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The 152nd Open

Americans at home at Royal Troon


US dominance at the venue for The 152nd Open

Justin Leonard stares at the Claret Jug after winning The Open in 1997

Henrik Stenson’s capture of the Claret Jug in 2016 was unique for a number of reasons – not least because it was the first Open hosted at Royal Troon not to be won by an American golfer since 1962.

Stenson broke two low-score records on his way to becoming the first player from Sweden to win the Championship. It was only the fourth different nationality of an Open winner on the famous Ayrshire track.

England’s Arthur Havers triumphed at Troon’s first staging, in 1923. This was followed by South African great Bobby Locke retaining the title there in 1950.

There was much conjecture at the time about the unwillingness of American golfers to travel to the UK to compete in The Open – before Arnold Palmer unwittingly changed the face of golf’s original Championship.

Arnold Palmer (right) tees of at The Open at Royal Troon in 1962

Arnold Palmer (right) tees off at Royal Troon in 1962

While the legendary American figures of Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen, Walter Hagen, Sam Snead and Ben Hogan had all tasted glory across the pond, The Open had hitherto been dominated by British golfers.

But after the charismatic and influential Palmer announced himself at Royal Birkdale in 1961, the proverbial floodgates opened.

American golfers have since gone on to enjoy enormous success on a host of fabled links courses – but nowhere more so than at Troon, the venue for The Open in 2024.

Arnold Palmer poses with the Claret Jug after winning The Open in 1961

Arnold Palmer poses with the Claret Jug after winning The Open in 1961

1962 – Arnold Palmer

Known simply as ‘The King’, Palmer’s influence on modern-day golf is unquestionable.

With his good looks, charisma and attacking flair, Palmer attracted fans everywhere he went. He is widely considered to be golf’s first superstar; his rise in prominence coinciding with the advent of television and the mass appeal that brought with it.

Palmer could charm an audience in any setting, but he was never more captivating than with a club in his hands, and he had the accolades to prove it, with four Green Jackets in seven years among his remarkable achievements.

Having first played at The Open at St Andrews in 1960, where he finished second, Palmer quickly fell in love with links golf and went one better the very next year at Birkdale.

His successful defence at Troon in 1962 – in which he set a 72-hole Open record of 276 – was a watershed moment for more than just that victory; that year Palmer had encouraged some of his countrymen to make the trip to Scotland, including Gene Littler, Phil Rodgers and 22-year-old US Open champion Jack Nicklaus.

Jack Nicklaus at The Open at Troon in 1962

Jack Nicklaus at Royal Troon in 1962

Palmer became only the second player after Hogan in 1953 to win The Masters and The Open in the same year.

‘The King’ did not win the Claret Jug again but his role in re-establishing the immense significance of the game’s oldest major can not be underestimated.

1973 – Tom Weiskopf

Practice making perfect is an oft overused idiom – but it can certainly be applied to the narrative around Tom Weiskopf’s only major victory, in 1973.

A fiery character with a powerful swing, Weiskopf was still coming to terms with his father’s death just three months earlier. He kept his emotions at bay and became accustomed to Troon’s unique layout during eight practice rounds. The planning paid off as he hit the ground running on day one.

Weiskopf led from the moment he posted an opening-round 68 and he eventually became just the fifth wire-to-wire winner since The Open was extended to 72 holes.

He said: “I made very few mistakes and nothing bothered me, which was unusual.

“I was at the top of my game. I was so confident, everything seemed in slow motion."

The Open of 1973 also belonged to another American, the great Gene Sarazen.

The 1932 Champion Golfer of the Year made his farewell appearance, 50 years after he first played at Troon in 1923, and the 71-year-old signed off in style with a hole-in-one at the 8th hole.

1982 – Tom Watson

Only Harry Vardon has won more Opens (6) than Tom Watson’s tally of five.

His fourth success came at Troon in 1982, though Watson maintains he was fortunate to pip Nick Price to the title.

Starting the final day three shots adrift of 22-year-old debutant Bobby Clampett, Watson benefitted most from Clampett’s collapse – and Price’s Sunday 73 – which allowed the Champion Golfer of 1975, 1977 and 1980 to win by a single stroke.

Watson, who would duly defend his title in 1983, said: “I didn’t win this Championship, I had it handed to me.”

Nevertheless, this victory saw Watson match Jones (twice), Sarazen, Hogan and Lee Trevino in winning both The Open and the US Open in the same summer.

1989 – Mark Calcavecchia

Florida’s Mark Calcavecchia won The Open’s first three-way play-off – and the first to be played over four extra holes rather than a full extra round.

Calcavecchia began the final day three strokes adrift of Wayne Grady with Greg Norman a further four behind.

But an incredible six birdies in a row brought the Great White Shark into contention and he finished with a 64 to post the clubhouse target at nine-under-par.

Calcavecchia’s cause was aided by a 40ft birdie putt at the 11th followed by a pitch-in from 60 feet at the 12th. An exquisite approach shot into the last set up the four-foot birdie he needed to tie Norman’s clubhouse lead.

Norman set the pace in extra time with birdies on the opening two holes. But a bogey at the 17th dropped him back level with Calcavecchia, with Grady by now out of the picture.

With Norman overshooting the 18th green with his third stroke after finding sand from the tee, Calcavecchia effectively sealed victory by setting up an all-important birdie chance with a delectable 5-iron approach to six feet – arguably the most important stroke he made in his career.

1997 – Justin Leonard

Royal Troon is famous for having very different set-ups from front to back nine.

The Champion Golfer of 1997, Justin Leonard, successively navigated his way round each half to eventually see off Jesper Parnevik and Darren Clarke by three strokes for his only major win.

“It’s just a great golf course with two totally different nines,” he said. “You really have to change your strategy when you’re making the turn.”

Whichever strategy you choose, you are always reliant on a hot putter – and Leonard’s flat stick was on fire on the back nine on Sunday. The Dallas native holed putts from 10 feet, 15 feet (twice) and 30 feet as he put on a stunning exhibition on the greens.

Only Jim Barnes in 1925 and Tommy Armour in 1931 had previously managed to come from five strokes behind after 54 holes to win The Open, before Leonard completed the feat at Troon.

2004 – Todd Hamilton

Playing in just his fourth Open – having missed the cut in two of his previous three – Todd Hamilton reached the pinnacle of his career by seeing off the world’s best in 2004.

Six of the world’s top 10 finished inside The Open’s top 10 that year, including fellow Americans Tiger Woods and newly crowned Masters champion Phil Mickelson, but not one could find their way past Hamilton.

A pair of 67s on Friday and Saturday left Hamilton – a prolific winner in Japan playing on the PGA Tour for just the second year – handily placed coming into the final day and he dug deep, with a host of star names in behind.

While Mickelson, Thomas Levet and Lee Westwood all threatened to varying degrees, it was 2002 Champion Ernie Els who would prove the biggest danger, with the Big Easy missing a putt for victory on 18.

It meant a second play-off in three years for Els. Both players parred the first two extra holes but Els bogeyed the 17th before setting up another birdie chance at the last.

Hamilton was 30 yards short of the green in two but played a sublime chip-and-run with a hybrid to two feet. Els missed and Hamilton holed.

“It was an accomplishment you can only dream of,” Hamilton later said of his champagne moment.

Meanwhile, 1973 Champion Weiskopf teed it up at The Open one final time – at the venue where he enjoyed his finest hour.