Tony Lema’s victory in The Open at St Andrews in 1964 was remarkable in many ways.
He had never before visited Britain and never previously experienced links golf. He arrived only 36 hours prior to The Open and was only able to play nine holes in practice, walking the rest of the Old Course.
Yet he became the seventh player to win The Open on debut and by no less than five strokes from Jack Nicklaus.Affectionately known as “Champagne Tony”, Lema had won four times in 1964, including three times in the previous four weeks, prior to arriving in Scotland.
Arnold Palmer had not travelled over so he suggested Lema use the caddie Palmer employed for his four previous Open visits.
Lema credited Tip Anderson with 51 per cent of his victory and followed his instructions on club and line to the letter. “It was amazing how often he put the right club in my hand,” he said.
A 68 in the second round put Lema into the lead and another in the third round, when he was six under for the last 12 holes, put him seven ahead of Nicklaus, who returned a 66.
Nicklaus again put the pressure on in the final round, going out in 32, but after a bogey at the fourth, Lema made three birdies in five holes to end the front nine.
A 70 gave him a total of 279, with Nicklaus closing with a 68 and Roberto de Vicenzo a 67 to take third place.
A wonderful chip-and-run through the Valley of Sin to three feet for a closing birdie showed just how well Lema had adapted to the links game. He would play in The Open only two more times before he was killed in a plane crash aged 32 in 1966.