Standing The Test Of Time: Remembering the 150th Open
Anniversaries are a time for looking back as well as forward, and as 2022 nears to a close, it feels a good time to remember the 150th Open at St. Andrews.
The landmark championship at "The Home of Golf" culminated in a thrilling finish with the Australian Cam Smith producing one of the great final rounds in Major history, a bogey-free 64, to clinch the title. The crowd sentiment was with Rory McIlroy, whose 70 placed him in a tie for second-place with rookie Cam Young, who eagled his final hole. Above all, it was the tradition and spirit of St Andrews, coupled with the unique atmosphere generated by the 290,000 fans who descended upon the Old Course, that most prevailed.
The R&A Celebration of Champions kick-started the week, with icons of the game from across eight decades of The Open coming together for the afternoon. The star-studded field of Champion Golfers, women’s Major Champions, male and female amateur champions, and golfers with disability champions entertained onlooking fans and highlighted how the game remains inherently open to all. The 150th anniversary was a celebration of golf’s journey – namely, how a game originating in 15th century Scotland has evolved into a spectacle that attracts hundreds of thousands of fans, from all four corners of the world, to flock to a seaside town northeast of Edinburgh. Like many of Scotland’s great golf courses, mother-nature has shaped the Old Course over the centuries. It is truly unique land and records show that golf was definitely played on the course as early as the 16th century, with many believing it to have started long before then.
The history of The Open is epitomized by the Claret Jug. Lifting the iconic trophy has been the crowning achievement for some of the game’s greatest players including Gary Player (1959, 1968, 1974) and Tom Watson (1975, 1977, 1980, 1982, 1983). Both players are Rolex Testimonees and the Swiss watchmaker’s clocks once more adorned the Old Course, serving as a reminder of one of golf’s longest-standing partnerships. In 1967, the ‘Big Three’ of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player – became the first Testimonees.. Brand partnerships have been key to golf’s global growth and development, and The Open is a great case in point for this as it was in 1981 that Rolex partnered with The R&A – organizers of The Open and one of the governing bodies of golf worldwide – and became Official Timekeeper of the championship.
Arnold Palmer paved the way for many in golf and legends such as Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods have followed his lead to win The Open. Nicklaus’s swansong at The Open in 2005 was a long-awaited and emotional occasion – the three-time Champion Golfer won two of his three Claret Jugs at the Old Course – but he waved goodbye to the Home of Golf in style by posting a birdie on the last, whilst in the company of fellow Rolex Testimonee Tom Watson. During the 150th Open, the 18-time Major winner was made an Honorary Citizen of St Andrews to celebrate his achievements within the world of golf.
The only golfer to have matched Nicklaus’ St Andrews double is Tiger Woods. In 2000, the American produced one of the finest displays the Old Course has ever seen. He shot four rounds in the 60s and won the Claret Jug by eight shots to complete the career grand slam. His final score of 269, 19 under par, remains the lowest ever score in The Open’s history at St Andrews.
Before Woods, it was fellow Testimonee Tom Watson who developed a strong affinity to the Championship, winning five times in nine years – an achievement made even more impressive by the fact that he won at five different venues (Carnoustie, 1975; Turnberry, 1977; Muirfield, 1980; Royal Troon, 1982; and Royal Birkdale, 1983). Scottish golf fans, unsurprisingly, embraced the American as one of their own and in 2015, Watson teed up for the final time in The Open – his favorite Championship – again fittingly held at St Andrews.
Speaking at the 150th Open’s Patron Day, Watson recalled an amusing anecdote regarding his admiration for The Big Three and his desire to emulate their accomplishments:
“When I came on the Tour, I watched Jack [Nicklaus] all the time, as I wanted to watch the best…I remember he had a golf Presidential Rolex and I thought to myself: ‘maybe someday, if I make enough money, I will be able to buy one of those’. That was a goal of mine. It was one of those things where I saw Arnie [Palmer], Jack and Gary [Player] wear it. I couldn’t afford it but I did want a Rolex so I went out and bought a stainless steel gold bracelet. Then, in 1978, on my birthday, my wife Linda presented me with a present. I unwrapped it and it was a green Rolex box and there it was – a gold Presidential Rolex. On the back of it was the inscription: ‘To my million dollar baby’ as I had just surpassed a million dollars in lifetime earnings in prize money. I still have that watch today.”
The Open has a unique way of capturing the very best the sport can offer and the 2022 edition did this and more.