The Open Championship’s 9 Most Memorable Moments 

By Ryan Watson

Ernie Else celebrates 2012 Open Championship

The Open Championship is the oldest major championship in golf, first held in 1860 at Prestwick Golf Club in Scotland. Throughout the years it has seen numerous scenes of drama and skill. The following is GolfLink's list of the Open Chmpionship's 9 most memorable moments.

Walter Hagen Performs

Walter Hagen is one of the most important golfers of the 20th century, and one of the first true golfing celebrities. Known for his displays of wealth and eccentric style, Hagen scandalized the 1922 Open Championship by arriving by limo and generally treating actually playing the tournament as an afterthought. However, Hagen had the skill to back it up his persona. He would win the tournament by 1 shot and become the first native-born American golfer to claim the Open Championship. The win would be the first of 4 eventual Open Championship wins.

Tiger Woods’ First Open Championship

Tiger Woods finished his career grand slam at the age of 24 with his 2000 Open Championship victory. What is memorable is just how inevitable it all seemed. Woods was dominating the competition while playing at golf’s spiritual home in St. Andrews, never even hitting a bunker. Woods would end the tournament with an 8 stroke win against the world’s best golfers on the way to completing what would become known as the Tiger Slam and cementing his status as one of the game’s best. Few golfers can claim to have won an Open Championship in such a thoroughly dominating fashion.

Gene Sarazen’s Secret Weapon

Gene Sarazen also dominated the 1932 Open Championship, maintaining his lead throughout all 4 rounds. However the most memorable part was Sarazen’s use of a brand new club he had designed for the tournament. Sarazen designed the club in part based on airplane wings for the purpose of more accurate strikes from sand. The club was called “the weapon” by other players and the press, but today is known as the sand wedge. Sarazen's development not only helped him win the tournament but helped progress the game of golf.

Ben Hogan Wins in One

Ben Hogan was one of the greatest golfers in an era when American and European golfers did not always bother to travel across the ocean to compete. In 1953, Hogan chose to make the trip to the Open Championship for his first and only appearance at the major. Rather than being intimidated by the always challenging Carnoustie, Hogan brought his swashbuckling style to the course and achieved a straightforward win. The victory proved that Hogan was truly won of the best.

Adam Scott vs. Ernie Els

Adam Scott and Ernie Els have a well-established friendship. They often have played together and have frequently been teammates for the international team at the Presidents Cup. But in 2012, Adam Scott looked set to claim his first major championship, with the veteran Els a full 4 shots behind Scott heading into the final 4 holes. Instead of victory, Scott suffered 3 consecutive bogeys, while Els sank 3 pars and a birdie on the final hole to make the scores even with Scott finishing last. Scott needed a birdie to win or a par to force a playoff, but instead missed a 7-foot putt for par to hand the title to Els.

Tom Watson Proves Class is Permanent

When Tom Watson teed off at the 2009 Open Championship as a 5-time champion, no one seriously thought he would challenge for the title. At 59, Watson hadn’t won a major in 16 years and was invited only as a former champion. Still, Watson retains the competitive nature and great shotmaking abilities, and after leading the second and third rounds the whole world waited to see if he could pull it off. Watson came within one shot of achieving his 6th Open Championship, after he had to settle for par on the final hole and eventually lost in the playoff to Stewart Cink. Had Watson won, he would have bested the previous record for oldest Open Championship winner by over 13 years.

Phil Mickelson wins in 2013

“Lefty” is widely considered one of the greatest players of his generation. However, after numerous close calls in the U.S. Open and Open Championships, many wondered if his haul of major titles would match his obvious talent. He had already managed a second and 3rd place finish before teeing off in 2013. After 3 rounds, it looked as though Lee Westwood, Henrik Stenson, Hunter Mahan and Adam Scott would battle it out for the title. Instead, Mickelson came back from 5 strokes to claim the win by 3 strokes with an amazing final round, including 4 birdies on his final 6 holes on the ever tricky Muirfield. Mickelson let out his emotion as he celebrated with his family in one of the tournament’s best moments.

Van de Velde Collapse

French golfer Jean Van de Velde had one of the most memorable performances at an Open Championship for all the wrong reasons. At the 1999 edition, the unheralded Van de Velde arrived at the final hole with a 3 stroke lead and looked to have an easy route to his first major. He certainly had shown the ability previously, carding 2 birdies and par on the 18th hole in earlier rounds. However, everything went wrong for Van de Velde on this occasion. First, he hit his tee shot wide and onto the 17th fairway. Next, he chose to go for the green with a 2-iron rather than a more conservative lay up shot and saw his ball bounce of the stands and into deep rough. His 3rd shot ended up in the small creek that surrounds Carnoustie’s 18th green. After wading into the water and considering attempting the shot, he took a drop and eventually settled for a triple bogey, forcing a playoff that Van de Velde lost to Paul Lawrie. Viewers could not believe the meltdown and it remains one of the most enduring Open Championship memories.

Jack Nicklaus vs. Tom Watson

Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson are widely considered the greatest golfers of their eras and are in everyone’s list of the 10 best golfers to ever play the game. In 1977, Nicklaus was just starting to fade while Watson was still on the rise when they went toe to toe at the Open Championship. Over the final 2 rounds, the golfers played flawless golf with 10 strokes between them and the rest of the pack. With only the final hole to play, Nicklaus was one stroke behind Watson and forced to play aggressively. His tee shot went into the rough but he saved it with a rescue shot before sinking a long putt from the edge of the green to tie the game. Undeterred, Watson maintained his form with a birdie of his own and claimed his second major of 1977. Nicklaus would get his revenge next year when he won his 3rd and last Open Championship in 1978.

About the Author

Ryan Watson is a freelance sportswriter and history professor. He has been an avid fan of golf since his father signed him up for golf camp as a young child. Ryan enjoys following the professional game and learning about new equipment and gadgets.