This year's British Open which concluded two weeks ago turned out to be nothing short of a real rannygazoo, as the English would say. While the rest of the field sturggled merely to save face, Americans Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson began the final round of play all even and proceeded to bandy birdies with impunity on the regal links of Turnberry on the Scottish seashore. In a compelling finish to golf's most venerable spectacle, Watson shot a five under par 65 to edge out Nicklaus by a stroke, who thus became a runner-up in the British Open for a record-breaking sixth time.
Watson has now won two of the four events that make up golf's grand slam, having similarly quelled Nicklaus's victory bid at the Masters. The U.S. Open champion Hubert Green finished a distant third, 11 strokes behind Watson's record low aggregate of 268.
When Herman Keiser won the Masters he was described as looking like a "Missouri mortician," but the 27 year-old Watson, who is a native of Kansas City, is usually compared to his home state's favorite son, Tom Sawyer. Presently the leading money winner in professional golf, Watson's victory on Saturday has undoubtedly established him as one of the game's great champions.
At the outset it was Nicklaus who seemed about to place even further beyond reproof his reputation as the greatest contemporary golfer when he jumped out to a three stroke lead over Watson. He went nine under par by birdieing the fourth hole, known as Woe-be-tide, a par three where the tee shot must carry over a treacherous cove to a green nestled in the dunes.
The frontrunners were once again deadlocked when a charging Watson gamely carded birdies on the fifth, seventh, and eighth, respectively named Fin'me oot, Roon the Ben, and Goat Fell.
Watson slacked off the torrid pace when he took a bogey on number nine, a hole that belongs on a picture postcard. The drive is played from a desolate peninsula that overlooks the weatherbeaten ruins of a castle.
It took Watson until the 15th hole to regain a tie when he scored a two on the 109-yard hole. He putted from off of the green as the ball careened along for 60 feet, hit the flagstick, quivered, and dove into the cup.
The turning point of the match came on the par five 500-yard 17th, known as Lang Whang, which is the Scottish vernacular for "long hit." Watson made the green in two strokes for a snug birdie to put him 11 under. Nicklaus trickled his chip to within five feet of the pin but his put for four was never on line as Watson bolted into the lead.
Both men, however, had one salvo of brilliant shotmaking left in them. Nicklaus plunked his drive in deep gorse along the hedgerows on 18 but managed to punch his second shot into the front of the green despite a restricted swing. He rapped the undulating 30-foot putt into the heart of the cup for a birdie three. Watson meanwhile hit his approach shot pin-high and needed only a tap-in for his monumental victory and the 10,000 pound first prize.
Turnberry will undoubtedly be associated with the name of Watson far into the future, for although it is one of the most majestic links in the British Isles, this was the first time it had ever hosted an Open. Turnberry will now join the so-called rota of courses where the Open has been held ever since the first championship was conducted in 1860 at Prestwick on the Ayeshire coast. Next year the Open will be played at St. Andrew's, where a handful of erstwhile fox hunters were already indulging in golf when St. Andrews University was founded in 1414.
All of the British links were handicrafted by the interaction of water and wind over the epochs so that it was only left up to the Marquis of Ailsa to realize what an excellent site he had at hand for a golf course. The making of a links is feelingly described by Sir Guy Campbell who writes in his A History of Golf in Britain: "In the formation and over-all stabilization of out island coastlines, the sea at intervals of time and distance gradually receded from the higher ground of cliff, bluff, and escarpment to and from which the tides once flowed and ebbed. And as during the ages, by stages, the sea withdrew, it left a series of sandy wastes in bold ridge and significant furrow, broken and divided by numerous channels up and down which the tides advanced and retired, and down certain of which the burns, streams, and rivers found their way to the sea."
The author goes on to describe how the birds who made their nests along the coast provided guano deposits so that a suitable loam was established for wild grasses to grow. Sir Guy concludes: "Thus eventually the whole of these areas became grass-covered, from the coarse marram on the exposed dunes, ridges, and hillocks and the finer bents and fescues in the sheltered dunes, gullies, and hollows, to the meadow grasses round and about the river estuaries and the mouths of the streams and burns. Out of the spreading and intermingling of all these grasses which followed was established the thick, close-growing, hard-wearing sward that is such a feature of true links turf wherever it is found."
By the turn of the century the waters by the Mull of Kintyre had percolated Turnberry into the rough image of a championship eighteen according to this ponderous recipe. Nature also provided Turnberry with its share of the enchanting beauty of the Scottish hinterlands. The winds that have beleaguered generations of golfers howl in from the mountains of Arran silhouetted across the sea while the fog enshrouded Ailsa Craig looms in the foreground.
Most of Turnberry's distinctive terrain was completely eradicated when the course was levelled and concrete airstrips laid down during World War II. The course was restored only as a result of the genius of the late Scotch golf course architect Mackenzie Ross and his associate Tom Simpson. Their partnership began when Ross, who had just won a tournament at which Simpson officiated, went over to admire the latter's Rolls Royce. Ross told Simpson that he could improve the car's appearance by moving the front numberplate below the cross bar. Simpson was so impressed by Ross's attention to aesthetic detail that he decided to bring him into his golf course architecture firm.
Ross could not be at hand to witness Watson's stirring victory but he would have been proud at what a stern test Turnberry provided for all but the winner and Nicklaus. Saturday's round was certainly one of the greatest head to head battles ever to take place in a ritish Open. J.H. Taylor, who won the Open five times at the turn of the century, once said that the best way to win the championship was to win easily. Watson's win was by no means easy, but after his triumph over Nicklaus in head to head battle on Saturday he proved that the best championship are the most well-deserved.