My Greatest Shot
Max Faulkner
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Frank Stranahan described Faulkner's approach as "the greatest shot I've ever seen"

Picture the scene: a four-stroke lead on the third round of The 80th Open at Royal Portrush, but all is not well for Max Faulkner.

The year is 1951, and the flamboyant Englishman was well on his way to a maiden Major Championship, all before he overhit his tee shot on the 16th into the long stuff.

It looked bad, and only got worse as he approached scene of the crime; his ball was nestled neatly next to a barbed-wire fence marking the out-of-bounds line.

What happened next would go down in history, so much so that, 68 years later, with The Open returning to Northern Ireland for the first time since that mythical moment, players should look to channel their inner Faulkner when they take on Portrush this summer.

Open season

With four professional wins to his name by 1951 – each of them in England – Faulkner made the journey across the Irish Sea in good form at golf’s oldest Major.

Tied for sixth in 1949 and fifth a year later, the then-34-year-old was no doubt a dark horse, but his credentials were overshadowed by those of back-to-back Champion Golfer of the Year Bobby Locke in Portrush.

After 18 holes, the pair were locked level at -1, three shots off the lead and each well-placed for a tilt at the Claret Jug.

It was Faulkner who seized the initiative, however, as a 70 on day two and an impressive start to his third round gave him a comfortable lead as he stepped onto the 16th – Babington’s.

The shot

A wayward tee shot put Faulkner in trouble, rocking him back to reality after he had cruised to the top of the leaderboard.

But rather than panic or backtrack, the Englishman pulled out his 4-wood and took it face on.

Forced into a stunted swing, Faulkner’s connection nevertheless looked good and his calls for the ball to curve back in were answered as it landed remarkably on the fairway before trickling up to the green.

From looking a dead-cert to drop a shot and falter, Faulkner averted danger against all the odds.

“The greatest shot I've ever seen” Playing partner, Frank stranahan, to max faulkner in 1951

“That's the greatest shot I've ever seen”

It was a shot that defied belief and sent shockwaves across the County Antrim course, rendering playing partner Frank Stranahan – well-known as a chipper type on the circuit – practically speechless.

"He was a yapper. I was three ahead with two rounds to go, and he came up to me the night before and said 'Max, it won't take long for me to catch you tomorrow'," said Faulkner.

“Anyway, the next morning on the first tee I said, 'good morning, Frankie' and he didn't utter a bloody word.

“He didn't say anything until the 16th, when I hit my baffy out of bounds under the barbed wire, then sliced it round and pitched it on the green.

“He shook my hand and said, 'that's the greatest shot I've ever seen, congratulations'."

After navigating Babington’s, Faulkner stepped into the clubhouse after 54 holes with a well-earned six-stroke advantage.

And although reports that he was signing autographs before his final round later that afternoon as ‘Max Faulkner, Open Champion’ have been exposed as embellished, the Englishman held his nerve to claim the Claret Jug in memorable fashion.

Certainly, for those who witnessed it, it was a victory symbolised by that shot on the 16th.