When the British Open went to its unique four-hole playoff
format in 1985, a pleasant tremor coursed through the bodies of
certain observers. Television directors saw the four holes as a
dramatic device. Artists visualized a frame. Cultured types
noted the resemblance to concert encores, which now take up
roughly a third of a musical evening. Numerologists pointed out
that boxing rings and most playing fields are four-sided. The
number 4, furthermore, multiplied by the three pen strokes
required to form it, comes to 12--the true number of alien
bodies discovered at Roswell, N.Mex.
The tournament players, on the other hand, greeted the format
with puzzled shrugs. Why play four holes to break a 72-hole tie?
Why not two or 13 or seven? Why not stick with the traditional
18-hole playoff or, if change was absolutely necessary, switch
to the sudden-death format used at the Masters and the PGA
Championship? The answer would be provided four years later at
Royal Troon. Four holes, it turns out, is the number necessary
to deny Greg Norman victory when he is playing his best.
"Everything over there is different," Norman said recently. "The
sound of the ball off the fairway is totally different. The feel
is totally different."
He was talking about British links golf and specifically Royal
Troon, the seaside course south of Glasgow on the Ayrshire
coast. "You can't play American-style golf at Troon," said the
two-time British Open champion. "You have to have a lot of
July 13, 1997
Imagination is a useful thing. If you can imagine Norman's
career as a castle full of paintings in gilded frames, Troon '89
is the spooky self-portrait hanging in the Misery Wing--the only
British example in a gallery of horrors that include Inverness
'86, Augusta '87 and the black-draped Augusta '96. Step closer.
Sharing the Troon canvas with Norman are his fellow
Queenslander, Wayne Grady, and a freckled, 29-year-old pro out
of the University of Florida, Mark Calcavecchia. That's
Calcavecchia on the left--the one with the smile.
Now picture the 118-room Jarvis Caledonian Hotel in Ayr,
sometime in July 1989. Calcavecchia is in the upstairs dining
room having dinner. "I'm going to win," he tells the waiters.
Laughter greets his prediction, but someone says, "When you win,
bring the cup up here, and we'll have some champagne out of it."
The golfer grins and says, "It's a deal."
What about Wayne Grady? Did he imagine victory on that warm
summer evening in Scotland? Don't know. A phone call to his home
in Australia finds Grady disconsolate over the current state of
his game--he has won only $9,255 in seven starts this
season--and loath to relive a painful defeat. "I'd rather not
talk about the British Open," he says apologetically. "It's bad
enough not being able to go this year."
One thing can be said of Royal Troon in 1989: It was a fast
track. A months-long drought had baked the fairways to a
consistency similar to the runways at nearby Prestwick Airport.
Big hitters humbled the downwind par-5s with drives of nearly
400 yards, and the rough more resembled tinder than thicket. One
patch actually caught fire.
The toasty conditions were perfect for Grady, a Brisbane native
who, like Norman, was living and practicing in Orlando. Rounds
of 68-67 gave Grady the 36-hole lead, two shots ahead of Payne
Stewart and five-time British Open champion Tom Watson. On
Saturday, with the temperature still in the 80s, Grady shot 69
and retained his lead, one shot ahead of Watson and two up on
Stewart. Somewhat hot himself, having won his first PGA Tour
event, the Manufacturers Hanover Westchester (N.Y.) Classic six
weeks before, the likable Grady was nevertheless overshadowed by
his more prominent pursuers. "After the second round," he said
at the time, "I had to read one newspaper for 15 minutes before
I knew that I was in the lead."
Norman, meanwhile, had shot 69-70-72. He was not only seven
shots behind Grady, but he also had a dozen players to overtake,
several of Ryder Cup stature. To get back into contention he
would need...but nobody was making those calculations. Only
Norman. The Shark told his shaving mirror that a final-round 63
might get him his second claret jug.
A round of 54 would have done, too, and that's what Norman
seemed to have in mind when he teed off on Sunday afternoon. He
birdied the 1st hole...the 2nd...the 3rd...the 4th...the
5th...the 6th.... Excited spectators scrambled over Troon's
dunes, while back at the 1st tee the distant roars caused
stomachs to knot and imaginations to run riot. By the time Grady
teed off, his lead over Norman was one--an erosion more
impressive than that achieved in a century by the nearby Firth
The 8th hole, the famous Postage Stamp par-3, blunted Norman's
charge--he made a 4--but birdies at 11, 12 and 16 got him to
eight under. On the 17th, a long par-3, he saved par with a
dramatic chip-in from 20 feet. "This was the greatest round I've
ever played," he said. His course-record 64 was, in fact, the
lowest final-round score in Open history.
It seemed that Norman might win this Open on his back. In his
hotel room he stretched out on the bed to watch the concluding
holes. He saw Calcavecchia, who had pitched a 60-footer into the
cup on the fly on the 12th hole, birdie the 18th to catch him.
He then saw Grady, who needed pars from the 15th in to win,
bogey the 17th. Grady parred the 18th, however, to make the
playoff a threesome for the first time in Open history.
Two out and two in. That's what the new playoff format
dictated--a fresh start and a quick finish. It was as if wigged
barristers had stepped forward to stipulate pars for everyone on
holes 3 through 16. ("For the sake of brevity, your lordship.")
"I didn't even know it was a four-hole playoff until right
before we teed off," says Calcavecchia. "That was kind of a
Kind of a gift, actually, because Norman birdied the 1st hole,
while Grady and Calcavecchia made pars. "I thought, Heck, that's
all right," Calcavecchia recalls. "We've got three more holes
and a lot can happen."
Indeed. Calcavecchia drained a 25-footer for birdie on number 2,
and then Norman--still in heroic mode--dropped in a 20-footer of
his own, sending the spectators into a frenzy and the Fates into
executive session. The Shark was 10 under for his last 20 holes.
The grandstands were still packed when the golfers stepped onto
the 17th tee. Norman led Calcavecchia by one and Grady by two,
and his ball-striking was so pure that he made the holes look
like homing beacons. Using a three-iron, Norman lashed a shot
that nearly took paint off the flagstick and rolled just off the
back edge. As much as any shot in his career, this one would
haunt Norman. It was perfect--"too perfect," according to
Calcavecchia--and seemed to answer critics who said Norman
tended to block shots to the right under pressure. Sadly, the
ball nestled into a grassy lie and could not be excavated with a
putter. Norman chipped instead, and the ball coasted 10 feet
below the hole. For the first time, worry began to show in his
Calcavecchia, two-putting from 50 feet, made his par, and Grady
made bogey from a bunker. Then Norman missed the putt. Tied again.
To recap: Norman had been closest to the pin on the three
playoff holes and had made two birdie putts. Still, he had won
nothing. As he said famously an hour or so later, "Destiny has a
funny way of saying, 'Hey, this is the way it's going to be.'"
The 18th at Troon is a par-4 of 452 yards terminating at the
concrete apron of the clubhouse. Calcavecchia hit first and
sailed a nervous effort off to the right, where it plunked a
spectator and rebounded into light rough, 201 yards from the
hole. Emboldened, Norman coiled with his own driver and lashed a
bomb down the right side of the fairway, causing his fans to
yelp and fall off their milk cartons and stepstools.
Unfortunately, he hit it too far--325 yards, according to most
estimates--and it bounded into a pot bunker that had been little
more than a beauty mark all week. Worse yet, his ball planted
itself below the forward lip of the bunker, leaving a launch
angle more suited to a space shot than a 130-yard pitch.
Grady, two shots back, was in no position to take advantage, but
Calcavecchia was. The five-iron he hit from the right rough is
one of a handful of shots that Open followers store in their
memories. "I just stood there watching it," he told reporters.
"I said, 'I don't care where it ends up, because that's the best
shot I've ever hit.'" With the gallery roaring, Calcavecchia's
ball stopped seven feet from the hole.
Why four holes? Is that what Norman was thinking? His bunker
shot left him no chance to reach the green. He tried, though,
and his shot clipped the bunker's lip, landing short of the
green in another bunker in another impossible lie. Norman's
final swing, made in front of a stunned crowd and a worldwide
television audience, sent his ball sailing over the green and
out of bounds toward the clubhouse, where it bounced off the leg
of the Troon caddiemaster.
The rules said Norman had to take a stroke penalty and play from
his original position in the trap. He chose instead to retain
what was left of his dignity. Handing his sand wedge to his
caddie, Bruce Edwards, he took an X on the final hole.
That left Calcavecchia needing only a three-putt to beat Grady.
Calmed by the prospect, Calcavecchia made the putt for birdie
and guaranteed his place in Open lore. Of course, he kept his
promise. That evening, he repaired with his claret jug to the
upstairs dining room. The champagne flowed, and the waiters
drank as much as the champion.
Today a replica of the claret jug sits under a light in the
trophy room of Calcavecchia's home in West Palm Beach, Fla.
"When you win one of the big ones in golf, you're regarded as a
step above," he says. "Professionally, it was my biggest thrill."
The assumption is that a young player's first major will
catapult him to even greater heights. Calcavecchia had won two
other tournaments in '89 and seemed on the verge of stardom.
However, a catastrophic collapse in a singles match at the 1991
Ryder Cup shook his confidence. He has cracked the top 30 on the
Tour's money list for the last four years, but rarely has he
shown the carefree brilliance that marked his British Open
triumph. "It was '89," he says. "It was a long time ago, and
everything seemed pretty easy."
Grady, now 39, can't remember when things seemed easy. His
career topped out in 1990 when he won the PGA by three shots at
the infamous Shoal Creek Country Club in Birmingham, Ala. The
following year he dropped to 118th on the U.S. money list and
since 1993 has had one top-10 finish on Tour. He will miss next
week's return of the Open Championship to Troon--his second
straight absence from the tournament that put him on the world
stage--and is uncertain if he will play the Tour full time, even
though he's still exempt through the year 2000 because of his
As for Norman--well, no other player in the '90s has cut such a
colorful swath across golf's landscape. His performance in the
majors this year, however, has been dismal. He missed the cut in
the Masters and the U.S. Open for the first time, and he has
been grumpy and cantankerous with galleries and tournament
officials. Conventional wisdom says that Norman is still
traumatized by the '96 Masters.
Unconventional wisdom has it that Norman has been a different
man for eight years--ever since he took that X on the 76th hole
at Royal Troon. A fatalist now, he sincerely believes that
championships are dispensed by cruel gods named Randomitius and
Arbitrarius, aided and abetted by the rules makers at the Royal
and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews.