History of The Open
Max Faulkner
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The quirky Englishman and original king of Royal Portrush

Faulkner becomes Champion Golfer of the Year

The 1951 Open is remembered for many things, not least the tournament debut of five-time Champion Golfer Peter Thomson.

But it was also the stage where quirky Englishman Max Faulkner would become a household name.

Faulkner is no longer the only Champion Golfer to claim the Claret Jug at the Dunluce Links but his name will always be etched in Open history.

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.

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.

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

'The greatest shot'

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.

The man, the myth, the legend

The Open in 1951 is remembered not only for its history-making location but also for the manner in which it was won and the legends created.

In contrast to the wet weather that week, Faulkner, who had served in the RAF as a physical training instructor, dressed in brightly-coloured clothing in an era when golfing attire was more conservative.

An often-told story that emanates from this year conveys that Faulkner signed an autograph for a young boy and added the words “Open Champion 1951” before teeing off for his final round.

There are plenty of different versions of the story, including one in which the boy in question’s father asked Faulkner to write that message – but was later admitted to be “total nonsense” by Faulkner’s ghostwriter on a London newspaper, a young Ian Wooldridge.

After claiming the Claret Jug, Faulkner flew home that night and played in a Fathers v Sons cricket match at his son’s school the next day, with it finishing up as the only major he would win in his career – he was also awarded an OBE in 2001.

A limited number of The Open programme remain available: the perfect keepsake to a famous week at Royal Portrush.