If we’re talking unusual - and we are - how about the 2020 golf year? No handshakes, no fans, no British Open, U.S. Open in September, Masters in November, life on Mars, cats living with dogs … When it comes to unconventional, the pandemic-perforated calendar of ’20 buried the needle, pardon the vaccine reference.
This year, things have gravitated toward familiarity. But even “ordinary” is something with which we are unaccustomed. To wit, here it is mid-July, heart of the summer, meat of the golf season and we are about to experience the final major championship of the season. The British Open begins this week on the southeastern coast of England and then … that’s it, done for 2021.
Feels odd, kind of like awarding hockey’s Stanley Cup while it’s still chilly out, or concluding the World Series while it’s still warm. C’mon, you want to get nuts? Let’s get nuts!
But this is golf’s new normal, the way it was supposed to be last year, the way it’s set to be in years to come - Masters in April, PGA Championship in May, U.S. Open in June and the British Open batting cleanup in mid-July. Thanks for comin,’ hit the lights on your way out.
The sequence assigns this 149th edition of the “Open Championship” a particularly tall order. Because the new order of things, to this point, has been splendid. Each of the three previous majors in ‘21has left a signature.
Played for the second time in five months, the Masters presented a historic performance by Hideki Matsuyama, who became the first Japanese player to rock a green jacket. That is a win that will resonate globally for many moons. The PGA followed in May with a stunning Lazarus story. Before the week at Kiawah Island, 455 majors had been conducted and only five had been won by men 45 or older, none by one in his 50s.
Enter 50-year-old Phil Mickelson, who used his calves and charisma to capture his sixth major and make golf history.
A month later, the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines was a gritty affair with an explosive finish. Jon Rahm stayed poised, stayed patient and steered 43 feet of twisting putts to birdie the last two holes and become the first Spaniard to win the championship.
More magic, more history, more memories.
Put it all together and it’s a tough act for this British Open to follow. Adding weight to the load is the fact that the good golf galleries of Great Britain have been stuck in the green room for two years, waiting to crown the next “Champion Golfer of The Year.”
That said, Mark Twain once wrote, “A thing long expected takes the form of the unexpected when at last it comes.” And where unexpected, magical and memorable are concerned, a British Open at Royal George’s might be just the ticket, the perfect place to pass the major championship baton and run the anchor leg.
You want unexpected - how about Thomas Bjorn’s bunker debacle in 2003? With a one-shot lead, Bjorn needed three swats to get out of the sand at Royal George’s No. 16. His double-bogey paved the path to a stunning championship for Ben Curtis.
That’s correct, Ben Curtis. Not Ben Hogan, not Curtis Strange … Ben Curtis. He ranked 396th in the world at the time and was a 300-1 shot in the London books.
You want memorable - how about Greg Norman’s win in 1993? “The Shark” fired a final-round 64 to beat the No. 1 player in the world at the time, Nick Faldo, by two. The final leaderboard was a Who’s Who of golf, with all but one of the top 12 names either holding a major championship title, or destined to secure one in the future.
Among those in attendance in ’93 was Grand Slam winner Gene Sarazen, who called the championship the “finest” he had ever seen.
How about magical - and how about Darren Clarke’s victory at RSG in 2011? The popular Northern Irishman was thought to be on the backside of his career, one that would remain unfulfilled by a major triumph. But playing in his 20th British Open, Clarke outlasted a Mickelson charge on Sunday and got his major at the age of 42.
Truth is, batting order notwithstanding, the British Open will never be an afterthought, not after 161 years. Moreover, there is something about Royal St. George’s, something that oozes unpredictable and unforgettable. After all, this is the club that inspired Ian Fleming to create the match between James Bond and Goldfinger in Fleming’s 1959 book Goldfinger. How many proper courses have had bowler-beaned loopers like Oddjob walking the fairways? A member at RSG, Fleming used Royal St. Mark’s as a pseudonym in the book, but left little doubt as to the true identity.
This is the club where Peter Jacobsen tackled a naked streaker on the 18th green of the 1985 British Open. “I went low and kept my mouth shut,” Jacobsen said afterward, “which is hard for me to do.”
This is the club that can present the kind of abrasive weather elements that typify a British Open, as it did in 1894 when John Henry Taylor battled brutal conditions to capture the first British Open conducted outside of Scotland. Taylor’s winning score of 326 - 127 years later - remains the highest in championship history.
This summer has kicked off a new era for major championship golf, and getting used to the shuffled sequence will take time. But if this is the way it shall be, if the final major of the year is to be conducted in mid-July, this is the right one. The first three editions of golf’s big four have set a terrific stage. Royal St. George’s promises to bring down the curtain in style.
More Morning Read Coverage of 2021 British Open:
- Unfazed Bryson DeChambeau Turns Page on Caddie Saga
- Bettors' Roundtable: Favorites, Sleepers, Best Bets from Pool of Experts
- No Course Embraces Quirks Quite Like Royal St. George's'
- Shane Lowry Can Make Rare History This Week
- The Perfect Venue to Cap 2021 Major Season? It's Royal St. George's
- Americans Need to Man Up an Deal With British Open Travel Protocols
- Elements of Style: What Pros Will Wear This Week at British Open
- Gary Player Says St. George's is Easiest of Open Venues