Editor's Note: This article first appeared in Fire Pit Collective, a Golf Digest content partner.
The British Open has been played 12 times at Royal Liverpool. This will be the 13th.
Lucky us, to have this game. Lucky golf, to have this event, this 13th Open at Royal Liverpool, aka Hoylake, just when golf needs it most.
Of the first 12, I’ve only been to the last two. In 2006, Tiger Woods won the Open at Liverpool, his third Open title and his 11th Grand Slam win. The next week’s Sports Illustrated had the champ on the cover with this headline:
“Father’s Day: Tiger Woods Wins the British Open for Pops.” Earl Woods had died 10 weeks earlier.
I have been lucky enough to be on hand for 14 of Woods’s 15 major victories. There was something about that win at Hoylake. His intensity was at another level, which is saying something. What a display of golfing intelligence and discipline. Iron-iron-iron-iron, some of them chasing, some of them stopped by an invisible curtain, the heavy, high sea wind. Then, how he let it all go when he was done, collapsing first in his caddie’s arms, then his wife’s.
The next time I saw Woods, at the 2006 PGA Championship at Medinah, he actually nodded in my direction. He liked the cover. (Sometimes, you can just tell.) Five days later, Woods won the PGA, too—by five. Tiger Woods, at the height of his powers. Golf had never seen anything like him, and hasn’t since.
In 2014, Rory McIlroy won the Open at Royal Liverpool. The winner was on the cover of the next issue of Sports Illustrated with these words across the top: “Rory’s Moment.” The story ran under this headline: “You Say You Want a Revolution?” Hoylake is about a half-hour by train from the barber shops on Penny Lane in downtown Liverpool.
It certainly seemed that way at the time, that the Rory Revolution was underway. That was his third major title. The next month, at the PGA Championship at Valhalla, he won his fourth. He was 25. He drove the ball better than anybody since Greg Norman. He had a candor and a warmth and an ease and a gait that was truly his own. He dedicated that win to his “mum,” Rosie, a 3M factory worker whose hourly wages paid for thousands of Rory’s junior-golf air miles. That was the revolution: Rory’s golfing excellence was obvious, but he had a life beyond the course, too. That combination was the revolution, when you get right down to it.
McIlroy still had his mates. He still had football and cycling, his music, his understanding of world politics. He was exceptional. I had been around him, just a little. I had never known a 25-year-old with a broader worldview. Traveling with your eyes open will do that. Woods was once getting a ride from the Dublin airport to K Club in a private car. He asked the driver about the unemployment rate in Dublin.
If the pattern holds—Woods in ’06, McIlroy in ’14—Scottie Scheffler will win his second major championship this week at Hoylake. You know, the best golfer in the game, rising to the moment on a true and great test. And if he does? You have to like his chances at the next PGA, next May at Valhalla, where Woods won the PGA in 2000.
Scheffler turned in another top-five finish at the Scottish Open on Sunday. He can do that in his sleep. He seems older than 27, but that’s his age. He seems to have won more than one major championship, but that’s what he has, the 2022 Masters. He hit his third shot on the 3rd hole in the fourth round at Augusta National way too hard, but it caught the flagstick flush and down the hatch it went.
You need a little luck. Tiger used to say that all the time. When he first started saying it, when he was in his early 20s and racking up wins, the comment struck me as disingenuous. He was winning because he was a better golfer! But all these years later I realize he was being truthful. You do get lucky. McIlroy didn’t hit a great putt on 18 at the Scottish Open on Sunday. But it was good enough to go in, and in it went.
The two approach shots he hit, a 5-iron into the par-3 17th and a 2-iron into 18, were pure seaside skill. He birdied the last two to win by one.
Now he heads down the coast to Liverpool. But Scottie Scheffler does, too, fresh off a T-3. Plus 154 other guys, some of them good enough to win, all of them good enough to dream.
Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at Bamberger@firepitcollective.com