The British Open has been played at Muirfield a total of 16 times, bone up on your Muirfield trivia with our timeline of the Championship Winners as hosted by The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers.
1892 The first ever Open Championship at Muirfield, just nine months after the course was completed. Designed by Old Tom Morris. It was the first time the Championship was played over 72 holes, over 2 days. Previously the tournament was played over 36 holes. Amateur golfer Harold Hilton won, going on to take Claret Jug a total of four times, for the last time at St Andrews in 1913.
1896 Harry Vardon took his first Open title. He hailed from a rather poor background in Jersey, and despite sharing an enthusiasm for golf with his brother Tom, their father was unsupportive of their interest. He made his way into the sport via caddying and broke through to win the Open six times. A record as yet unbeaten.
1901 Another breakthrough win, this time for Fifer James Braid (Elie born), who with fellow golfers Harry Vardon and John Henry Taylor went on to become one of the Great Triumvirate, a trio of outstanding golfers who dominated the game in the early 1900s. Braid became a renowned course designer responsible for the King’s Course and the Queen’s Course at Gleneagles and the re-design of Carnoustie.
1912 The first of two major titles (also US Open 1920) won by the characterful Ted Ray. A fellow Jersey native, much inspired by the elder Vardon. A man of prodigious height, power and heft, Ray was known for his whacking great drives – even though his ball was often a stranger to the fairway. His style was more guts than finesse and he was one of golf’s great crowd pleasers.
1929 The Yankees are coming! In particular, Walter Hagen, who was the first American to win the Open, for the first time in 1922, plus a further 2 wins before his 4th and final title in 1929. The splendid video above is the first film footage of the Open at Muirfield – note how the crowds spill onto the tee and fairway after Hagen tees off. Don’t see a lot of that these days.
1935 Having taken the Open title the previous year and begun the Championship with an opening round of 68, Henry Cotton was hot favourite to go home with the Claret Jug. However, his early play was unsustained and outsider Alf Perry became the surprise Open Champion. It was to be the highwater mark of his career.
1948 Golf was not the first sport of three-time Open Champion and talented cricketer Henry Cotton (1934 and 1937). He only took to the sport in Sixth Form after being banned from his school cricket team for righteous insubordination. It was an early sign of the strength of character he went on to display in his illustrious golf career, winning several significant titles and twice captaining the Ryder Cup team. He also served with the RAF during WWII and raised money for the Red Cross playing exhibition matches.
1959 And it feels like we enter the modern age of golf as South African, Gary Player wins his first major title. The Player roll call of honours is long and illustrious; 15 major championships, the only non-American to win the Grand Slam and three Senior British Open Championships on the European Senior Tour; 165 tournaments on six continents over six decades. The man is force of nature, still competing, still bringing it home. The Gary Player Invitational at Wentworth follows the open on 22nd July 2013.
1966 All hail ‘The Golden Bear’ and the first Open Championship title for the undisputed greatest golfer of all time, Jack Nicklaus. With 19 major championship titles, he outranks Players total by four. At 26 he became the youngest player to attain the career grand slam. Also famed as a course designer and writer, his golf manual ‘Golf My Way’ is still a bestseller. He is a legend.
So what does it take to be a legend? According to the man:
1971 The previous year, over the space of 20 remarkable days, Lee Trevino had won first the US Open, then the Canadian Open and finally the British Open at Royal Birkdale. When he arrived at Muirfield his determination to defend possession of the Claret Jug was pitted against Nicklaus’s drive to add another record breaking career grand slam to his tally. Add Tony Jacklin to the mix and you have what was and remains, one of the most nail biting championships of all time. In the end it was Trevino, a US citizen of modest Mexican origin, and former shoeshiner, who took the title. In the video above he reflects on stealing the thunder of ‘The Golden Bear.’
1980 Tom Watson has many accolades, and ranks 6th on the league of major championship winners, he is also regarded as one of the world’s greatest Links players and his five wins at the British Open, including 1980, attest to his seaside skills. But what makes him truly outstanding is the sheer dogged longevity of his career. In 2009, 26 years after he’d won his last major title, Watson emerged from the long grass to top the leader board throughout the Open Championship, only losing narrowly in a four-hole play off. Next year, aged 65, he will captain the US Ryder Cup Team at Gleneagles. To note that he will be the oldest ever captain seems churlish and undermines the fact that he is still a sportsman capable of playing at the top of his sport. He is our dark horse pick for the 2013 Open. After all if you include his 2007 Seniors Open title he has won the Open twice at Muirfield, and he is playing well.
1987 The trajectory of Nick Faldo’s sporting career bares comparison to one of our current British sporting champions. After initially showing great promise on the professional golf tour, Faldo failed to follow through earning him the sobriquet ‘Nick Foldo.’ It was only after he’d committed to the transformative coaching expertise of David Leadbetter, that he emerged with a new swing and the confidence (see Jack Nicklaus quote above) to take the 1980 Open title – his first major. Sound familiar? Lendl/Murray? After sporadic appearances at the Open in recent years, Faldo has confirmed he will be competing this year.
1992 When he arrived at Muirfield in ‘92, Faldo felt the Claret Jug was his for the taking. He was playing in the form of his life until US player John Cook went out ahead of him on the final day and eroded his four point lead, Cook peaked at the 16th with two shots clear. It took every ounce of skill and concentration Faldo could muster to regain the advantage. Characterised as aloof and unemotional, Faldo broke down on the 18th as he sank his winning putt – dare we chance another Murray comparison? How we love to see our sportsmen cry. When questioned on this unlikely show of emotion he said simply: “I had it all. I lost it and I got it back.”
2002 The Open’s last visit to Muirfield was a mixed bag, foul weather with gales of up to 40mph unseated many of the big names but when the clouds cleared there was some outstanding golf and high drama in a four-man, four-hole play off. Shot of the year went to Ernie Els for his skilled recovery shot from the bunker on the 13th that rolled like a guided missile straight for the hole. He almost repeated the feat on the 18th with another bunker buster shot though it took a little putt to seal the deal and win him the Claret Jug.
This week Els paid his first return to Muirfield as reigning Open Champion 2012, with tidy circularity he returned the Claret Jug and who knows, perhaps he stashed his car keys in the silverware, making a hasty promise not to go home without it.
Who can tell it’s all to play for.
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