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The 150th Open

Decades of The Open


The 1950s

Peter Thomson with the Claret Jug at Royal Birkdale in 1954

Everything has led to this.

As we continue to count down the days to The 150th Open at St Andrews in July, our Decades of The Open series is celebrating the remarkable journey of golf and its original Championship.

You can read our previous Decades of The Open articles via the links below.

1860s | 1870s | 1880s | 1890s | 1900s | 1910s | 1920s | 1930s 1940s

Our latest article focuses on the 1950s, a decade featuring some Open firsts, and the establishment of a number of legendary figures.

Locke continues imperious form

South Africa's Bobby Locke ended the 1940s with his first victory in The Open Championship, beating Harry Bradshaw in a play-off in just his second appearance, after finishing as runner-up on his debut in 1946. But it was the subsequent decade that really elevated the South African's presence in golf's original major.

Locke defended his title in 1950, beating Roberto De Vicenzo by two strokes at Troon in a display hailed widely as the emergence of Locke as one of the biggest forces in the game. He then finished sixth in 1951, before lifting the Claret Jug once more in 1952, finishing one stroke ahead of Peter Thomson at Royal Lytham & St Annes.

A fourth title would come in 1957, where Locke won at the home of golf, St Andrews, beating out Thomson again by three strokes. Later in the decade, another young South African, Gary Player, claimed his first Open Championship in 1959 at Muirfield to continue Locke's tradition of post-war Open success. But while Locke still remains the most successful South African golfer in terms of Open Championship victories, his performances in the 1950s were still not the most impressive of the decade.

Bobby Locke at The Open in 1952

Bobby Locke at Royal Liverpool in 1952, the site of his third Open win in four years

Two legends emerge 

While Locke claimed three victories in his first five appearances, he would soon be eclipsed by another international star.

Peter Thomson, making his Open debut in 1951 as a 21-year-old, recorded a tied-sixth finish at Royal Portrush. From then on, he wouldn't finish worse than second until 1959.

Two runner-up finishes in 1952 and 1953 preceded three straight victories at Royal Birkdale, St Andrews and Royal Liverpool in 1954, 1955 and 1956 respectively. Thomson was then denied by Locke in 1957, with the South African tying Walter Hagen for the most international victories in The Open, before Thomson joined that illustrious list with his fourth title in 1958.

Thomson would eventually become the most successful international player in Open history, winning his fifth Open in 1965, a mark Tom Watson would later match, but his form in the 1950s was truly one of the best patches of golf in Championship lore. Seven consecutive top-two finishes, including four wins, left Thomson in a league of his own.

A first Open outside of Britain

In 1951, four years after Ulsterman Fred Daly became the first player from the island of Ireland to claim the Claret Jug, The Open visited the links of Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland for the first time, with the County Antrim course becoming the inaugural venue outside of mainland Britain to host an Open.

England's Max Faulkner, making his 10th Open appearance 17 years on from his debut, won The 80th Open by two strokes, in part thanks to a remarkable shot from beside a barbed wire fence. Though Faulkner's triumph over Argentina's Antonio Cerda was a popular victory, it was the debut of Royal Portrush that really caught the eye of the golfing world.

Still, it was long thought that The Open would never return to Northern Ireland many decades on from 1951. But the incredible success of Irish golfers since the turn of the millennium helped inspire, much like Daly did in 1947, The Open's return to Royal Portrush once more. Sixty-eight years on in 2019, Royal Portrush again showed its immense calibre, and The 148th Open proved such a success that the Dunluce Links is set to host the Championship once more in 2025

Hogan makes his mark

In 1953, Ben Hogan arrived in Scotland to compete in his first ever Open Championship. Practicing at nearby Panmure, a current Regional Qualifying venue, for two weeks prior, Hogan worked on shots he would need to win golf's original major, as well as getting used to the smaller British ball.

Already an eight-time Major winner, Hogan's rare trip across the Atlantic captured the imagination of the local crowds, and they watched the American superstar dominate the links of Carnoustie, and the field, to triumph by four strokes.

Hogan's victory was his ninth, and final, major Championship victory, in his one and only Open appearance. His performance is in the annals of Carnoustie too, with his tee shots down the left hand side of the notorious sixth helping coin the name of the hole; 'Hogan's Alley'.

Hogan claimed £500 for his victory, an Open record. And to boot, the prize money for The Open rose another £1,000 after the Championship, with The 83rd Open having over double the purse from The 81st Open, at £3,500.

The Champion Golfers of the 1950s:

1950, Troon – Bobby Locke

1951, Royal Portrush – Max Faulkner

1952, Royal Lytham & St Annes - Bobby Locke

1953, Carnoustie – Ben Hogan

1954, Royal Birkdale – Peter Thomson

1955, St Andrews – Peter Thomson

1956, Royal Liverpool– Peter Thomson

1957, St Andrews – Bobby Locke

1958, Royal Lytham & St Annes – Peter Thomson

1959, Muirfield – Gary Player


Did You Know?

Ben Hogan is the only Champion Golfer to have made just one appearance in The Open, which was his success in 1953. 


Average age of Champion Golfers in the 1950s: 31


Nationalities of Champion Golfers in the 1950s: Two South Africans (Locke, Player), one Englishman (Faulkner), one American (Hogan), one Australian (Thomson).

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