Royal Lytham stands tall with rich Open history
Starting with Bobby Jones' 1926 victory, Royal Lytham & St. Annes has produced worthy champions each time it has hosted the Open Championship, thanks in part to a demanding layout saturated with bunkers.
By Nicholas Bright, PGATOUR.COM Staff
Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club has a rich history, hosting 10 previous Open Championships. This course made its reputation with a demanding layout and the nearly 200 hazardous sand bunkers, making it one of the most challenging Open venues.
Just in time for its first Open in 1926, King George V gave his approval for adding the word “Royal” to the club’s title. Along with reducing the number of players, playing three days instead of two and adding a cost to spectators for the first time, this made the tournament even more significant.
American prodigy Bobby Jones came into the 1926 Open having already won the U.S. Open and capturing the U.S. Amateur title twice. The Open championship would be a test for Jones, as it came down to the final five holes of the tournament.
Jones trailed his fellow American playing partner, Al Watrous, by two shots while Walter Hagen was making a move up the leaderboard a few holes behind. It came down to the 17th hole when both Jones and Watrous hit the green in two, but Watrous three-putted. Jones would go on to play the last five holes of one of the Open’s toughest courses in 1 under and defeat Watrous by two strokes.
Hagen would come up just short as well, needing to hole his second shot on the 18th to force a playoff. This was Jones’ first victory in Great Britain and he would go on to claim the Open title twice more, as well as the British Amateur title in his Grand Slam year of 1930.
The Open returned to Royal Lytham & St. Annes in 1952. After the first two rounds, Ireland’s Fred Daly had established a four-shot lead over the field. But Daly would drift down the leaderboard, shooting 77 and 76 in the final two rounds, allowing South Africa’s Bobby Locke to claim his third Open.
Locke was almost stopped by a locked door, though. He rose early the final day of the tournament to find the private garage where his clubs and car were stored locked. Luckily, the local milkman knew where the garage owner lived and Locke was able to make it to the course just in time to change his shoes and walk to the first tee. Locke would win with final rounds of 74 and 73 to claim the Open by one shot over Australia’s Peter Thomson.
Only six years later, the Open returned again, and from 1949-1959, the tournament was dominated by Locke and Thomson. Thomson claimed three Open titles in a row from 1954-56 and after firing an opening 66, the 1958 title was right in his grasp.
Young Welsh powerhouse Dave Thomas was able to outplay Thomson in final round to tie him with a final score of 278. The 36-hole playoff would come down to a battle between each player’s short game, which was Thomson’s forte. Thomas on the other hand was known for long and accurate driving, but was also known to putt around a bunker instead of attempting to pitch over it. Thomson would build on his advantage in the final round and go on to win his fourth Open in five years.
The 1963 Open also finished in a 36-hole playoff. The two opponents were Bob Charles, a tall and thin lefthander from New Zealand, and the short, solidly built ex-Marine Phil Rodgers. This Open would be very similar to 1958, as the short game, especially putting, would prove to be the biggest factor.
Rodgers played better from tee to green, but Charles would uphold his reputation as being one of the best putters in the world. In the first round he only used 26 putts and Charles was able to open a three-shot lead. In the second round, Charles continued to putt lights out and finished with a total of 56 putts versus Rodgers’ 65 to claim an eight-stroke victory at the 1963 Open.
The Open had not witnessed a native winner since Max Faulkner won in 1951 at Royal Portrush Golf Club. It was up to Tony Jacklin, who had recently won the Jacksonville Open Invitational a year earlier, to end the streak at the 1969 Open. After the first two rounds, he trailed Charles by three shots, but he would continue his strong play and take the lead after the third round.
Before the final round, Jacklin found a note pinned on his locker from a good friend and fellow TOUR pro, Bert Yancey. The note was actually just one word – tempo – and with that as his mantra Jacklin was able to hold off some of the greats of the game, including Charles, Thomson and Jack Nicklaus. With this victory, Jacklin was able to spark a new interest in golf amongst the youth in the country and start a new generation of future winners.
The 1974 Open brought into play the 1.68-inch ball that each player was now required to use. Strong winds would play a big part in this championship, but one player was able to weather the storm: Gary Player. He tamed the wild winds, shooting opening rounds of 69 and 68. The third round ended with Player holding a three-shot lead over Peter Oosterhuis and four over Nicklaus.
In the final round, Player had two birdies and an eagle in the opening six holes. He would run into a few obstacles on the back nine, but was able to stay in control and win by four shots. With the win, Player claimed his third British with each one coming in a different decade.
When the Open returned to Royal Lytham & St. Annes in 1979, it had been 72 years since a European claimed the title. The last to win was the Frenchman Arnaud Massay at Royal Liverpool. But the young Seve Ballesteros was able to use his vaunted short game to earn his first Open and earn the nickname of the “car park champion” after many wayward drives.
He put together rounds of 73-65-75-70 for a 283 total, beating Nicklaus and Ben Crenshaw by three strokes. With this victory, Ballesteros showed the world the new European talent and he would go on to open doors for others and himself, claiming 70 worldwide victories, including two Masters and three Opens.
History repeated itself in the 1988 Open as Ballesteros triumphed again, lifting the Claret Jug for the third time. Ballesteros came into this tournament even more determined and controlled than before, but he was three shots behind Nick Price going into the final round. Price played well, shooting a final-round 69, but the Spaniard went on to shoot a spectacular final-round 65 to beat Price by two strokes.
Prior to 1996, no American had won at Royal Lytham & St. Annes since Jones captured that venue’s first Open in 1926. This streak was finished when Tom Lehman captured the title and broke the U.S. drought.
Lehman’s best previous finish at the Open was a tie for 24th at Turnberry in 1994. Starting with consecutive 67s, Lehman quickly made his mark. In the third round, Lehman built on his momentum, firing a scorching 64 to open a six-shot lead. Lehman appeared to be untouchable, but a gritty final round of 73 proved he was human. He was still able to hold on and win his first and only Open by two shots over Mark McCumber and Ernie Els.
The most recent Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes was contested in 2001. Defending champion champion Tiger Woods was a crowd favorite, but didn’t prove to be his year. Woods had a bad start, shooting 71, so Colin Montgomerie was able to steal his spotlight with a 65.
The second round brought on better weather conditions and thirty players were able to score in the 60s. Montgomerie had an average round, shooting 70, but he was still able to maintain the lead by one stroke. There were plenty of position changes in the second round, with 15 players within three shots of the lead.
Montgomerie lost his momentum in the third round, shooting a 73 and allowing David Duval to jump from 35th to a tie for the lead after a 65. Duval’s critics had labeled him an average performer at the Open, but this year he proved them wrong by shooting a final-round 67. He finished with total of 274 to beat Niclas Fasth by three strokes.
Royal Lytham and St. Annes Golf Club will host the Open for the 11th time this week. If this year’s review is anything like the previous years, the golfers will be in for a great challenge and golf fans will be in for an even better show.