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 | 1950s
Our latest article focuses on the 1960s, a decade that produced a host of high-profile winners, including the era’s ‘Big Three’ and a veteran Argentinian who proved good things come to those who wait.
‘The King’ revitalises The Open
Although The Open had been dominated in the 1950s by two greats of the game in Bobby Locke and Peter Thomson, the decade was also notable for American interest in the Championship waning in the years that followed Ben Hogan’s 1953 triumph at Carnoustie.
However, that all changed at the start of the 1960s, thanks largely to Arnold Palmer’s dramatic debut at St Andrews.
After winning the Masters and U.S. Open in 1960, Palmer wanted to win a modern Grand Slam by adding The Open and PGA Championship titles.
His trip to St Andrews generated huge excitement, particularly when he then threatened to pull off victory to remain on course for a clean sweep of major wins.
Despite a trademark final-round charge featuring birdies at the 13th, 15th and 18th, Palmer ultimately had to settle for second as Australia’s Kel Nagle prevailed by one shot for the finest win of his career.
Palmer would not have to wait long to get his hands on the Claret Jug, however. He triumphed at Royal Birkdale the following year, with the aid of one of the finest recovery shots in Open history, and then defended his title at Royal Troon in 1962.
His successes prompted many more leading Americans to cross the Atlantic in the years that followed. Palmer had quite simply reinvigorated The Open in the eyes of his compatriots and the USA’s best stars have been mainstays in golf’s original Championship ever since.
A first left-handed Champion
A mere 103 years after The Open was first played, the Championship finally crowned its first left-handed winner in 1963 as Bob Charles of New Zealand comfortably defeated Phil Rodgers in a 36-hole play-off at Royal Lytham & St Annes.
Charles and Rodgers tied on 277 in regulation play, after the latter had seen a short putt for par only just drop after circling most of the hole. Jack Nicklaus bogeyed the last to miss out on the play-off by a single stroke.
The extra holes were then dominated by Charles, who delivered a putting masterclass to win by eight with an aggregate of 140.
It would be 50 years before another left-hander, Phil Mickelson, won The Open, while Charles remains the only New Zealander to have his name on the Claret Jug.
Thomson’s greatest victory
Peter Thomson’s four wins in five years between 1954 and 1958 - including three in a row – cemented the Australian’s place among The Open’s very best players.
Yet his finest hour surely came at Royal Birkdale in 1965 as he triumphed once again against a stellar field featuring all of the era’s greatest names.
In difficult conditions on the final day, the likes of Palmer and Nicklaus slipped down the leaderboard, but Thomson used all his experience and skill to card scores of 72 and 71 and finish on 285, two clear of Brian Huggett and Christy O’Connor Snr.
A fifth win moved Thomson alongside historic greats James Braid and J.H. Taylor, with only Harry Vardon having won more Opens. In the 57 years since Thomson’s fifth win, only Tom Watson has matched his haul of victories.
Nicklaus completes career Slam
After finishing tied for 34th on his debut in 1962, Jack Nicklaus wasted little time in getting to grips with The Open.
He was third in 1963, second to Tony Lema at St Andrews in 1964 and tied for 12th despite his final-day struggles in 1965.
After repeatedly contending for the Claret Jug, Nicklaus got his hands on the prestigious prize at Muirfield in 1966, completing the career Grand Slam in the process at the age of 26.
As we now know, the Golden Bear was only just getting started. He was a runner-up in each of the next two years and did not finish outside the top six until 1981.
The only player to finish ahead of Nicklaus in 1968 was another member of the ‘Big Three’ in Gary Player. Already the Champion Golfer of 1959, Player won at Carnoustie after eagling the par-5 14th in each of his last two rounds.
Like Nicklaus, Player would also remain a force in The Open for years to come, with both men triumphing again in the 1970s.
Two hugely popular Champions
The years either side of Player’s second Open victory were notable for delivering two of the most popular winners in history.
Roberto De Vicenzo delighted the crowds at Royal Liverpool in 1967 when he finally claimed a title he had come close to on so many occasions. The affable Argentinian had been second once and third five times before he finished two shots ahead of Nicklaus at Hoylake.
If De Vicenzo’s win was well received, there was arguably even more delight on England’s north-west coast in 1969 as Tony Jacklin ended an 18-year wait for a British Champion Golfer.
Aged 25, Jacklin held off a stellar list of rivals that included Charles, Thomson, De Vicenzo and Nicklaus to win by two shots at Royal Lytham & St Annes.
Among those watching on excitedly besides the 18th green was an Open Champion of the future, an 11-year-old Sandy Lyle.
The Champion Golfers of the 1960s
1961, Royal Birkdale – Arnold Palmer
1962, Royal Troon – Arnold Palmer
1963, Royal Lytham & St Annes – Bob Charles
1965, Royal Birkdale – Peter Thomson
1966, Muirfield – Jack Nicklaus
1967, Royal Liverpool – Roberto de Vicenzo
1968, Carnoustie – Gary Player
Did You Know?
Roberto De Vicenzo’s triumph at Royal Liverpool saw him become the second-oldest Open Champion in history, aged 44 years, three months and one day. Only Old Tom Morris, who won his fourth title in 1867 at the age of 46, has been an older Champion Golfer.
Average age of Champion Golfers in the 1960s: 32
Nationalities of Champion Golfers in the 1960s: Three American (Palmer, Lema, Nicklaus) two Australian (Nagle, Thomson), one New Zealander (Charles), one Argentinian (De Vicenzo), one South African (Player), one English (Jacklin).