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The 150th Open

Decades of The Open


The 1980s

Seve Ballesteros celebrates his putt on the final green at St Andrews in 1984

Everything has led to this.

Our Decades of The Open series is chronicling the amazing journey of golf and its original Championship in the run-up to The 150th Open at St Andrews in July.

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

1860s | 1870s | 1880s | 1890s | 1900s | 1910s | 1920s | 1930s | 1940s | 1950s | 1960s | 1970s

We now move on to the 1980s, a decade that featured several notable successes for European players but was book-ended by American victories.


Watson joins the all-time greats

Bill Rogers was something of a surprise Champion at Royal St George’s in 1981, but the early 80s at The Open were otherwise dominated by one man.

Tom Watson had already completed two wonderful victories in the previous decade, winning on his debut at Carnoustie in 1975 before out-gunning the great Jack Nicklaus in the Duel in the Sun at Turnberry in 1977.

Yet Watson was far from finished there. After leading from the front in the final round at Muirfield in 1980 en route to his third Open title he capitalised on slip-ups from Bobby Clampett and Nick Price to claim an unlikely victory at Royal Troon in 1982.

Tom Watson celebrates winning his fourth Open at Royal Troon in 1982

That gave Watson four Open wins at four different Scottish venues and he immediately added a fifth the following year at Royal Birkdale, where a sweetly-struck 2-iron approach into the 72nd hole all but secured a one-stroke triumph over Hale Irwin and Andy Bean.

Watson’s fifth Open win in nine appearances drew him level with James Braid, J.H. Taylor and Peter Thomson as the second-most prolific winner of golf’s original Championship, behind only Harry Vardon.

He would come agonisingly close to tying Vardon 12 months later in 1984, before finishing second again in the most extraordinary circumstances a quarter of a century later at Turnberry in 2009.


Seve’s Moment of Glory

Watson held a share of the lead with two holes to play at St Andrews in 1984, but he had to settle for a share of second alongside Bernhard Langer as Seve Ballesteros claimed the most iconic victory of his glorious career.

As Watson ran into trouble on the Old Course’s fiendish 17th, Ballesteros finished in style, holing a curling right-to-left putt on the final green to trigger that famous, joyous, fist-pumping celebration.

Seve’s closing birdie, combined with Watson’s bogey on the penultimate hole, ensured the Spaniard lifted the Claret Jug for the second time, five years on from his breakthrough success at Royal Lytham & St Annes.

That venue would again play host to a Ballesteros victory in 1988 as the charismatic Spaniard got the better of a thrilling battle with Nick Price, in the first Monday finish in Open history following a Saturday washout on England’s north-west coast.

Seve Ballesteros receives the Claret Jug at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 1988

Home heroes emerge

When Tony Jacklin won The Open at Lytham in 1969, nobody could have possibly known that an 11-year-old boy in the grandstand at the 18th green would go on to be the next British Champion Golfer.

Sixteen years on from watching Jacklin’s success, Sandy Lyle sparked more patriotic fervour with a tense victory at Royal St George’s.

Lyle had sunk to his knees in despair at the 72nd hole when an underhit chip rolled back towards his feet, but a closing bogey ultimately proved enough as his 282 aggregate – the first over-par winning total since 1968 – pipped Payne Stewart by one.

The wait for a British Champion had been a long one, but Lyle’s victory was greeted with particular joy in Scotland, a country able to celebrate its first Open success in more than half a century.

After Australia’s Greg Norman ended his own long wait for Major glory at Turnberry in 1986, where he shot 63 in round two despite three-putting the last, there was another British winner at The Open the following year as Nick Faldo’s relentless quest for improvement reaped rewards at Muirfield.

Faldo had been written off in many quarters during the course of a two-year swing rebuild with his coach, David Leadbetter, but the Englishman’s revamped technique stood up to the sternest of examinations during the final round.

As others faltered in the Muirfield mist, a rare haul of 18 successive pars carried Faldo to the first of many Major triumphs.

You can listen to episode two of Quest for The Claret Jug - our three-part original documentary podcast on Nick Faldo's road to Open glory - via the player below. All three episodes can be found on your preferred podcast platform.

Calcavecchia prevails in landmark play-off

The final Open of the 1980s culminated in a play-off that broke new ground on two counts.

For the first time, there were only four extra holes, as opposed to the 18- and 36-hole play-offs that had previously been used to settle ties. In addition, this was the first Open play-off to feature three players, with Norman and his compatriot Wayne Grady joined by Mark Calcavecchia after all three men had finished regulation play on nine under par.

There may have been a sense that it was Calcavecchia’s year when he holed out in outrageous fashion on the 12th in his final round, courtesy of a 60-yard pitch that found the cup on the full.

And so it proved as Calcavecchia overcame a quick start from Norman in the play-off to win The Open on only his third appearance in the Championship.

He was the first American to lift the Claret Jug since Watson's fifth triumph in 1983 and it would be another six years before another player from the United States prevailed.


The Champion Golfers of the 1980s

1980, Muirfield – Tom Watson

1981, Royal St George’s – Bill Rogers

1982, Royal Troon – Tom Watson

1983, Royal Birkdale – Tom Watson

1984, St Andrews – Seve Ballesteros

1985, Royal St George’s – Sandy Lyle

The leaderboard showing Sandy Lyle's Open win in 1985

1986, Turnberry – Greg Norman

1987, Muirfield – Nick Faldo

1988, Royal Lytham & St Annes – Seve Ballesteros

1989, Royal Troon – Mark Calcavecchia


Did You Know?

Every Champion Golfer in the 1980s was aged between 27 and 33 when they lifted the Claret Jug. Nick Faldo turned 30 on day three of The Open in 1987, the day before he claimed victory at Muirfield.


Average age of Champion Golfers in the 1980s: 30


Nationalities of Champion Golfers in the 1980s: Three Americans (Watson, Rogers, Calcavecchia), one Spaniard (Ballesteros), one Scot (Lyle), one Australian (Norman), one Englishman (Faldo).

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