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.
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