In April, Hideki Matsuyama became the first Japanese man to win a golf major, his victory in the Masters sealed for posterity when his caddie, Shota Hayafuji, bowed respectfully to the course on the 18th hole.
In May, Phil Mickelson, an “old” golf guy at 50, became the oldest major winner by stunning everyone except possibly himself at the PGA Championship.
In June, Jon Rahm poured in long, twisting putts on the final two holes and won the U.S. Open to finally check the major “box” on his resume, scoring the win on his first Father’s Day as a father. Three-month-old Kepa was there but won’t understand the significance of the day for a while. And, just for good measure during the tournament, a ball stuck in a tree.
So, The Open, you’re next up. What you got?
After more than a year stained by the pandemic (including a cancellation of last year’s Open), professional golf’s majors have produced a smorgasbord of fun stories this year. They’re jammed into four months of the calendar – The Open is scheduled July 15-18 on the coast of southern England, and the results to date make the rest of the golf year pale in comparison.
This is the way it should be at the majors, of course, but they aren’t always as grand as this year’s run has been. The entertainment value has been rather high.
The Open can fall back on its history, which is obviously long and occasionally loud. The upcoming tournament will be the 149th – 149th! – in the series of what some call the British Open.
In one of the greatest golf competitions in any tournament and on any continent, Tom Watson outlasted Jack Nicklaus to win the 1977 Open. In 1984, the great Spaniard Seve Ballesteros was tied with Watson with two holes to play and danced off the 18th at the Old Course at St. Andrews with the win. Tiger Woods blitzed the rest of the field in winning by eight shots in 2000. Nick Faldo won at Muirfield in 1992 despite watching a four-shot lead disappear in the final round.
This year’s course – Royal St. George’s – was the first track in England to host the event, and that was in 1894. The course has seen such Open champions as Harry Vardon, Walter Hagen and Greg Norman. Its last Open winner was Darren Clarke, in 2011.
What awaits the world’s top touring golfers? One of the most respected courses in Britain. It’s a links course with bunkers placed at annoying spots, demanding precision on most holes.
St. George’s fourth hole is home to a wickedly designed bunker, one that’s so tall that smart players avoid it at all costs. The average recreational golfer likely would never escape its grasp. Its tall timbers make it appear that a cabin might be buried there.
Wind is the dominant element at most Opens, and the Kent coast likely won’t disappoint in that department.
With the final major of the year on tap, it’s worth noting that Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas are among the golfers who will arrive in England without a major win this season.
Royal St. George’s should be an interesting challenge for them. And a treat for the rest of us.
Mike Hembree is a veteran journalist who has covered a variety of sports for numerous publications and websites, including USA Today, Fox Sports, TV Guide and The Greenville (S.C.) News. He has written 14 books and has won numerous writing awards at the national, regional and state levels. He is a seven-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.
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