The Open goes back to Royal Portrush next week for the first time since 1951 and Tony spoke to former Reuters golf correspondent Tony Jimenez to discuss the history of golf’s oldest Major championship:
“Nowadays people get very excited in the build-up to The Open, but it wasn’t always necessarily the case.
The ‘Grand Slam’ of four Majors didn’t really exist 60 years ago and it was Arnold Palmer’s victories in 1961 and 1962 that dragged golf’s oldest championship kicking and screaming into the modern era.
Before the crowd-pleasing American’s wins, The Open wasn’t as big as the Masters, the US Open or even the US PGA Championship. It was simply the best tournament Britain had to offer.
Arnie’s victories finally got the R&A off their backsides and it was only after they sent a delegation to America that The Open organisers finally learned how to put a big event on properly.
Not too long after that the American entrepreneur Mark McCormack and his IMG management group began to represent the R&A and the two started to combine to commercialise and promote The Open the right way.
The Pittsburgh sportswriter Bob Drum was another key mover and shaper because he rallied the American media at that juncture.
Bob was a close ally of Arnold’s and wanted him to get as much credit for his achievements as possible. Jack Nicklaus won the US Open in 1962 and all of a sudden the media could see a rivalry being born, and it was portrayed as ‘Fat Jack’ against ‘Arnie’s Army’.
Before that era, the great American players like Ben Hogan and Sam Snead didn’t always come back to defend the Claret Jug after they had won the trophy. It was only in the 1960s that the champions started to routinely go back the following year.
Keith Mackenzie, the former secretary of the R&A, should also take credit for the rebirth of The Open. He took a delegation to the Masters and the US Open every year to see what golf’s oldest Major needed to do to earn more worldwide credibility.
I’m not diminishing the achievements of anyone who won The Open before 1961 but I believe it’s true to say that the stature of the tournament was never previously the same as the other three Grand Slam events.
The R&A used to do everything on a shoestring, they flew by the seat of their pants and knew nothing about promotion, but then McCormack came in and, before you know where you are, he is not only representing the world’s best players, he’s also representing big golfing institutions.
Mackenzie was the guy who had to soldier through for the R&A. I had a lot of time for him, he was a good man, and did a helluva lot to pull The Open up alongside the other Majors.
The transformation in the last 60 years is remarkable. The Open these days is a commercial goldmine, it’s a sellout every year and all the top players from around the world only miss it if they absolutely have to.
The same could be said of the Ryder Cup. That event has become a $100 million bonanza but in 1969 a friend of mine had to put up £25,000, otherwise it might not have gone ahead, and the famous last-hole concession Jack Nicklaus and I were involved in would never have happened.
The organisers couldn’t get a title sponsor and when Brian Park, who was a resident of the host Royal Birkdale club, asked how much money was needed to put the matches on, he said: “If 25 grand is all it takes, here it is, now get on with it”.
Golf followers look at the massive exposure the Ryder Cup and The Open get nowadays and think it’s always been like that, but it’s not that long ago that both events were very, very different.”