With the Open Championship taking place at Royal Birkdale, Chris Lyles has dug up a few facts and figures about the oldest of golf’s four major championships.
- The Open was first played in October 1860, when the tournament was held at Prestwick and was restricted to professional golfers. Eight players completed three 12-hole rounds in a single day, with Willie Park Snr beating Old Tom Morris by a two strokes.
- The first 29 Opens (1860-89) were all won by Scots (the 1871 Open was cancelled because no trophy was available) and it was not until 1890 that an English amateur called John Ball became the first non-Scot to win – and, indeed, the first non-Scot to lift the Claret Jug, which was first awarded in 1872. The first non-British winner was France’s Arnaud Massey in 1907 while the first non-European champion was the USA’s Jock Hutchison in 1921.
- The 1889 Open was held at Musselburgh and the potential problems of playing four rounds on a nine-hole course on one day in November became apparent as the light became so poor that neighbouring street lamps had to be illuminated. Players no longer in contention were offered five shillings to withdraw to allow the leading competitors to try and finish in daylight. Alas, the final few contestants still completed their rounds in the dark.
- Jack Nicklaus’s record in the Open was astonishingly consistent. Although he won “only” three Opens, he also finished runner-up on a record seven occasions. He made the cut in 23 successive Opens from his first appearance in 1962 while his lowest finish in the 15 Opens between 1966 and 1980 was sixth.
- Seve Ballesteros became, at 22, the youngest winner of the Open for almost a century when he triumphed at Royal Lytham and St Annes in 1979. Not renowned for splitting the fairway, the Spaniard’s performance is best remembered for his final-round recovery shot at the 16th, when he found the heart of the green from a temporary car-park. Colin Maclaine, the chairman of the Championship committee, said: “That the winner chose not to use the course but preferred his own, which mainly consisted of hay fields, car parks, grandstands, dropping zones and even ladies’ clothing, was his affair.”
- Nick Faldo’s three Open titles all came in Scotland, meaning that the last English player to win the Open in England remains Tony Jacklin, who triumphed at Lytham in 1969.
- When asked if he would like to become a member of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, after winning the 1995 Open at St Andrews, John Daly replied: “Do I have to know the rules and all that crap? Then forget it.”
- On the eve of the final round of the 1999 Open at Carnoustie, Jean Van de Velde said: “No matter what, even if I shoot 90 tomorrow, I’m going to enjoy it. Maybe people will say: ‘Oh, he blew it’ or whatever.” The following day, the Frenchman had a three-shot lead coming to the par-four 18th, took seven and lost in a three-way play-off to Paul Lawrie.