This year sees Royal Birkdale Golf Club in Southport, England, hold its 10th British Open. In the post-World War II era, only St. Andrews (14) has been home to more. Here are the highlights of each of the Birkdale British Opens.
1954: Australia’s Peter Thomson claims the first of his three consecutive (five overall) British Opens.
1961: Arnold Palmer establishes his reputation in Great Britain for the same kind of slash-and-smash play that made him a darling in the U.S. In the face of hellacious winds and rain, Palmer wins his first of two British Opens back to back. He culminates his final-round 72 with a full-bore 6-iron out of heavy scrub on the right side of the then-15th hole (now 16th) to within 15 feet of the hole for a regulation par that helped secure a one-shot victory over Dai Rees. A plaque marks the spot of Palmer’s bold shot – the only such commemorative marker at Royal Birkdale.
1965: Thomson falters on the back nine, then finishes birdie-birdie to eke out a two-stroke victory over Welshman Brian Huggett and Irishman Christy O’Connor for his fifth and final British Open title.
1971: Lee Trevino completes an unprecedented month of national championships by winning the U.S, Canadian and British Open titles. At Birkdale his margin is a single shot over Lu Liang Huan (“Mr. Lu”), the diminutive Formosan who, with his bold sweaters and incongruous little pork pie hat, becomes the first Asian golfer to challenge seriously for a major title.
1976: Johnny Miller’s six-shot victory is almost eclipsed by the spectacular debut of a 19-year-old Spaniard, Seve Ballesteros, who caps a week of wild shotmaking with a miracle chip threaded between two greenside bunkers for an up-and-down par on the 72nd hole to tie Jack Nicklaus for second place.
1983: Tom Watson rifles what he later describes as “the best 2-iron of my life” to the final green and makes par to beat Hale Irwin and Andy Bean by a shot for his fifth (and final) British Open title.
1991: Ian Baker-Finch shoots 64-66 on the weekend to win by two, highlighted by a final-round 29 on the front nine. He gets credit for his unworldy putting, though in fact it was flawless ballstriking that set him up for birdie putts from 6 to 12 feet on holes 2-4 and 6-7.
1998: Mark O’Meara beats Brian Watts in a four-hole playoff, but 17-year old amateur Justin Rose almost steals the show with a fourth-place tie, sealed by a holed-out wedge for birdie from the rough on the 72nd hole.
2008: Greg Norman, age 53, makes the last major run of his career in high winds all week. Leading after three rounds, he backslides Sunday with a 77. Padraig Harrington comes from two shots back, playing the back nine in 4-under par 32 – including an eagle on the par-5 17th with a five-wood from 272 yards to 7 feet – to win his second consecutive British Open.
(Note: This story appeared in the July 2017 issue of Golfweek.)