The Story of The 97th Open at Carnoustie
In the final instalment of our historical features of The Open at Carnoustie we celebrate the impending 50th anniversary of Gary Player’s second victory at The Open.
In golf, it takes just one moment of genius to be remembered forever. Whether it’s Arnold Palmer on the 15th hole at Birkdale (1961), Jack Nicklaus driving through the 18th green at St Andrews in a playoff with Doug Sanders (1970) or Seve ‘s deft approach to the final hole at Lytham (1988) – one shot can define a career.
For Gary Player, that moment came 50 years ago during the final round of The 97th Open as he stood over his second shot at Carnoustie’s par-five 14th. It’s a daunting view. Get it right and land on the green, then it’s time to reap rewards with a possible eagle or a birdie. Get it slightly wrong however and the round could be over.
The twin bunkers, the Spectacles, that guard the green are every player’s nightmare – with their depth and breadth capable of pinning a player down for several shots. Many opt to lay up instead and play safe. But Player, with The Open on the line, launched all he had into his swing and connected perfectly. His three-wood hurled the ball with such force that the powerful Angus wind could not knock it off line.
The ball carried the Spectacles, landed perfectly on the green and rolled within two feet of the hole. An eagle was completed, and shortly after the Claret Jug was his again at the end of a championship that lives long in the memory.
Player, a Champion Golfer in 1959 at Muirfield, purposefully arrived a week early to get used to the tough Carnoustie conditions on Scotland’s east coast. But there is nothing quite like local knowledge and links experience, and after day one he was four shots off the lead.
After consecutive rounds of 71, Player, moved to level par and just two off the lead before the final round where heavy winds surged across the North Sea.
The final round was set up perfectly. Billy Casper and Bob Charles, the 1963 Champion Golfer of the Year, were both under-par with Player and Nicklaus just behind and it did not disappoint. At the start of the final round all four dropped shots due to the ferocious weather but there was little to choose between them until the 14th.
Alongside Nicklaus, a man with seven majors already to his name heading into the Championship, Player knew he had to force something or risk being left behind. So as he approached his second shot on the 14th, it was risk and reward. Watching in the stands was Player’s wife Vivienne, who had a far better angle of what unfolded in those five minutes.
"As she walked to the next hole, her legs were shaking like jelly," Player later said.
His charge did not stop there. With Casper slowly dropping out of contention and Charles struggling to take advantage, it came down to Nicklaus to stop Player. But on the 17th the South African produced another excellent 60-foot approach shot that took the wind out of Nicklaus’ sails before a par on the last sealed victory.
Player went on to win the Claret Jug for a third time in 1974, but this was his favourite win and – for those watching – his best-ever shot.
Join us at Carnoustie, 15-22 July 2018, for The 147th Open. Tickets are selling fast with Weekend Bundles now SOLD OUT. Daily tickets are still available for Saturday and Sunday.