Open Championships are all about luck, aren’t they?
If you get out of the bed on the wrong side, your caddy gives you a piece of wayward advice or your toast is slightly overdone at breakfast, your challenge can be done for before you even get going. You can be as supremely talented as you want, but if that wind whips for any length of time during your round, your chances could vanish quicker than you can say ‘rambling Peter Alliss commentary.’
It’s easy to see how the theory formed. Bolts from the blue such as Paul Lawrie in 1999, Ben Curtis in 2003 and Todd Hamilton in 2004 are still fresh enough in the memory to be classified as ‘recent’. If goodwill was enough to win a major Darren Clarke was a favourite last year, but form is what counts and he was a generally dismissed outsider prior to last year’s triumph at Royal St. George’s. It’s over 150 years old, but the Open can still surprise us.
Royal Lytham and St. Anne’s is different. It hasn’t traditionally been a venue to favour the unheralded minnow. The list of Open winners at the Lancashire track features if not legends, guys who were amongst the world’s best at their peak and it suggests this time around, we should be looking towards the top of the Open betting.
The names resonate with golfing greatness. Bobby Jones won the Open the first time it stopped by the course in 1926 as an amateur and his record of 13 majors mark him out of one of the most influential names in the game.
Bobby Locke won his third Open in four years when he won at the course in 1952. Clearly the talented South African’s legacy to the game goes far beyond giving us the famous ‘you drive for show, but putt for dough’ couplet. Five time Open winner, Peter Thomson took the Claret Jug in 1958. It was the Australian’s penultimate major win, but period of southern era domination at the venue continued in 1963 when Bob Charles prevailed.
The left-handed freak is arguably the least remembered of the ten winners, but his contribution is notable as his victory made him the first left hander to win a major at the course at a time when it was probably still just about acceptable to refer to someone as a freak for being left-handed. The New Zealander only claimed one major, but finished in the top three or better at five others and clearly wasn’t merely a player who triumphed by virtue of winning on the metrological wheel of fortune.
Tony Jacklin is perhaps best known for his Ryder Cup exploits, but his two majors mark him out as a one of England’s best ever players. With nine majors, Gary Player is another man with a place cemented in the pantheon of golfing greats, even if recent generations will be more familiar with his general grumbling.
Then came the inimitable Severiano Ballesteros. His superb short game was perfect for negotiating the nooks and crannies of links courses. Open victories at Royal Lytham and St. Anne’s bookended his career, with 1979 being the first of five major titles and his 1988 win the last before his difficulties of the 1990s and ill-health of the 2000s.
Few could match ever Seve’s swashbuckling style, least of all the ‘as American as apple pie and lax gun control’, Tom Lehman. Lehman was however a solid professional rather than a hopeless outsider and his victory couldn’t be classified as a total shock. Since turning 50, he’s managed to win three majors on the Seniors Tour, so the ability remains as prominent as ever, even if the hairline doesn’t.
The most recent winner of an Open at the course was David Duval. Although subsequent events make it both easy and fun to deride his abilities, the American was a top quality player around the time of his 2001 triumph. Between 1997 and 2001, he took home the silverware or novelty over-sized winner’s cheque on 14 occasions, even climbing to the position of world number one in 1999.
That doesn’t help a whole lot because there are a number of players who could fit the criteria. Essentially though, you’re looking for someone with the bit of magic. Seve’s mastery of the miraculous recovery shot was surely not coincidental to his two victories along the shores of the Irish Sea. Already this week, Tiger Woods has spoken about the punitive rough, describing it as “almost unplayable”. None other than Tony Jacklin basically told him to stopping moaning not long after. Aside from being an amusing petty squabble, It shows that the winner will need to be accurate and if not accurate, able to conjure up a few miracles.
The Open has been an event capable of throwing up a surprise result, but for this year, sticking with a proven high class performer may be the best course of action.