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History of The Open

The 1960s


Global audience witness the rise of Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus


Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus took advantage of the proliferation of television to become household names in the 1960s.

During a decade of decadence and disruption, the now legendary American duo rocked the golfing establishment with their swashbuckling style of play and impressive trophy hauls.

Palmer and Nicklaus propelled the sport into a new era with an untapped cohort of fans tuning in to watch two of the greatest and most influential golfers of all time.

Alongside Gary Player, a three-time Champion Golfer, the trio were known as ‘The Big Three’ – and each of them enjoyed Open glory in the Swingin’ Sixties.

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The King

Credited with popularising golf more than anyone had done before, Palmer stormed to six major victories in a dominant spell at the beginning of the 60s. His nickname – ‘The King’ – was a reflection of the huge impact he had on the sport.

Palmer won successive Open titles in 1961 and 1962, wowing spectators with his attacking flair along the way.

Perhaps more importantly, though, through both word and action he reminded his compatriots of the majesty of The Open Championship, ensuring a wave of participation from American golfers in future years.

Jack Nicklaus gives his Champion's speech at The Open in 1966

Super Jack

Nicklaus made his Open debut at Royal Troon in 1962 when he finished in 34th place. He was third 12 months later, with his first Claret Jug arriving at Muirfield in 1966, completing the career Grand Slam in the process.

Such was Nicklaus’s brilliance on links courses, he finished inside the top six for the next 14 years; a quite astonishing sequence.

With Palmer the game’s pre-eminent force in the 60s, Nicklaus followed in his slipstream before eventually surpassing The King’s tally of major wins to set a record (18) that possibly may never be beaten.

Peter Thomson in 1965

Fab Five for Thomson

Having dominated The Open in the 1950s, Australian great Peter Thomson collected his final Claret Jug at Royal Birkdale in 1965 to join James Braid and JH Taylor (and latterly Tom Watson) on five Open victories. Only Harry Vardon (6) has won more.

Another Australian to enjoy Open glory was Kel Nagle, who survived a torrential downpour to take victory in the Centenary Open at St Andrews in 1960.

Roberto De Vicenzo Claret Jug 1967

Open firsts

Bob Charles became the first left-hander and first – and only – New Zealander to win The Open when he came out on top at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 1963.

His victory came after the last ever 36-hole play-off in which he beat American Phil Rodgers by eight shots.

Nicklaus missed out on the play-off by one stroke when he rather uncharacteristically bogeyed the 72nd hole.

Roberto De Vicenzo took great pride in becoming the first, and only, South American to lift the Claret Jug, at Royal Liverpool in 1967.

Aged 44, De Vicenzo was the second-oldest Champion Golfer behind Old Tom Morris, who was 46 in 1867.

When Tony Lema won on his Open debut at St Andrews in 1964 it was all the more remarkable given he had never previously played links golf, nor even visited Britain.

With Palmer not competing, Lema used The King’s regular Open caddie, Tip Anderson, and the pair stormed to victory by five shots from Nicklaus. Lema would only play in The Open twice more before tragedy struck when he died in a plane crash in 1966.

Tony Jacklin (left) kisses the Claret Jug after winning The Open in 1969

Jacklin brings it home

By 1969, there hadn’t been a British winner of The Open for 18 years. But Tony Jacklin brought an end to that drought when he triumphed at Lytham.

When he won the US Open at Hazeltine a few months later, he matched Vardon’s feat of holding both Opens simultaneously.

And such was the rapid advancement in technology by the end of the 60s, TV viewers were able to appreciate the bright purple ensemble that Jacklin wore as he hoisted aloft the Claret Jug.

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