As the game’s first global superstar, it was only right that Gene Sarazen brought his Open career to an end in sensational fashion 50 years after making his bow.
Sarazen had already etched his name into Open folklore in 1932 when he was crowned Champion Golfer of the Year before going on to complete the career Grand Slam.
But while the American hit many fabulous shots en route to lifting his first and only Claret Jug at Prince’s, arguably his greatest ever proved to be one of his last strokes at Royal Troon.
Aged 71, Sarazen bid farewell to golf’s oldest and most prestigious major in style with a hole-in-one on the famous eighth hole, otherwise known as ‘The Postage Stamp’.
There have been few better parting shots in the history of the Championship – rounding off an extraordinary Open career back at the place where it all started.
Reaching the pinnacle
Sarazen’s rise through the golfing ranks was rapid after he turned professional, winning his first major championship a year later when he claimed the US Open title in 1922.
He backed up his success just months later by winning the PGA Championship before defending his crown in 1923 in a thrilling play-off against Walter Hagen for his third major.
Having already tasted success at his home majors, Sarazen then turned his attention to the Claret Jug – although he got off to an inauspicious start, failing to qualify at Troon in 1923.
It was not long before he came to grips with links golf, though, finishing second at Royal St George’s in 1928, eighth at Muirfield a year later and third at Carnoustie in 1931.
And having come within a whisker of being crowned Champion Golfer, everything finally clicked for Sarazen in 1932 at Prince’s where he led wire-to-wire to triumph.
Claret Jug Success
It was an emphatic victory for Sarazen at the only Open ever staged at Prince’s, which neighbours Royal St George’s, with his nearest rival Macdonald Smith finishing five shots behind.
Sarazen became just the third Champion Golfer after Ted Ray and Bobby Jones to lead outright after every round, with his total of 283 two better than Jones’ record from 1927.
His success was all the more famous for the fact that he was aided by his sand wedge, a club he had invented the previous year, which enabled him to escape the pot bunkers.
He topped the leaderboard after day one with a 70 and opened up a three-shot advantage with a 69 in his second round, before further rounds of 70 and 68 sealed the title.
It would not be Sarazen’s last major victory, however. He won a third PGA Championship in 1933 and completed the career Grand Slam by adding The Masters two years later.
Conquering The Postage Stamp
Like many golfers before and after him, Sarazen had always found the par-3 eighth hole at Royal Troon a menacing proposition despite only playing 123 yards long.
In fact, it’s the shortest hole in The Open course rota – but that has not stopped it from causing players no end of pain over the years with its elevated tee shot and tiny green.
But while making his farewell appearance in 1973, Sarazen saved his best attempt until last as he aced the hole during his first round with the BBC cameras watching on live.
“For many years, the Postage Stamp hole had haunted me; I feared it, so when I walked onto the tee and faced the wind, I must admit I was somewhat nervous,” said Sarazen.
“I selected my 5-iron as I was determined not to be short. When the crowd roared and I realised the ball was in the hole, I felt there was no better way to close the books on my tournament play than to make a hole-in-one on the Postage Stamp and call it quits.”
Remarkably, Sarazen was not the only golfer to come away from the eighth with a hole-in-one that day as David Russell, a British amateur, also aced the same hole an hour earlier.
Sarazen eventually completed his round in a seven-over 79 and went on to miss the cut – but his stunning effort on the eighth provided a fitting climax to his Open career.