The last time an Englishman won the British Open, Ross Perot was running for U.S. president, Johnny Carson was retiring from "The Tonight Show," and the Premier League was a whole new thing.
Twenty-nine years ago, Nick Faldo won his third British Open at Muirfield, and an Englishman hasn’t hoisted a Claret Jug since. And if you want to get even more discouraging, it’s been 52 years since an Englishman won the championship on English soil.
Tony Jacklin turned that trick in 1969 at Royal Lytham & St Annes. John Lennon and Yoko Ono were still in bed.
But English hopes spring eternal this weekend on the country’s southeastern coast. Several Englishmen are in the hunt at Royal St. George’s.
Closest to the lead — Louis Oosthuizen’s 11-under par — is Andy Sullivan. A 34-year-old native of Nuneaton, England, Sullivan advanced the cause on Friday by climbing to 6-under. Among spell-breaking candidates, Sullivan is not a likely figure.
On one hand, he has four wins on the European Tour, including a seven-shot triumph at the 2020 English Championship. But Sullivan is a nondescript 85th on your Official World Golf Ranking billboard, and was among the last players to get in the field, granted passage when American Matthew Wolff withdrew. In 16 previous major appearances, Sullivan has only one top 20 — a tie for 12th at the 2016 British Open. He had missed cuts in his last six major starts in succession, including the 2019 British Open at Royal Portrush. But one thing is certain, he won’t miss this cut. Sullivan carded a second successive 67 on Friday, covering one bogey with four birdies.
And Sullivan has company in the underdog department. Jon Thomson, who stands 6-foot-9 and weighs some 300 pounds, fired a second-round 67, which included a hole-in-one at the par-3 16th. A Challenge Tour refugee, the 25-year old Thomson is No. 889 in the OWGR, and yet he’s on the radar heading into “moving day.”
“Yeah, it's awesome,” said Thomson, who became the tallest player to ever play in a PGA Tour event when he teed off on Thursday. “You know, you dream about playing in the Open as a kid and then you come here, have a hole-in-one and make the cut, and it's just like, Wow.”
Thomson’s ace at the bunker-choked 16th is something he will never forget. “I mean, it's just phenomenal, to be honest,” said Thomson, who makes the burly Bryson DeChambeau look tiny. “Like the roar, the shot, everything about that hole, it's indescribable, really.”
There are several more redcoats in red numbers as the weekend arrives, and some more prominent names. Paul Casey had a second-round 67 to get to 5 under. Danny Willett is one more back (4 under), while Justin Rose rallied in his round to sit at 3 under. Five more Brits crowd Thomson at 2 under, including Tommy Fleetwood, Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood, Matt Wallace and Jack Senior.
The English are coming — in waves. And the re-instated galleries are fueling the fire.
“This is the first time I've played in front of home crowds for a hell of a long time, and it's amazing,” Willett said. “Like I said yesterday, to be clapped on to every tee, every green, the ovation you get on the first, down the last, I did really get goosebumps, and that's what the Open is all about.”
Of course, ground will be difficult to gain over the next two days. Favorable weather has made low numbers prevalent, and similar conditions are expected over the weekend. But at a British Open, one never knows which way the winds may blow. Crazy things can happen.
Certainly, Fleetwood remained optimistic as he finished his round early on Friday. He was second in the last British Open, 2019 at Royal Portrush, and second in the 2018 U.S. Open.
“I don't know what the lead is going to be at the end of the day,” Fleetwood, 30, said. “It might be 9 (under par), 10, 11, whatever it is. I'm not out of the tournament.
“I have to, like, reset and go again tomorrow and shoot the best score I can, but you don't know what the conditions are going to bring in an Open, and you never know what's around the corner in a major.”
English optimism might do well to keep perspective. For instance, Westwood has had 19 top-10s in majors during an illustrious career, including a British Open runner-up in 2010. But Westy has never finished first, and he could set a record by completing his 88th major start without a win.
Likewise, Casey has teased often, with 12 top-10s in majors. But he has never closed the deal. His best British Open performance was a T3 in 2010.
“I feel the desire is still there,” said Casey, 43. “I haven't won one. I desperately want to, but I don't feel like that's adding pressure, I just feel excitement every time. It's like an opportunity.”
Only two of the aforementioned names are certified major champions. Willett captured the 2016 Masters, with the help of Jordan Spieth’s infamous Sunday meltdown. And Rose, golf’s reigning Olympic gold medalist, won the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion.
Still, there may be strength in numbers. “Right now I think it's probably as strong a chance as we've had, maybe even ever,” Rose said after Thursday’s round. “The quality of golf that a lot of the guys are playing …
“Listen, the lads can do it. I see no reason why. We've all grown up playing lots of links golf to be honest with you, and yeah, it should be a style of golf that we all relish.
“Hopefully, Royal St. George's with the St. George's cross, is kind of a lucky omen this week.”
More Day 2 British Open Coverage from Morning Read:
- Oosthuizen Leads, Spieth Lurks Through Two Rounds at British Open
- One Day After Ripping His Equipment, Bryson DeChambeau Says He 'Feels Really Bad About It'
- Could a Brit Finally Win a British Open? Several Contenders Have a Shot
- Morikawa Takes Run at Open Scoring Record, Shoots 64 to Surge Into Lead
- From Challenge Tour to British Open, Marcel Siem Plays Way into Contention
- Amateur Mattias Schmid Etches Name in Open Lore With Second-Round 65
- Will Zalatoris WD From Open, One Day After Painful Shot Out of Deep Rough
- Bryson DeChambeau Rips Gear, Says Driver 'Sucks' After Uneven Opening Round