MOTHER nature permitting – a similar event in 2010 was called off due to bad weather – two notable Open Championship anniversaries will be marked for the price of one on the eve of this summer’s event at St Andrews.
To be played over four holes on Wednesday, 15 July, the “Champion Golfers’ Challenge” will be a nostalgic affair for two players whose names will always be synonymous with the game’s oldest major due to boasting five Claret Jug wins apiece.
For Australian Peter Thomson, the occasion will mark the 60th anniversary of his victory at St Andrews in 1955. For Tom Watson, it will be a celebration of the 40th anniversary of his debut in the event, when the American claimed victory at Carnoustie in 1975.
Joining the decorated duo out on the Old Course – the event will be played over the first, second, 17th and 18th holes with a prize of £50,000 going to a charity of the winning team’s choice – are a pantheon of golfing greats.
Rory McIlroy, the defending champion, has confirmed he’ll be taking part, as have two three-times winners, Gary Player and Nick Faldo. Tiger Woods, who has the same number of Open wins to his name, should be there, too, with the 14-times major winner expected to be back from his self-enforced absence by then.
For the older generation, it will be a chance to see both Bob Charles and Tony Jacklin in action again as the 1963 and 1969 champions respectively will be playing, as will more recent winners in Sandy Lyle, John Daly, Paul Lawrie, Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke, Phil Mickelson and Louis Oosthuizen, the latter having got his hands on the Claret Jug in the last Open at St Andrews in 2010.
In a nice touch, the occasion will also be used to pay tribute to Australia’s Kel Nagle, who won the Centenary Open in 1960 at St Andrews. He passed away in January at the age of 94.
“We are looking forward to a wonderful celebration of the rich heritage of The Open at the Champion Golfers’ Challenge in St Andrews,” said Peter Dawson, for whom the event will be his last as the R&A’s chief executive before handing over the reins later in the year to Martin Slumbers.
“As golf fans, we all have cherished memories of watching these great players competing over the years and the excitement of seeing such inspirational competitors winning The Open. It will also be a fitting occasion to recognise the wonderful career of Kel Nagle, one of the sport’s great gentlemen, who is sadly no longer with us.”
The parade of champions was introduced in 2000, when 22 former winners, including Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus and Roberto de Vicenzo – took part in what was widely regarded as a hugely successful curtain-raiser to the main event. Of the then living champions, only Arnold Palmer, Greg Norman, Johnny Miller, Nagle and Max Faulkner (who died in 2005) were unable to attend.
Seve Ballesteros, the 1984 winner at St Andrews, was among those set to take part when the event was scheduled to be held again five years ago, only for fans to be denied paying the charismatic Spaniard an emotional farewell when organisers pulled the plug on a dreadful day on the Fife coast.
With Watson set to play in his last Open Championship – he’s received a special exemption to mark the aforementioned milestone – there won’t be a dry eye in the Auld Grey Toun when he brings down that curtain. Taking that into account and now the Champions’ Challenge, extra value is set to be provided by a ticket price that has come under scrutiny in recent years.
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