DRIV­ING TO AN OPEN TI­TLE

This year sees the 147th Bri­tish Open Golf Cham­pi­onship, at Carnoustie in An­gus, Scot­land, from July 19-22. Terry Red­head looks back at the vic­to­ries of two Amer­i­cans who dom­i­nated their sport, Jack Nick­laus and Tom Watson.

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Re­call­ing the days when Nick­laus and Watson dom­i­nated the Open

As a sport­ing fan, I al­ways watched the Open golf cham­pi­onship on the tele­vi­sion and wished that I could give the game a try.

At that time, in the mid 1960s there was no way that could hap­pen. To play golf you had to be very well-off or very well­con­nected.

But by the early 1970s things thank­fully be­gan to change as more and more towns and cities opened up mu­nic­i­pal courses, al­low­ing new­com­ers to the sport, like me, the chance to give it a go.

So it was that for sev­eral years in the early to mid 1970s, I spent about four hours of ev­ery week out on the golf course with my play­ing part­ners. Now I was never par­tic­u­larly ca­pa­ble but it was a great way of end­ing a work­ing week. And yes, it is true, you never men­tioned work or any other dif­fi­cult is­sues while play­ing golf.

Then as fam­ily life de­vel­oped, that four hours be­came far too pre­cious to ‘waste’ on walk­ing sev­eral miles hit­ting a lit­tle white ball into a hole. There were do­mes­tic chores to per­form.

But that never stopped me from mak­ing sure that each year I watched the Open on tele­vi­sion.

I did al­ways won­der why it had to be played on a links/sea­side course in Scot­land. Why did a sum­mer sport have to take place in this coun­try in an area where ev­ery­one wore wa­ter­proof coats, hats and even gloves in tem­per­a­tures that al­ways seemed at least 10 de­grees in­fe­rior to those en­joyed by the rest of the coun­try.

That apart, the pair of play­ers I re­mem­ber the most are two Amer­i­cans, Jack Nick­laus and Tom Watson.

Nick­laus won at Muir­field in 1966 and then at the home of golf at St An­drews in 1970 and 1978. Watson was even more suc­cess­ful, win­ning five times, at Carnoustie, this year’s venue, in 1975, at Turn­berry in 1977, at Muir­field in 1980 and again in 1982 and 1983 at Troon and Royal Birk­dale re­spec­tively.

While oth­ers came and went, these two were al­ways among the lead­ers and, to me, to­tally dom­i­nated.

Nick­laus, now 78 and known as the Golden Bear, is re­garded by most as the great­est golfer of all time. Dur­ing a span of 25 years he won a record 18 ca­reer ma­jor tour­na­ments with 19 sec­ond places and nine third-place fin­ishes.

When he fin­ished his ca­reer he had se­cured 73 vic­to­ries, third on the all-time list be­hind Sam Snead, with 82 and Tiger Woods with 79.

Watson won eight ma­jors, in­clud­ing those five Opens, and was the world num­ber one from 1978-1982.

But he is par­tic­u­larly no­table for his longevity in the sport. In­deed, at al­most 60 years of age and 26 years af­ter his last ma­jor tour­na­ment suc­cess, he led af­ter the sec­ond and third rounds of the Open in 2009.

With a chance to win the tour­na­ment on the very last hole with a par four, he missed an eight­foot putt and then went on to lose in a play-off with fel­low Amer­i­can Ste­wart Cink.

Iron­i­cally sev­eral of Watson’s ma­jor vic­to­ries came at the ex­pense of Nick­laus, most no­tably in the 1977 Mas­ters and Open. Though his ri­valry with Nick­laus was in­tense, their friendly com­pet­i­tive­ness only served to in­crease golf’s pop­u­lar­ity dur­ing that time.

Shortly there will be another name on the fa­mous tro­phy to fol­low in the foot­steps of the list of pre­vi­ous win­ners.

Look­ing back there are so many to re­call. Seve Balles­teros won in 1979, ‘84 and ‘88; Nick Faldo in 1987, ‘90 and ‘92, Sandy Lyle in 1985, Tiger Woods in 2000, 2005 and 2006, Dar­ren Clarke in 2011 and Rory McIl­roy in 2014.

But for me, it will al­ways be Nick­laus and Watson, true cham­pi­ons and true gen­tle­men.

And yes, it is true, you never men­tioned work or any other dif­fi­cult is­sues while play­ing golf

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