by Jeff Skinner
Royal Lytham & St. Annes is primed to test the best golfers in the world this week. With the wind, rain, rough and ubiquitous bunkers whoever is crowned Champion Golfer of the Year will have certainly earned his title.
Lytham has had an amazing list of champions with each of them carving out significant and interesting careers. With all the focus on The Open this week we get to revisit some of those grand champions whose lives were changed, some for the better, some for the worse, along the links at Lancashire.
You could argue that no single golfer was as affected by his win at Lytham more than David Duval. He was at the top of the world of golf in 2001 when he spent 15 weeks as world number one. His Open Championship should have signaled a true rivalry to his buddy Tiger Woods but instead it marked the beginning of the end for Duval.
Duval’s game disintegrated after the win as he asked himself “Is this all there is?” “I thought it would feel better than this.” Duval later called it “my existentialist moment”. James Corrigan profiles Duval in the Telegraph. To Duval’s credit he has handled all his golfing troubles with class. He has fashioned a new life with a family that is now his main focus. Golf is fun for him now and not the end all that it had been in years past.
No one cast a bigger shadow over Royal Lytham & St. Annes than Seve Ballesteros. The 1979 and 1988 Open Champion is perhaps the most extraordinary European golfer in history. His swashbuckling play and fiery demeanor made him both a hero and a target in the world of golf.
It was here that Seve won his first major and became the face of European golf. Memories of Seve at Lytham are everywhere, none more than his recovery from the “car park” next to the sixteenth hole where he made birdie on his way to victory in 1979.
His good friend, protégé and countryman, Jose Maria Olazabal tried to qualify for this Open but missed out but that doesn’t stop him from feeling Seve’s presence.
Martin Dempster has a piece on Seve and Jose Maria and his memories of his golfing brother. “It is emotional. Whenever you play the Open Championship, Seve is always in my mind. I won’t do anything special to remember him this week. I will be watching on TV at home and Seve will be there in my mind.”
“Whenever they show certain holes, you can still see Seve out there playing some of his shots, hitting the ball from a certain spot. It will bring back memories.”
When he won in 1969 Tony Jacklin became the first British winner in eighteen years at The Open Championship and he immediately was the hero of the day. Forty three years later the Brits are still waiting for the next homegrown champion.
Jacklin spoke to Tom English about the pressure he felt that final morning and the fact that he played that week with an off the rack sand wedge that he brought at the pro shop. It all worked out for the affable and brutally honest Englishman. At the champions ceremony he still couldn’t believe he had won, “I said to Jack Nicklaus later that I didn’t think I could be that nervous and still play controlled golf. He looked at me, smiled and said, ‘I know. Isn’t it great!”
No one got more out of his game than the legend and Hall of Famer Gary Player, just ask him. The diminutive South African made a career out of out working his opponents on the practice range and in the gym.
Gary pens his own article about his memories of that 1974 championship and of course there is nothing but positives. That’s pure Player. “When I think about my Open win there in 1974, I remember holding a six-shot lead with only two holes to go. I turned to my caddie and asked: “What do we need to do here?” He told me: “Laddie, Ray Charles could win from here. You could go seven-seven and still win The Open.” What a position that was to be in; normally when you win an Open it is by a single shot.”
“What I love about Lytham is the emphasis on strong driving. The best drivers will be rewarded from a course that has heavy rough and firm greens as its best protection. It goes without saying that you must putt well, but Lytham is a course where reward arrives just for keeping the ball on narrow fairways.”