield (8), Royal Birkdale (9), Royal Liverpool (4), Royal Lytham & St Anne’s (10), Royal St George’s (5), St Andrews (13), Royal Troon (6), Turnberry (4).
As of 1990, St Andrews hosts the event every five years. And, as of 2016, Muirfield has now been excluded for its stance on refusing to accept female members Will a new venue be added to the rota? Could it be Royal Portrush, which will host the 148th Open in 2019?
5. Young and old
Old Tom Morris remains the oldest winner of the Open, despite 59-year-old Tom Watson’s remarkable efforts in 2009. Old Tom was aged 46 years and 99 days when he won his fourth Championship at Prestwick in 1867. The following year, also at Prestwick, Young Tom Morris beat his father by three strokes to become the youngest ever winner. Young Tom was just 17 years and 161 days old. He went on the win the next three Opens as well.
Old Tom Morris also holds the record for the largest margin of victory, when he won the 1862 Championship by 13 shots.It was a record across all the Majors until Tiger Woods won the 2000 US Open by 15 shots at Pebble Beach.
6. The winners’ circle
Harry Vardon has the most victories, winning the Open six times between 1896 and 1914. Tom Watson (1975-1983) and Peter Thompson (1954-1965) won it five times each. It is also worth noting that while Jack Nicklaus ‘only’ won three Claret Jugs, he was runner-up on seven occasions. Vardon was runner-up four times.
7. Irish winners
We’ve had just four winners from Ireland, north and south. Fred Daly came first, at Royal Liverpool in 1947, followed 60 years later by Pádraig Harrington, at Carnoustie in 2007. Padraig won in fine style at Royal Birkdale the following year, and Darren Clarke won three years after that, at Royal St George’s in 2011. And then there’s Rory McIlroy, who won in 2014 at Royal Liverpool, beating Fowler and Garcia by two shots to collect close to £1 million in winnings. Back in 1947, Fred Daly won £150.
8. Irish near misses
There have been memorable misses too: in the year after his 1947 victory, Fred Daly was runner-up to Henry Cotton. The following year was a far more painful defeat as Bradshaw lost in a playoff to Bobby Locke, at Royal St George’s. In the second round, Bradshaw’s ball came to rest among shards of broken glass. Unsure of the rules, he elected to play it but only moved the ball 30 yards. Christy O’Connor Senior was a runner-up, too, at Royal Birkdale in 1965, when the great Peter Thomson collected his fifth title in 12 years. His nephew, Christy Junior, may not have been a runner-up but his blistering opening round of -6 at Royal St. George’s, in 1985, was a course record of 64. He had seven successive birdies. He finished in third place behind Sandy Lyle.
Pádraig Harrington had chances before his 2007 breakthrough. Indeed, he was once asked if there was one shot he could take again which would it be. His answer was his drive on the 18th in the final round at Muirfield, in 2002. He was too aggressive and found a fairway bunker, ending with a bogey, when a par would have put him in a four-way playoff. Ernie Els won.
And 2015 had its Irish drama, too. Rory may have missed the tournament through a football-induced injury, but after three days, Irish amateur Paul Dunne was atop the leaderboard, displaying remarkably mature golf to be in the final pairing with Louis Oosthuizen. He couldn’t hold on but wherever his golfing career now takes him (including Royal Troon this year), he can always say that he led the Open Championship after three rounds.
9. Greatest moments?
How do you pick just a few when there are so many?
There’s Seve’s victory in 1979, when he hit one of his trademark wild drives into the car park on the 16th during the final round at Lytham St. Anne’s. Seve, standing among the cars as he pondered his next shot is one of the Open’s iconic images. So too is his joyous fist-pumping when he sank the winning birdie putt on the 18th at St. Andrews in 1984.
There’s Pádraig’s magical 272-yard approach shot to the par five 17th at Royal Birkdale, in 2008, which set up an eagle and a four-shot victory over Ian Poulter. Due to the wind, he aimed his five wood over one of the grandstands and ended up six feet from the hole.
What about John Daly’s 1995 play-off victory at St. Andrews after Constantino Rocca sank an incredible putt of 60 feet on the 18th to force the playoff?
At St. Andrews in 2000, Tiger produced a blistering eight-shot victory which saw him finish at 19-under, an Open record. In his four sub-70 rounds he avoided every one of the course’s 112 bunkers. He was 24 years old and had won the US Open at Pebble Beach by 15 shots only weeks before. His Open victory was the second step of his ‘Tiger Slam’.
But few would dispute that the greatest moment of all was also the greatest Open of all, when Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson battled it out, stroke for stroke, over the final two days at Turnberry, in 1977. The ‘Duel in the Sun’ was an epic battle that saw each record a 65 on day three. On the final day they traded birdies and the lead but reached the 17th all square. Nicklaus bogeyed, Watson made par and when they both birdied the 18th, Watson’s 65 gave him a one-shot victory. It was the second of his five Open titles.
10. Worst moments?
It’s fair to say that nothing could trump Jean van der Velde’s 18th hole collapse at Carnoustie in 1999. Seve’s jubilant fist-pumping may show the joyous side of victory, but Jean’s hands-on-hips pose, the Barry Burn up around his ankles, shows the despair of watching it slip away.
There are, however, plenty of other moments when viewers winced at the pain inflicted by the golfing gods. Ian Woosnam discovered he had one too many clubs in the bag after he birdied the first hole of his final round at Lytham in 2001. A two-stroke penalty meant his share of the lead was gone and he never recovered. In 1978, Tommy Nakajima took five shots to escape the clutches of the treacherous Road Hole bunker at St. Andrews. In 2003, Thomas Bjorn looked set to lift the Claret Jug when he was two up with three to play at Royal St. George’s. At the par three 16th he drove into a bunker beside the green and took three attempts to escape, thus opening the door for the unknown Ben Curtis.
Hale Irwin’s ‘phantom’ putt in 1983 stands as fair warning to amateur golfers to take every putt seriously. Tom Watson beat him by one shot.
Nick Faldo may have thanked the media “from the heart of my bottom” during his victory speech at Muirfield in 1992, but his brief rendition of Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way’ was something no other human being should ever have to endure.