Royal Troon & The Open Championship

Royal Troon & The Open Championship

Returning to Royal Troon Golf Club for the ninth time, The Open will be played for the 145th time this year and once again promises to deliver many more memorable moments which will add to its enduring history. Since it was first played in 1860 The Open, and The Claret Jug, which was first introduced in 1873, have been competed for over some of Britain’s finest links golf courses propelling it to become one of the most iconic and cherished trophies in all of sport.\r\n\r\nWhoever holds their nerves to win the 145th Open Championship will enter its hall of fame. Writing themselves in to history alongside a list of greats which conjures up the likes of Harry Vardon, Bobby Jones and Henry Cotton from the early custodians of the famous trophy, legends of golf such as Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, Gary Player and Seve Ballesteros and the modern day greats of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickleson and Rory Mcllroy. It is little wonder then the opportunity to place yourself in such esteemed company makes winning The Open golfs most prized tournament.\r\n\r\nRoyal Troon has played its part in the history of The Open for almost 100 years hosting the championship on eight previous occasions and conjuring up many memorable moments.\r\n

First a bit of history before Royal Troon

\r\nAs the oldest championship in golf, The Open was first competed for at Prestwick following the untimely death of Allan Roberston, aged 43, in 1859. Following his death the members of Prestwick decided to conduct a tournament the following year to find the land’s greatest golfer. Letters were sent to Blackheath, Perth, Edinburgh, Mussleburgh and St Andrews inviting a player to represent each of the clubs in the tournament. Eight professional arrived to play three rounds of golf in a single day, on the then 12 hole course. Willie Park Sr beat Old Tom Morris by two shots and received the Challenge Belt, a hand crafted prize of red Moroccan Leather worth £25. A year later Prestwick Golf Club declared that the tournament “shall be open to all the world”, The Open was born and in 1871 eight amateurs joined the field of ten professionals.\r\n\r\nThe Challenge Belt was retired in 1870 when Tom Morris was allowed to keep it having won the tournament for three consecutive years. Amazingly, because no trophy was available, the tournament wasn’t played in 1871. It returned in 1872 when Prestwick agreed to jointly organise the event with The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews and The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers. Yet again Tom Morris won for a fourth consecutive time and was awarded the newly introduced trophy, ‘The Golf Champion Trophy’, better known by its now famous name, The Claret Jug.\r\n\r\nIt wasn’t until 1873 that The Open was played away from its original home course of Prestwick making its first appearance at the home of golf, St Andrews. 1874 saw Mussleburgh first play host to the tournament and marked the beginning of its tradition for being rotated between links courses. In 1892 the newly built Muirfield replaced Mussleburgh and the following year Royal St George’s and Royal Liverpool Golf Club were invited to join the courses that would host the championship in rotation, as its popularity continued to rise. The same year also saw the competition extended to its modern day standard of 72 holes, making competitors play over two days for the first time in its history. It wasn’t until 1898 that the ‘cut’ was introduced with competitors who were more than 20 shots behind the leader being excluded from the final two rounds.\r\n

Royal Troon’s inauguration at The 58th Open Championship – 1923

\r\n1923 saw Royal Troon enter the fray for the first time as a venue. Hosting the 58th Open Championship for the first time a young English professional Arthur Havers fought the might of the American contenders to win by a single stroke from the defending champion Walter Hagen, who had piled on the pressure throughout the final round, and indeed all the way to the 18th green. As Havers found the greenside bunker with his second shot at the 18th it looked as if he had left the door open to the charging Hagen, but Havers held his nerve, sublimely holing out from the sand under immense pressure. Moments later Hagen too found himself in the same greenside bunker after his second shot but he couldn’t match the brilliance of Havers before him, even if he did come exceptionally close to doing so.\r\n\r\n1923 also saw controversy before the tournament even got underway. Gene Sarazen and a number of other American competitors were found to have holes punched deep into the face of their irons, the result of which delivered massive amounts of backspin and provided much greater control on what were bone hard greens. The clubs were deemed illegal and a rally of last minute work was needed using files obtained from the Glasgow shipyards before the clubs were accepted to conform. Sarazen, who at the time was the US Open and PGA champion, subsequently failed to qualify in what were gale force conditions.\r\n

The 79th Open Championship – 1950

\r\nIt took another 27 years before the Open would return to Royal Troon when the great South African Bobby Locke became the first golfer to successfully retain his crown as champion since Walter Hagen had done so in 1929. In doing so Locke also set a new record of 279 shots for the championship and was largely helped by the glorious conditions of the three days. Barely a gust of wind was felt. The fairways, of which Locke only missed two during his four rounds, were baked whilst the greens had been generously watered and were in immaculate condition, perfect for the South African’s feather like touch with his putter. Locke was in fact so pleased with the greens that every Christmas from that year onwards he would send a card to the club with the same message: “Best wishes for this year and the future. Still the best greens in the world.”\r\n\r\nThe sublime conditions of 1950 saw a record amateur score of 66 posted during the final round by American Frank Stanahan, a record that would stand until 2011 (it was bettered by Tom Lewis at Royal St Georges when a first round score of 65 saw him hold a share of lead at the end of the opening day). Not everyone found the going quite as pleasant however, another amateur and German Champion Herman Tissies had to contend with a nightmare at the short par 3 eighth hole, or the Postage Stamp. Having missed the tiny green he found himself in the greenside bunker and proceed to play from bunker to bunker and back again before finally holing out with a single putt to record a score of 15 for the hole.\r\n

The 91st Open Championship – 1962

\r\n1962 would be the next time Troon hosted The Open and would mark a large change in the way the Championship was organised. In the previous years Arnold Palmer had attracted an increasing swell in the numbers of spectators as he played St Andrews and Royal Birkdale, but even bigger numbers packed into Troon to watch him defend his title in his natural attacking style. At the dangerous 11th par 5, Palmer made two birdies and an eagle during the championship. The eagle came on his second round striking a 1 iron from the tee followed by a 2 iron to leave him 14ft from the pin. No wonder the crowds had flocked to see him retain his title by six shots from Australian Kel Nagle and in doing so set the new championship record of 276 strokes. The same year also saw the first appearance of young Jack Nicklaus who eventually finished 34th on his debut.\r\n

The 102nd Open Championship – 1973

\r\nEleven years later and it was the turn of Tom Weiskopf to take the headlines when Troon hosted the 102nd Open Championship. At the time he possessed one of the game’s most powerful and elegant swings and was without doubt regarded as best golfer of his time not to have won a major tournament. His victory at Royal Troon would be his one and only major victory coming only three months after the death of his father. Having arrived early to complete eight practice rounds his dedication and seemingly increased determination, following the death of his father, paid off as he led from the opening day. A final round of 66, with three birdies in the opening eleven holes, saw him lift the Claret Jug with three shots to spare from US Open Champion Johnny Millar and England’s Neil Coles. Weiskopf’s championship score of 276 equalled the championships record set by Arnold Palmer when the Open had last been hosted at Troon in 1962.\r\n\r\nThe 102th Open would also be the farewell appearance of the legendary Gene Sarazen 50 years after he made his first appearance at Troon in 1923. The 71 year old went out in style, hitting a 5 iron hole in one at the famous and notorious Postage Stamp 8th hole before stating: “When the crowd roared and I realised the ball was in the hole, I felt there was no better way to close the books on my tournament play than to make a hole-in-one on the Postage Stamp and call it quits.” which he did the following day, but not before holing out from the sand for two at the Postage Stamp 8th hole again.\r\n

The 111th Open Championship – 1982

\r\nTom Watson would become the next player to yet again write his name in The Open history books at Royal Troon in 1982. Although not living up to his previous iconic victories against Jack Nicklaus at Turnberry or his play off with Jack Newton two years earlier at Muirfield. Watson was indeed never really in the reckoning for the title, having been 7 shots a drift after 36 holes and still 3 shots behind as play started on the final day. As the leaders crumbled behind him Watson was steady away, but as the conditions worsened he struck a 3 iron to three feet at the par 5 11th to make eagle and dropped only a single shot thereafter. Meanwhile Zimbabwe’s Nick Price, who had been topping the leaderboards throughout the final round, stood three strokes clear with 6 holes to play. Having just birdied the 10th, 11th and 12th holes he then managed to bogey the 13th before double bogeying the 15th, after finding the sand with his second shot. With another shot dropped at the par 3 17th he fell into second place and Watson was crowned champion, to which he said: “I didn’t win this Championship, I had it handed to me.”\r\n

The 118th Open Championship – 1989

\r\nThe next visit of The Open to Royal Troon came in 1989 and would see the first use of the shortened play-off over four holes used. The R&A had introduced it to avoid tournaments running over into an extra day and would see the first ever three way play-off fought out by the legendary Greg Norman, Wayne Grady and Mark Calcavecchia who would ultimately triumph as the drama of the final day unfolded.\r\n\r\nAt the start of play Grady led the field, Calcavecchia was three stroke down with Norman a seemingly distant way off, seven strokes behind Grady. Norman, or The Great White Shark as he was nicknamed, got off to a ferocious start birdying the opening six holes to bring himself into contention. Eventually posting a round of 64 he took the clubhouse lead at nine under par. Calcavecchia meanwhile kept himself in the hunt by holing a 40ft putt at the 11th and swiftly out did himself again by pitching straight in again at the 12th from 60ft. Needing a birdie coming up the last, Calcaveccia played an eight iron to 4ft and holed for his birdie to tie with Norman in the clubhouse. Grady, who was still topping the leaderboard faltered at the 17th making a bogey dropping himself back level with the clubhouse leaders. A par at the 18th meant he’d let the victory slip and would have to battle it out in the play-off.\r\n\r\nNorman started the play-off as he had done his final round, birdying the first two holes before overshooting the 17th green and making bogey to drop level with Calcaveccia who crowned his finest moment at the 18th with a 5 iron approach to just 6ft. In the meantime Norman’s length would be his undoing, finding a bunker 310 yards from the tee he could only send his second shot into another bunker before going out of bounds over the green leaving Calcaveccia to lift the famous Claret Jug with Grady three shots behind.\r\n

The 126th Open Championship – 1997

\r\n1997 brought the seventh instalment of The Open at Royal Troon and saw the first professional appearance at the Open of a 21 year old Tiger Woods. Woods would equal the course record during his third round, unfortunately for him the 64 he posted would be ten strokes better than his scores either side of his third round. It was in fact another American, Justin Leonard, who would etch his name on the famous trophy and match a feat only two other players, Jim Barnes at Prestwick in 1931 and Tommy Armour at Carnoustie in 1931, had previously managed by coming from five shots back at the start of play on the final day. Such was Leonard’s charge and the quality of his putting on the final day that he ended up winning by three strokes from Darren Clarke and Jasper Parnevik.\r\n

The 133rd Open Championship – 2004

\r\nThe 133rd Open, in 2004, was the last time Troon hosted the Open Championship. Britain’s Paul Casey and Frenchman Thomas Levet topped the leaderboards after the first day with rounds of 66 whilst the 2002 champion Ernie Els opened with a 69. It was however the American Todd Hamilton who, much to the power of his scrambling skills, would eventually end up in a play-off with Els. As the lead changed hands continually on the final day between Els, Hamilton, Levet and Phil Mickleson, it came to the 18th green. Hamilton for once could not save par leaving Els a ten footer for birdie and the title, breaking sharply left at the last minute Els missed and they entered the play-off. The 18th would again be the decisive hole, Hamilton led by one after Els bogeyed the 17th. Els set himself up for a birdie opportunity playing to twelve feet whilst Hamilton was 30 yards short of the green for two before placing a sublime chip and run to within 2ft. Els missed his birdie putt and both settled for par leaving Hamilton to lift the Claret Jug in only his fourth Open and becoming the sixth straight American winner at Royal Troon.

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