Royal Birkdale rich with history and lynkis
Great Britain’s 146th Open Championship began Thursday at Royal Birkdale Golf Club in Southport, England, just north of Liverpool on the Irish Sea.
Nine men formed the club in 1889, and members moved it to the present location in 1897 and constructed an 18-hole course. It was then, and remains today, open ground dominated by ridges and hammocks, a seaside expanse the Scots called links or lynkis. The Old English term for the rough ground near the seashore was hlincas, plural of hlinc; the term “links” has nothing to do with connections, such as pieces of a chain.
The club welcomed female members in 1890, and the first significant tournament held on the course was the 1909 Ladies’ British Open Match Play Championship.
Royal Birkdale has produced memorable highlights during its previous nine Opens.
1954, Peter Thomson — The first of many
A field of 320 players played two qualifying rounds July 5-6 on two courses, with the top 100 advancing to the 72-hole tournament. Bookies favoured South African and three-time Open champion Bobby Locke before the start and listed him at 3-1. After the second round, England’s Bill Spence led the field with a 5under 141 (par was 73). Argentine Antonio Cerda was one back, and four players trailed by two, including Englishman Sidney Scott, who shot a course record 6under 67 in the second round. Fifty-twoyear-old Gene Sarazen, who won the 1932 Open, advanced to the final 36 holes.
Four men shot 4-under 69s in the third round during the morning of the final day — Scott, Locke, Welshman Dai Rees and Australian Peter Thomson. Scott, the first of the four to finish the afternoon round, shot a 72 for an 8-under 284. Rees needed only a par-4 on the 440-yard 18th to edge by Scott by a stroke, but missed a five-footer and made bogey.
Thomson, 24, who had finished second in the previous two Opens, posted a 283 to take the lead with only Locke still on the course. Needing a birdie on 18 to win, he faced a 35-foot putt. Although Locke reportedly coined the phrase, “You drive for show and putt for dough,” he came up short. The Open win would be the first of many for Thomson, he would win again in 1955, 1956, 1958, and 1965.
1961, Arnold Palmer — Wet and wild
The first day’s weather was remarkably mild, and three players led the field at 4-under 68 — Dai Rees, South African Harold Henning and Australian Kel Nagle (par had been reduced to 72). But overnight rain and gale winds on Day 2, Thursday, July 13, didn’t deter American Arnold Palmer who bested the field with a 1-over 73, a remarkable score given he carded a seven on the 16th hole. That score included a one-stroke penalty after the wind moved his ball in a bunker after he had addressed it. He trailed leaders Rees and Henning after the first 36 holes.
“I’ve played in worse conditions before,” Palmer said to reporters afterward, “but not much.”
The night before the final two rounds, storms blew down temporary buildings and tents and forced cancellation of play. On Saturday morning, with crews blotting the soaked greens with blankets and towels, an aggressive Palmer shot a 69, which included a 4-under 32 on the front nine. In the afternoon’s final round, he birdied the par-5 14th hole and that gave him the momentum needed to best runner-up Rees by one shot.
1965, Peter Thomson — No. 5
Tony Lema, the defending champion, led the field in the first round on July 7 with a 5-under 68 (back to par-73), and one reporter wrote of his “smooth, indolent swing.” Betting favourites, Americans Jack Nicklaus and Palmer, trailed by five and two strokes, respectively. Lema and Australian Bruce Devlin led after 36 holes with 4-under 140, and Palmer was one back. Palmer, always a gambler, cut the dogleg in the sixth hole but got into trouble and bogeyed the hole.
The New York Times captured Thomson’s dramatic victory: “In a tumultuous finish that was in doubt all the way down the stretch, the jaunty 35-year-old with the rhythmic swing scored birdies on the last two long holes to shake off Tony Lema’s challenge and win by two strokes.”
This was Thomson’s fifth Open title — his first had been at Royal Birkdale in 1954.
1971, Lee Trevino — Battle with ‘Mr. Lu’
American Lee Trevino, paired with England’s Tony Jacklin in the third round, felt the wrath of the home crowd as the two battled for the lead. The gallery roared in support of Jacklin and cheered when Trevino missed a putt. Afterward, a still simmering Trevino told the press, “At one stage I felt like going into the gallery with my putter.”
The bookies had favoured Trevino before the Open’s start on July 7 because of his wins at the U.S. and Canadian Opens during the preceding 19 days. And indeed, Trevino led after the third day at 11under; Jacklin and Taiwanese golfer Lu Liang Huan were one back.
“Mr. Lu,” as the media dubbed him, endeared the fans by smiling and doffing his little blue hat after nearly every shot. Trevino posted a 31 on the outward nine and built a six-stroke lead over his pairing partner Lu. But that advantage dwindled precipitously on the back nine, and Trevino led by only one on the 18th tee. Lu’s second shot beaned a woman, Lillian Tipping, in the gallery, but the shaken player rallied to birdie the final hole. Trevino did as well and won the 100th Open with a 14under 278. (Ms. Tipping was not seriously hurt.)
1976, Johnny Miller — Final round course record
A 19-year-old Spanish newcomer, Severiano (Seve) Ballesteros, led by two shots on July 9 after the first three rounds. On the first two of those days the weather was miserable, but not the usual wind and rain. Rather, the temperature hit 90 degrees on the dry and dusty course, conditions that led to a small brush fire.
The course was par-72, and the layout was distinctly asymmetrical: 34-38-72. The front nine had no par-5s, but the inward nine boasted four, all over 500 yards, in the last six holes.
American Johnny Miller surged to the front on the last day, leaving behind Ballesteros, who was plagued in the last round by erratic driving, as well as Nicklaus, Masters champ Ray Floyd, and others.
Miller, two behind Ballesteros at the start, fired a course-record 66 to win by six strokes over the Spaniard and Nicklaus. Rookie British pro, Mark James, also shot a 66 that day.
1983, Tom Watson — No. 5
American Craig Stadler, the PGA Tour money leader the previous year, set a high standard in first round scoring with a 7under 64. (Yes, Open officials had again changed the course layout, reducing par from 73 in 1976 to 71 (34-37). On Day 2, though, an unknown English club pro, Denis Durnian, posted a 28 on the front and broke the Open record for the outward nine. He ended up with a 66 and later finished tied for eighth for the Championship.
Defending champion Watson rose to the front at the end of the third day, July 16, at 8-under, one stroke ahead of Stadler. And the keen competition continued in the fourth round, with eight players tied for the lead at one point. Watson changed all that when he birdied 11, 13, and 16 and led by one stroke.
He parred the par-5 17th and scorched his 2-iron approach on the par-4 18th to within 18 feet. He easily two-putted for his fifth Open Championship. American Hale Irwin tied for second, one stroke behind Watson, and an error in the third round likely kept him out of a tie with Watson. With his ball two inches from the cup on number 14, he lazily attempted to tap it in with the back of his putter — and whiffed.
1998, Mark O’Meara — Major No. 2
Tiger Woods, coming off his PGA Tour Player of the Year award in 1997, tied John Huston for the first-round lead with a 4under 66 in wet and windy conditions. In round two on July 17, lousy weather pushed Woods to a 73, putting him tied for second behind American Brian Watts who stood at 3-under.
Also with Woods at 2-under was a 17year-old amateur, Englishman Justin Rose, who was born in South Africa, and finished the round with eagle-birdie. His 66 tied the 18-hole Open record for an amateur.
Watts led after day three at even par, with Masters winner Mark O’Meara tied for second with two others; gallery favourite Rose was in fifth place.
“Every hole, I got an ovation all the way up the hole,” Rose said to reporters afterward. “It was incredible — people shouting out my name.”
O’Meara and Watts were tied at even par at the end of round four, with Tiger’s sparkling 66 placing him in third. But the crowd’s high point came when Rose holed a pitch from the rough for a birdie on 18 and a tie for fourth, the best finish by an amateur since 1921.
O’Meara beat Watts in a four-hole playoff by two strokes and gained his second major championship of the year.
Arnold Palmer with the champions trophy and medal after his win on July 15, 1961.
Peter Thomson proudly holds the Claret Jug on July 9, 1954.
Johnny Miller throws his golf ball to the crowd after winning on July 10, 1976.