The Open Championship: Golf’s Oldest Tournament

Posted by: mike July 18th, 2017

by Steve Trivett

 

The 146th Open Championship begins Thursday morning at Royal Birkdale.

And not unlike every other playing of golf’s oldest tournament, the where is just as important as the who.

Royal Birkdale is located on England’s westernmost coast – just a few miles up the road from Royal Liverpool, another storied old course that has played host to the Open.

Royal Birkdale is not the most famous course in the championship rota – that honor goes to the Old Course at St. Andrews while Carnoustie is the hardest.

But Royal Birkdale is important – at least historically.

Because of what happened 56 years ago.

Way back in 1960, Arnold Palmer won both the Masters and the U.S. Open – both in spectacular fashion.Royal Birkdale

He then made the decision to travel to St. Andrews to play in his first Open championship – and it was at that moment when the idea that a player might be able to win the professional “Grand Slam” first became part of the conversation.

Arnie didn’t win that year at The Old Course – he lost to Australian Kel Nagle by one shot, but he vowed he would be back the next year.

And when he returned – as promised - to Royal Birkdale in ’61 he not only won, he did it in Arnold Palmer fashion, coming from behind on a blustery day that actually saw him hit a shot from a bush on his way to a one-shot victory over Dai Rees.

Suddenly, the Open Championship - which had become famous when Bob Jones was winning every golf tournament in sight some 40 years earlier - was relevant once again.

This will be the 10th time the Open will be played at Royal Birkdale – and the list of winners there is as impressive as any.

Australian Peter Thomson won there twice.

Lee Trevino won there in 1971 – beating Taiwan’s LuLiang-Huan by one shot.

Johnny Miller won there in 1976, drubbing Jack Nicklaus and a 19-year-old Spaniard named Seve Ballesteros by six shots/

Tom Watson won there in 1983 – it was his fifth Open Championship victory – when he defeated Andy Bean and Hale Irwin by one shot.

Mark O’Meara won there in 1998 – he had earlier that year won the Masters – but only after dodging a lost-ball bullet in the final round as an errant tee shot was located in one of the high sand dunes just seconds before the time limit for searching expired.

The last time the Open was played at Royal Birkdale, Irishman Padraig Harrington won his second straight Claret Jug in 2008 – but only after shooting 69 in the final round, one of just 21 sub-70 rounds fired all week.

The tournament will begin here early Thursday morning and will last deep into the day with 156 players teeing it up in the first round.

The projected weather forecast calls for nearly-perfect temperatures with very little wind.

The winner will pocket more than $1.8 million.

He’ll also become part of history.

So when that player is called to the awards ceremony on Sunday with the words, “the champion golfer of the year,” he’ll be walking in some very famous footprints at Royal Birkdale.

Footprints that will never be erased.

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Steve is a long time veteran golf writer. He's already on the far side of 70 - which explains how Steve Trivett started covering the PGA Tour in 1963. He's an award-winning journalist who has worked for the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph, The late great Rocky Mountain News and The Villages Daily Sun. He once carried a single-digit handicap, but his ball striking finally reached the depth of his putting prowess.