Gary Player, who recorded the first of his three Open Championship wins at Muirfield in 1959, is confident the East Lothian venue will be restored to the R&A’s rota as he believes the recent “no” vote on women members is likely to be overturned in due course.
The South African is among the 14 players to have tasted victory in golf’s oldest major at the home of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, where members failed to deliver a two-thirds majority last month over a proposal to admit women on the same terms as men.
That decision led the R&A to announce it had dropped Muirfield from the Open Championship rota with immediate effect and would not consider it again for the event unless mixed membership was in place.
Speaking yesterday at Royal Troon, where a move to open the club’s doors to women members ahead of this year’s Open Championship at the Ayrshire venue is set to be rubber-stamped at a special general meeting on 1 July, Player said Muirfield was “too good” to be left out in the wilderness.
The 80-year-old believes that won’t happen, though, as he reckons the membership issue will have been resolved to the satisfaction of the R&A by the time it will be due for Muirfield to host the event again, which is likely to be 2023 at the earliest.
“What I see happening – and I hope I’m not wrong – is that by the time it comes round to when the tournament would next be due to go there, plus or minus eight or nine years probably, which is a long time, I think you will have a brand-new lot of members and I think that they will change and go to a mixed membership,” said Player. “There’s no question about it in my mind . In fact, if I was a betting man, I’d be heading to Ladbrokes right now!”
In just his fourth Open Championship appearance, the man known universally in the game as “The Black Knight” shot rounds of 75-71-70-68 to claim the Claret Jug on the East Lothian coast by two shots from Englishman Fred Bullock and Belgian Flory Van Donck.
Player, who also triumphed in the event in 1968 and 1974, still talks of turning up for that event ten days early to practice and using a sob story about being poor to befriend Colonel Brian Evans-Lombe, the club secretary at the time, as one of his favourite memories from an Open Championship career spanning 40 years. “The course at Muirfield is too good for it not to host the Open Championship, which, of course, has way more history attached to it than any other tournament,” he added, before entertaining guests of Mercedes-Benz, one of the event’s patrons, at Royal Troon, where the hand of Mother Nature has delivered a scenario whereby water was being pumped off the course two months ago but is now being applied through sprinklers following the recent dry spell. “It would be a shame if the event didn’t go back there.”
Player insisted it was purely a “coincidence” that the last six Open Championships to be held at Royal Troon have all been won by Americans. “There is no particular reason that I am aware of – it is just one of those things,” he said of a statistic that is sure to be of encouragement for the likes of Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler as they prepare for their first Open at the venue.
He also described the task force set up by the Americans ahead of this year’s Ryder Cup at Hazeltine as “hilarious”. He said: “I’ve got such a kick out of seeing the Americans form a panel to try and work out why they lost eight of the last ten matches in the Ryder Cup.
“If it was me, I’d be saying, ‘man, he’s better than me and next year I’m going to be better than him. I’m going to work my butt off’. There’s no need to have a panel.”