Jul 18th, 2018
Golf Punks Top Five Open Moments!
Words: Thomas Kershaw
Walter Hagen, Royal St. George’s, 1922
What can be said about the great ‘Sir’ Walter Hagen that hasn’t already been? The suavest, swankiest and most sartorial man who at the time was larger than the game of golf itself. He arrived in a chauffeured limousine complete with a dressing room in the boot. It was as though lodestone filled the soles of his shoes the way eyes hawked. Little soon after the last evening’s cigars were charred and the Scotch drained, he took to the tee at Royal St. George’s.
Despite meeting steadfast competition from the Cornish coast’s Jim Barnes, Hagen ground out a 72 on the final day to edge the Championship by one shot and become the first American to lift the Claret Jug in history. Three more Open Championships would follow. One of golf’s greatest players and certainly its greatest man.
Ben Hogan, Carnoustie, 1953
Perhaps it’s a bias selection as we salivate over a gruelling Carnoustie course but I would challenge anyone to suggest a finer Open performance than that of Ben Hogan in ’53. Even then, Carnoustie was reputed for its utilitarianism and Hogan, a meticulous strategist, arrived two weeks early to study the course. Despite claiming the greens played like putty and that he should’ve brought his lawn mower from Texas, he conjured beauty out of Carnoustie’s drab scenery.
On all four rounds, Hogan threaded his drive down the alley of the bunker-split par-5 sixth fairway, now forever honoured in his name - ‘Hogan’s Alley’. He won by four shots in what was his first and last Open appearance. The only man in history to win The Open, The Masters and the US Open in the same year.
Constantino Rocca, St. Andrews, 1995
Fleeing burnt tobacco embers, in 1995, St. Andrews made passage, and a large one at that, for Long John Daly. In the dismal year previous, the brash and bibulous American was suspended for walking off mid-round at Kapalua before spending three weeks in rehab. But, after a dozen Diet Cokes fuelled his fizz around the Old Course, he held the clubhouse lead on the final day at -6.
Constantino Rocca approached the 18th needing a birdie to take Daly to a playoff and after blasting his drive at the green, only a routine up-and-down was required to do so. Except Rocca duffed his putt horrendously into the shallow dip at the green’s face, leaving a near-impossible 65ft putt for birdie, the type of putt one could attempt fifty times without skirting the lip. After an almighty thump, the ball tumbled home and Rocca fell to the floor beating the green like an exaggerated pinch as though he were checking the moment was real. Daly comfortably won the play-off, but as Rocca said himself, he went down as the “most famous runner-up in the world.”
Jean Van de Velde, Carnoustie, 1999
While torrid winds prevailed weeklong, the players griped about the course that would later be donned with the most unfavourable nickname ‘Carnasty’. The fairways were so thin a portly man could scathe its sides and the rough was so greedy it may just consume said man whole but Jean Van de Velde’s cataclysm, of such harrowing incidence that it shan't ever be dispelled from Open history, overshadowed the criticism.
Needing just a double-bogey six to claim his maiden major, the lasting image of Van de Velde's forlorn downward gaze while paddling knee-deep in the Barry Burn was the unforgettable twist in a tragic novel. Paul Lawrie’s final day 65, deserving of more acclaim than it was granted for obvious reasons, secured a smash and grab victory after Van De Velde, still tormented, withered in the playoff. At +6, the winning scored equalled the largest at the Open for 52 years.
Tom Watson, Turnberry, 2009
Twenty-six years since claiming his last major at Birkdale in 1983, Tom Watson arrived at Turnberry as one of those adored veterans who may fritter on the edge of the leaderboard occasionally but largely soaks in the revelry of the occasion and the years by-gone.
Yet, to everyone’s amazement, the 59-year-old stood on the 18th tee needing just a par to clinch one of the most remarkable victories in sporting history. But, as the old hand’s adrenaline dangerously soared, his 8-iron surged through the green and he eventually missed the 8ft par-putt for victory.
He went to a playoff with the least-favoured victor in a mind’s stretch, Stewart Cink, who himself admitted he was partly rooting for Watson. Cink won the playoff comfortably and Watson held his smile through a grimace, admitting three years later that it had “tore his guts out.”