The Open Championship returns to the Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland this week to crown the 150th Champion Golfer of the Year. Scotland is the birthplace of golf, with historical records of play at the Old Course going all the way back to 1414. While Open week is always special for everyone who loves golf, 2022 promises to be uniquely memorable with images of past champions at a place where golf has been played for centuries.
In the 1840’s and 50’s, Allan Robertson was the greenskeeper and golf professional at St. Andrews, and universally recognized as the greatest golfer in the world at the time (he also is said to be the first golf professional). In 1848 he made the first recorded modifications to the Old Course–widening the fairways and creating the famous “double greens.” A few years earlier Robertson had laid out the original 10 holes at Carnoustie Golf Links, so he is also the first to be credited for golf course design and architecture.
In the mid-1830’s Robertson hired a youthful Tom Morris, Sr. as an apprentice, and their relationship would bring about the most famous golf tournament in the world: “The Open Championship.” Although Robertson was already unbeatable on the links (it is said that he never lost a match when money was involved), he soon saw that his young apprentice possessed an uncanny talent for golf, and since matches were often played in a two-man alternate shot format, he shrewdly enlisted Tom as his partner to create an invincible tandem. In 1851, however, Morris and Robertson had a falling out when Tom began playing a new kind of golf ball, rather than the “feather” balls that Robertson made and sold at St. Andrews. As a result, Morris left for Prestwick Golf Club in Ayrshire, where he laid out the course and became club pro and greenskeeper. His admiration for Robertson remained steadfast, however, and when Robertson passed away in 1859, Morris decided to organize a tournament in his honor—with the winner recognized as the “Champion Golfer.”
The first Open Championship was played at Prestwick Golf Club in 1860, and was won by Willie Park, Sr. Prestwick hosted The Open for the next 11 years, with Tom Morris, Sr. (Old Tom) and Tom Morris, Jr. (Young Tom) each winning 4 times. In 1873 The Open moved to St. Andrews, and Tom Kidd became the first to be crowned “Champion Golfer” at the Old Course. 2022 will mark the 30th Open to be contested at St. Andrews, the most by far of any course to host a major championship. And the list of winners at the Old Course includes many of the legendary names in golf history.
Champion Golfers at St. Andrews
Jack Nicklaus, acknowledged by most as the greatest golfer in history, won two of his 18 major championships at the Old Course (1970, 1978). Tiger, the greatest of all-time to those who do not think it is Jack, also won 2 of his 15 major championships at St. Andrews (2000, 2005).
Multiple winners at St. Andrews also include John Henry Taylor (1895, 1905) and James Braid (1905, 1910). Both won the Open Championship 5 times, and each are also known for their work in golf course architecture and design.
Other members of the World Golf Hall of Fame who have won the Open Championship at St. Andrews include Sam Snead in 1946, Seve Ballesteros (a 3-time Open Champion) in 1984, and Sir Nick Faldo in 1990 (also a 3-time Open Champion).
Coming off his victory at the U.S. Open in June, and a Top 10 last week at the Scottish Open, Englishman Matthew Fitzpatrick has his game in fine form to contend at St. Andrews. Scottie Scheffler is a virtual lock to be among the leaders come Sunday, as he looks to add another major to his resume following an impressive win at the Masters and runner-up at the U.S. Open. Reigning PGA Champ Justin Thomas, enjoying an outstanding season that includes 8 Top 10’s in 17 starts on the PGA Tour this year, will also be a force as he looks to etch his name among the legends of golf who have won at the Old Course. Jon Rahm, in the midst of another stellar year where he has made the cut in 14 of 15 events with a win and 5 additional Top 10’s, will undoubtedly be lurking should the opportunity arise.
Rory McIlroy, with his peerless talent, has been pounding on the door with a runner-up at Augusta, Top 10 at the PGA, and a Top 5 at the U.S. Open thus far in 2022. If the putter cooperates even a bit, Rory will be a formidable presence in the field—and perhaps this will be the week he adds that 5th major championship.
Tiger Woods, returning to St. Andrews where in 2000 he delivered one of the most decisive wins in Open history (an 8-stroke margin over runners up Thomas Bjorn and Ernie Els), looms large over the field. While it would seem unlikely for him to be among the leaders as The Open moves into the weekend, there has never been a player with a greater will to win than Tiger—and the Old Course has provided many magical moments through the ages.
One thing is for sure, the 2022 Open at St. Andrews, where much of golf history has been written, promises to be a championship that will be remembered for many years to come.