In 127 years, Royal St George’s has seen its fair share of memorable moments across 14 hostings of The Open Championship.
Here, we present a selection of these moments, detailing the most iconic, historic and memorable Championships in the history of the Sandwich links.
In 1894, Royal St George’s made history as the first venue to host The Open outside of Scotland. Yet The 34th Open will go down in history for more than that, not just in terms of the Championship, but also for the legacy it helped begin.
J.H. Taylor’s triumph in 1894 was the first professional victory from an Englishman in the event, coming fittingly in the first Open Championship held in England, and was only the third non-Scottish victory recorded after his amateur compatriots John Ball and Harold Hilton had won earlier in the decade.
Taylor won with the highest winning score in Open Championship history, a record that stands to this day, in brutal weather conditions. Although the 23-year-old upstart, playing in his second Open, failed to break 80 in any of the four rounds, Taylor won comfortably by five strokes for the first of five Championship wins, outclassing a record field of 94 starters.
The victory was also the start of a new period of domination by The Great Triumvirate of Taylor, Harry Vardon and James Braid, who would win 16 of the 21 Opens played between 1894 and 1914. In addition, at least one of the Triumvirate finished second in the other five Championships during that time.
Locke’s love affair
In 1949, during the first Championship held at Royal St George’s post-war, Bobby Locke began a superb run at The Open, winning the first of three Championships in four years, and the first of four Claret Jugs in total.
The 78th Open was originally scheduled to be held at Royal Cinque Ports, but for the second time, after the same occurrence in 1938, the Championship's playing was moved from Deal to neighbouring Sandwich as a result of high tides rendering Cinque Ports unplayable.
At Royal St George’s, the South African Locke beat Harry Bradshaw in a play-off to claim the fabled Claret Jug. It was also the last Open held at Sandwich until 1981.
Rogers’ brilliance and Nicklaus’ struggles
In 1981, The Open returned to Royal St George’s for the first time in 32 years, and the players were greeted with huge delight from the delighted Kentish crowds.
Yet the one man many came to see, 17-time major champion Jack Nicklaus, struggled in brutal conditions to a first round of 83, one of the worst rounds ever recorded during the three-time Open Champion’s illustrious career.
The Golden Bear came back with characteristic determination, firing a 66 in round two and astonishingly managing a top-25 finish, but it was Bill Rogers who stole the show on Sandwich’s links that year.
Entering the final round with a five-stroke lead after second and third rounds of 66 and 67 respectively, Rogers’ lead was quickly cut to one after early struggles including a double bogey on the seventh hole.
But a brilliant two-putt on the eighth, and a series of remarkable approach shots over the next five holes, saw Rogers take back control, which he would never again relinquish.
Rogers’ two-putt on the eighth, from all of 60 feet, was not just the key moment of the Championship in Rogers’ mind, but also in the opinion of an Open legend.
To hear what that legend said (32:54), alongside Rogers describing the drama of the final round of The 110th Open (26:30) and his remarkable career, listen to Rogers' episode of The Open Podcasts below for free, or listen and subscribe on your preferred podcast platform to never miss an episode.
In 1985, Sandy Lyle ended a 65 year-wait for a Scottish champion of golf’s original major, the longest ever drought at The Open, in dramatic fashion at Royal St George’s.
The Open had not had a Scottish winner since 1920 when George Duncan had claimed the title. Although the Scottish-born duo of Jock Hutchison and Tommy Armour won in 1921 and 1931 respectively, both represented the United States when claiming victory. Previously, Scottish golfers had accounted for 39 wins in The Open's first 60 years.
Jimmy Adams and John Fallon had recorded second-placed finishes after Duncan's success, but it was Lyle, a two-time European Tour Order of Merit winner, who proved to be the man to break the duck.
Over a baked-out Sandwich course, he produced some brilliant golf in the final round to come from behind and take the lead in the dying embers of the Championship.
A lengthy putt on the difficult par-5 14th was a key moment, giving Lyle a huge boost in his bid for the title. However, with a slender lead playing the last hole, Lyle’s approach found ‘Duncan’s Hollow’ to the left of the green.
Duncan had befallen an unfortunate fate at Royal St George's in 1922 after he had failed to get up and down from the hollow, foiling his chances of a second Open title as Walter Hagen emerged victorious.
After a duffed chip caused Lyle to bury his head in the grass in a moment of a frustration, it seemed as if the Scottish wait may go on.
Quickly recovering, however, Lyle hit a good putt just up and over the steep slope, and holed a vital three-footer to retain the lead. Only Bernhard Langer and David Graham in the final group could prevent Lyle from victory, but both came up short in their attempts as one of the world’s best claimed his first major championship.
Lyle’s triumph also ended a 16-year wait for a British winner of golf’s original major, since Tony Jacklin had won in 1969, and was the first of two major titles in a brilliant career for the talented Scotsman.
Our recap of The 1985 Open Championship is available to read here.
Norman’s awesome display
In one of the most celebrated Championships of the 20th Century, Greg Norman ended a seven-year wait for a second major title to claim his second Claret Jug in incredible style.
A final-day score of 64, courtesy of a round Norman himself described as “the best I’ve ever played”, was enough to pip home favourite Nick Faldo to the post, as the Englishman sought a fourth Claret Jug in seven years.
Norman’s final round is often considered one of the best ever in a major, and the 13-under-par total the ‘Shark’ posted was good enough not just to beat Faldo by two, but also rank as the lowest winning score at Royal St George’s by eight strokes.
Read more about The 122nd Open here.
While Royal St George’s has had many famous triumphs, it is perhaps Thomas Bjorn’s unfortunate demise in 2003 during the 132nd Open that remains one of the most memorable moments in the history of the Sandwich links.
Entering the 70th hole of the Championship, Bjorn had just stumbled to a bogey on the 15th hole, yet still led by two strokes. However, the Dane’s enviable position quickly deteriorated after he found a bunker to the right of the par-3 16th with his tee shot, leaving him a difficult shot over a hollow to a tight pin.
Bjorn’s first attempt from the sand came close to traversing the slope before the pin, but slowly tumbled back to his feet and into a bad lie. His second suffered a similar fate, the ball barely making it to the green before rolling back once more as spectators watched on in shock.
Bjorn then splashed his third attempt to within a few feet and salvaged a double-bogey, keeping him tied for the Championship lead. But after Ben Curtis holed a brave 10-foot putt on the final hole to stay in a tie with Bjorn, the American would claim the Claret Jug in his first major championship appearance as his rival dropped a further shot on the 17th hole.
The bunker to the right of 16 is now known as ‘Bjorn’s Bunker’, further cementing the unfortunate legacy left by the Dane in 2003.
Clarke’s fairytale victory
In 2011, 42-year-old Darren Clarke claimed a fairytale triumph at The 140th Open, remarkably at the 20th time of asking in golf’s original major.
Famously in poor form prior to the event, Clarke was probably more likely to "finish last than to finish first", according to close friend and practice round partner Lee Westwood. Yet the Northern Irishman completed a miraculous turnaround on the eve of the championship, as noted by his mental coach Dr. Bob Rotella.
“By the time the tournament started,” Rotella said, “he got in a great place and he really got in a great place even Sunday morning. Darren was just in a fabulous state of mind that morning, and I was thrilled to see him be that happy and relaxed.”
Clarke would go on to produce a wonderful final round to hold off Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson and claim the Claret Jug in one of the most popular Open triumphs in recent memory. A glass of Guinness was certainly a fitting way to celebrate for the Ulsterman.