Tony Lema sweeps to victory
Tony Lema achieved the seemingly impossible on his first visit to St Andrews in 1964. After winning three of his previous four tournaments in America he arrived at the home of golf with less than two days to learn the intricacies of the Old Course. Yet he quickly mastered the art of the chip-and-run shot, so vital to success on classic links courses, and drove the ball superbly to romp to a five-shot victory over Jack Nicklaus, already a winner of the US Open, PGA and Masters championships in the early years of his formidable career.
A key to Lema’s success was the non-appearance of Arnold Palmer. Winner of the Open in 1961 and 1962 Palmer had set his sights on winning the modern grand slam, but had finished poorly in the US Open and had withdrawn from the field at St Andrews. In his absence he recommended that Lema should employ Tip Anderson, the local caddie who had helped him to his two Open victories. “It was amazing how often he put the right club in my hand. Tip was at least 50 per cent of the team,” said Lema at the end of his stunning St Andrews debut.
He had the benefit of the better weather conditions early on a first day that saw Nicklaus fall to a 76 as winds rose to near gale force. In the second round he pulled nine shots clear of his main rival with a 68. Home hopes were raised with Harry Weetman just two shots behind Lema and Christy O’Connor another shot further back. But both saw their scores rise as the weather improved and they finished together in joint sixth place 12 shots behind the tall American.
Despite two final day rounds of 66-68 Nicklaus only succeeded in reducing Lema’s winning margin to five shots. Popular Argentinian Roberto de Vicenzo pulled himself into third place with a final 67. He was to win the Open three years later at Royal Liverpool. Lema’s singular triumph was just reward for a highly talented golfer who was killed in a plane crash two years later.