Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith
LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England — The 141st Open Championship begins Thursday at the Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club. The legendary establishment was built in 1897 and in 1926 attracted, in addition to the American great, Bobby Jones, King George V.
The King, on the eve of the first championship at Lytham, gave his approval to the word “Royal” being added to the club’s title — a very big thing to the British, in whose country pomp and circumstance maintains prominence today.
While there reportedly is a large number of well-to-do among the local gentry, this not England’s most fashionable address.
Nearby Blackpool is the original blue color resort with neon, pensioners looking for bed and breakfast on the cheap and a beach where you wear a windbreaker in August. The winds from the Irish Sea are stiff and unrelenting, and the water is too dirty to swim in.
Yet, it is England’s most popular resort destination, expected to attract well over 7,000,000 holiday guests this year.
Rooms here are always inexpensive, until the Open returns to Royal Lytham. Everything seems to cost more, and the rate of exchange is not very favorable to the dollar. A pound equals roughly $1.60, which means that a hamburger and French fries cost you about 10 bucks. None of that keeps British golf fans from flocking here to see who will play well enough to win the third major championship of the year. Former UGA star Bubba Watson, who won the Masters, is here, while U.S. Open champ Webb Simpson is not, pulling out last week to be with his wife for the birth of their second child.
Everybody has a favorite, but there is increased interest in the Open Championship today in that the competition is no longer dominated by Americans. Only once in the last five years — former Georgia Tech star Stewart Cink at Turnberry in 2009 — has an American won an event at which they dominated for years. Interestingly, too, the last time a golfer won two majors in the same year was in 2008, when Irishman Padraig Harrington won the British and the PGA championships.
The last time Tiger Woods won two championships in the same year was in 2006 when he also won the British and PGA. In the last five years — through the U.S. Open in June — there have been 18 different major champions.
This is the first time the championship has been played at Lytham since 2001, when David Duval, who played college golf at Georgia Tech, had become one of the hottest players on tour. That was the year when Ian Woosnam was late leaving the putting green for the first tee and had his caddie inform him on the second tee that he had an extra driver in his bag, a two-stroke penalty. Woosnam scored 71 for a cumulative score of 274, four strokes behind Duval who posted a 274 total.
The first hole at Lytham is a par three, and this is the only major championship course when play begins with a par three. This curious feature means that, had the first hole been a driving hole, Woosnam’s caddie, Myles Byrne, might well have discovered the extra driver that Woosnam used on the practice tee, a common practice for golf professionals.
At the time, he had been in a slump, having last won in 1997; following the debacle at Lytham, he never won again on the European or PGA tours. Winner of the 1991 Masters, Woosnam has four European Seniors titles. His once productive career seemed to have faded after Lytham in 2001.
Lytham has a very interesting history, beginning with its first tournament in 1926. Atlanta native Bobby Jones won in dramatic fashion in the era when the championship format called for 18 holes of stroke play on Wednesday and Thursday, with 36 holes on Friday. Finishing on Friday meant that the competing professionals could get back to their clubs on Saturday to “attend to the needs of the members.”
On Friday, there was a rest break between the two rounds of play, which resulted in a peculiar development for Jones. After taking a break at his hotel, he returned to the golf course but forgot his competitor’s badge. The security guard did not recognize him and would not let him onto the grounds.
Jones, undaunted, went over to the ticket booth and purchased a ticket, becoming the first Open champion who had to pay to play.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Guest Columnist Loran Smith is in England for the next week and will be corresponding with daily articles for The Herald at the 141st British Open.