Coincidence I guess, but a good one. I flew to England in seat 1 on Delta Flight No. 1 from JFK to London's Heathrow, ready to experience the number one week of my golf year. This is Open Championship week - the British Open for all us Yanks.
Often I get asked, what is my favorite major golf championship? Certainly they are all special. Obviously, because it's my association and I will one day be fortunate enough to present the Wanamaker Trophy to the winner, I'm going to (with proud bias) say the PGA Championship. But there is no place like Augusta National and everyday on those sacred grounds is pure golf heaven. The U.S. Open was America's championship until the Irish tandem of McDowell and McIlroy wrestled it away the last couple of years, but it is still a special experience. All three have great arguments as to why they are the best.
But the Open Championship is the history of golf.
This tournament started in mid 19th Century at Prestwick and the first few Opens consisted of three rounds on a 12-hole golf course. This is the grandfather of golf's majors. The Open Championship is about weather, raw course conditions, quirkiness and timeless tradition.
There are currently nine courses in the "Open rota." This year's event returns to Royal St. George's, which is located a couple of hours southeast of London in a town called Sandwich. This will be the 14th Open played at the course that many would say is the "quirkiest" on the rota menu.
Royal St. George's has the reputation of being fluky, tricky and unpredictable. It features blind shots, unruly bounces and not a level spot on the course. It has been an extremely dry spring in Sandwich and shots will bounce away from the greens and fairways. There have been plenty of calamities over the years at RSG. Bobby Jones once shot 86. Jack Nicklaus carded an 83. Paul Casey shot 85.
In 1993, Greg Norman won at RSG with a score of 267 - the lowest score ever in an Open Championship. In 1894, J.H. Taylor won at RSG with a score of 326 - the highest ever in an Open Championship. But all golfers here will play the same course and champions rise to the occasion. Walter Hagen and Harry Vardon won twice at Royal St. George's.
In 1938, in what has been described as the worst weather in the history of the Open Championship, the exhibition tent was flattened and its contents blown to sea. During the final round only seven players broke 80. Henry Cotton drove the 370 yard, 2nd hole and made an eagle two. The feat was surpassed by Alf Padgham who made an eagle on the 384 yard, 11th hole after driving the green. It's not just a test of skill, it's a test of patience, endurance and ability to adapt to ever changing conditions.
"Open venues get worse the farther south you travel," said Jack Nicklaus. Royal St. George's is so far south that on a clear day you can see the white cliffs of France.
RSG was founded in 1887 and was intended to be the St. Andrews South. It was designed by William Laidlaw Purves and named for England's patron saint, St. George- a Roman soldier who was beheaded in 303 for his Christian views. In 1894 it hosted the first Open Championship outside of Scotland. King Edward VII, an avid golfer and former R&A Captain, gave it royal status in 1902.
The course has 18 holes that sprawl over a 400 hundred acre tract of land on a five mile stretch between the Stour Estuary and the English Channel. In 1928, Walter Hagen, the first American to win the Open said, "The first nine holes is tremendous fun and not very good golf. The second nine holes is tremendous golf and no fun at all."
But, this week will surely be all about great golf and great fun. At least, for those of us enjoying watching the world's best players and not having to worry about shooting a low number. I'm excited that you can join me, even if only through these daily reports, from the 2011 Open Championship at Royal St. George's. I look forward to bringing you some golf, English culture and a little history from the southeast coast of the United Kingdom.
I love quirky and different, so this week should be right up my alley!
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