Men of Turnberry

Published:

The Open Championship In Association With Nikon

 There have been some names making Open news over the years.here, we pay tribut to some of the men who have made The Open such a special event.

THE CHAMPION - GREG NORMAN

Think of Turberry and it's not long until the Great White Shark swims into your mind.

Greg Norman

Norman made his Open debut at this year's venue in 1977, missing the cut but witnessing the famous Duel in the Sun. Nine years later, he returned to the Ayrshire venue and won his first Major. "The weather conditions are my number one memory and number two was the width of the fairways," Norman reminisced to TG.

"I think they were the tightest fairways we'd ever played at an Open consistency wise. If my memory is right, they were like 15 to 21 yards wide."

Even in these tough conditions, Norman tied The Open record with a stunning 63 in the second round despote a bogey on the 18th. "The round ranks very highly in my golf memories, but I was disappointed with my finish that day. There was an apportunity, I thought, when i hit the 17th green and I was actually thinking 59 was a possibility. "In a situation like that you're just playing well and going after it and you want to dominate the golf course, and that's exactly what I did!"

Turnberry holds a special place in the 54 year old Aussie's heart and he was happy to help when R&A chief executive Peter Dawson came calling with a request to run his eye over the changes to the Ailsa. "I love the place and I've been fortunate enough to be asked by Peter Dawson to take a look at it, which I did do over the winetr months, and I think everyone's going to be pleased with it." "I think they could build a golf hole out there that is probably as good as any par 3 in the world, and it's just sitting out there waiting to be done." he added.

Turnberry is criticised for its remote location, tucked away as it is in the south west of Scotland but that doesnt concern the former champion. "Some of the greatest venues are remote; Augusta is fairly remote and Pebble Beach and Shinnecock Hills are remote to get to," he said. "I think all the great golf courses around the world that have been built in these phenomenal locations are rermote."

Norman is optiomistic about following up his third place finish at Birkdale last year with a good result. "When I went to Augusta I was just hoping to make the cut and I was really disappointed that I didn't because I played betetr than I did at Royal Birkdale. "I'm definitely going to do the The Open wanting to compete the best I can."

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THE LIVING LEGEND - TOM WATSON

Standfirst: He’s modest, unassuming and arguably the greatest links golfer of all-time. Tom Watson is also a true gent – when TG briefly popped out for lunch, he even called back to ensure this interview happened!

Tom Watson

In a nutshell, can you sum up what your magical Open victory at Turnberry 32 years ago – the legendary ‘Duel in the Sun’ - meant to you and your career?
TW: 1977 was the watershed year for me. Up to then I’d enjoyed a pretty successful career but my Open victory at Turnberry took me to new, different heights. It was the culmination and proved once and for all I could mix it with the ‘big boys’ at the highest possible level of the game.

So you thought you’d finally ‘arrived’ even though you’d already won The Open at the first attempt at Carnoustie two years earlier?
TW: Up until then it’s probably fair to say I had my doubters with some writers labelling me a ‘choker’ even though I’d won the US Masters earlier that season and went to Turnberry confident after winning the Western Open by 10 shots, mainly as a result of firing a second round 61!

You were fairly optimistic then though obviously Jack (Nicklaus) was always a red-hot favourite and the man to beat?
TW: I arrived at Turnberry with more than an average chance of winning The Open and as play wore on it all boiled down to Jack and myself though it wasn’t without a few dramas along the way!

So what finally swung the ‘Duel in the Sun’ your way then?
TW: In the final round I putted from off the 15th green to make a great two which drew me back level with Jack. But the shot that really decided it was my 7-iron to the last hole: I caught it perfectly and it landed up just a couple of feet from the hole, allowing me to knock in the putt and clinch my second Open. To this day, it’s one of the best shots I’ve ever hit and is something I’ll never forget.

Why is The Open so great?
TW: It’s the world championship of golf. It’s played on courses that are so different to American courses and courses all over the world in general, and it’s such a massive showcase as far as links golf is concerned.

What do you make of the changes that have been made to the Ailsa?
TW: After winning the 2003 British Seniors Open at Turnberry I said to R&A secretary Peter Dawson that the course played short. So I can understand why they’ve made major changes - in particular to holes 10 and 16 - and moved several tees back. But it’s still a wonderful challenge, specially as the wind tends to blow across the course so you’ve got a lot of cross-wind shots to play.

How did you manage to claim five Claret Jugs?
TW: One of the reasons why I fared so well is that I could get the ball in the hole regardless of the conditions. That may sound pretty obvious but if you’re playing in difficult conditions, you’re going to miss a lot of greens and getting up and down is of paramount importance.

Any regrets throughout your career?
TW: I played well but didn’t come through in 1984 at St Andrews when Seve beat me and Bernhard (Langer). That was one that slipped away, through poor putting more than anything. Then again, I’ve won some I shouldn’t have won – I remember Nick Price having one hand on the Claret Jug at Troon in 1982, only for it to be flipped around in my favour.

Looking back, what do you consider the turning point of your career?
TW: No doubt about it. It came in 1992 when I discovered how to swing the club properly, just by making a fundamental change to my shoulder plane. It all became very easy after that! This happened on the Tuesday at the Heritage Classic at Hilton Head. I was miss-hitting the ball out to the right and was coming ‘over the top.’ It suddenly dawned on me that my right shoulder was too low at impact and after that everything fell nicely into place.

How would you like to be remembered?
TW: Looking at my golf career, just that I played better than average golf and did something worthwhile….

Obviously you’re a big Turnberry fan, but does it feature in your personal favourite links tracks?
TW: Muirfield is probably my favourite. It has lots of variety and I like that. It also has very strong links characteristics with holes running in a variety of directions. Royal St George’s also has significant changes in direction as does Turnberry and I really relish the challenges of playing these courses… specially when the wind is coming at you from all kinds of different angles.

Missing The Open will surely leave a big gap in your life?
TW: I’m just as excited playing The Open now as I was at my first Open Championship 34 years ago! I love to play in The Open, it’s a magical event and I will really miss it after my scheduled final appearance at St Andrews next year. I just wish I knew some of the players better. Nowadays, for me anyway, it’s a hard job knowing who is who. When you go down on the range, most of the players look and swing the same – it was a bit different in my era when you’d see a variety of swings on view.

What do you think of the Scottish galleries who’ve stayed loyal to you down the years?
TW: Most golf fans have somebody they like to follow and fortunately over the years many picked me! Why? I’m not sure, but it could be to do with the fact that I usually come over early and prepare for Open week on the great links courses of Scotland and Ireland. Even now I still see people who started following me when I first came over and that gives me a really warm feeling inside.

Not all Americans love The Open though. What do you think about your fellow countrymen who regularly opt to give it a miss?
TW: I don’t really want to comment about that. You’ll have to ask them their reasons for not coming over to play.

Can Padraig Harrington make it three Open wins in a row?
TW: Padraig has matured into a great golfer and I like and admire what he’s done with his game. He’s a wonderful putter and I predict even bigger things for him in the future.

And your own aspirations?
TW: I’d like to play well. Even with my extended years, I think I can still be competitive and can manage the course which has obviously been changed though it’s still not too long.

Finally, who’s going to hold aloft the Claret Jug this time round?
He mischievously quipped: TW: Somebody with the initials TW. TG: Now what a story that would be…

THE MAN

THE GOLFER - CAREER HIGHLIGHTS... BY NUMBERS

MISCELLANEOUS

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THE COURSE DESIGNER - MARTIN EBERT

Leading British course architect Martin admits he will be on tenterhooks when the Open finally gets underway.
Martin and his company Mackenzie and Ebert Ltd were charged with making significant if not wholesale changes to the Ailsa since the last Open was staged there in 1994.

Martin Ebert

He conceded: “It’s a bit nerve-wracking having the responsibility of touching one of the great courses with a reputation as one of the most scenic in the country and blending everything all in.

“It will be interesting to see how it all unfolds during Open week. Hopefully there won’t be any controversy regards the course and to be honest I don’t think there will be. Provided there isn’t any dramatic controversy, I’ll enjoy it!”

The newlook Ailsa has already been well received by the few lucky enough to have played it though there’s been one notable exception. “Greg Norman came along and expressed one or two other ideas,” said Martin who spent the last three winters creating new tees to increase the overall length to 7,204 yards, adding a battery of new bunkers and re-working the 10th, 16th and 17th holes.

He’s particularly pleased about what has been achieved at the par-4 16th, saying: “We had to be the most creative here and I think it’s as right as it can be. Now its one of the strongest holes on the course!

“When we did the re-bunkering at Royal Liverpool the pro’s commented that they made them think on the tee and that’s what it’s all about. To be honest though, even with the bunkers we’ve put in at Turnberry, top players shouldn’t be visiting them if they’re on their game.” That, of course, could be a big if, specially if the wind is blowing…

“What we hope is that players will think their way round the course a bit more. We didn’t look to take the driver out of their hands – it was more a question of looking at each hole and deciding whether its character would be improved if we took the tee back.”

“Good players will be rewarded with good scores,” he promised.

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THE STARTER - PETER McCLOY

Former Glasgow Rangers goalkeeper Peter has no qualms about passing over the starter’s role to longtime Open starter Ivor Robson in mid-July.

“Ivor does a great job, hardly moving from his spot on the 1st tee for four full days. That takes a lot of doing and to be honest I might struggle with that though I enjoyed doing the pro-ams before the British Amateur and British Seniors Championships. They were both good fun,” recalled Peter who takes his Turnberry role extremely seriously.

Peter McCloy

He added: “So many golfers from all over the world come here to play and my biggest job is to go over the course and give them instructions on how they can best play and enjoy it. It’s a case of making them feel comfortable in strange surroundings.”

Peter tries his best to put all golfers at ease on the 1st tee but admits it’s not easy, saying: “A lot of players are very nervous and as a result I see a lot of very different shots!

“I remember one player, a single figure handicapper, was late for his tee-time and he opened his account with an airshot! He came back the following week, vowing not to repeat what happened to him earlier. He didn’t – this time his opening ball smashed into the ladies tee marker and bounced back over his head into the bushes beside my hut. I don’t think he likes me!”

After loyally serving top Scottish football club Rangers for 16 years, Peter, a five handicapper, reckons he’s got one of the best jobs in golf and takes full advantage by playing Turnberry’s magical links as often as he can.

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THE GREENKEEPER - GEORGE BROWN

In a way, jovial George is ‘Mr Turnberry.’ Nobody knows Turnberry better or intimately than the man who’ll never forget the day he teed it up with President Bill Clinton – and neither will the then most powerful man in the world and his aides!

George dutifully referred to his playing partner as ‘Mr President’ for the first few holes but decided that was getting in the way of a good friendly game so started calling him Bill instead – much to the horror of the CIA bodyguards following him!

Not that Clinton himself was too bothered…he was more interested in enjoying his game and George’s tales of Turnberry.

George Brown

“I’ve been fortunate enough to play golf with millionaires, royalty and presidents as well as my regular pals and that’s the beauty of golf. The President is just human, like everybody else, and people like that just want to be themselves and get away from it all, not having to watch their ps and qs,” said George who will be retiring and bowing out of Turnberry in style after The Open.

Now “70 odd” but still playing off a 5 handicap, he reflected: “It’s just been a fantastic journey which started in January 1986 when I had six months to get the course ready for the Open. It’s a lovely way to end it too.

“It’s been emotional but I’ve been very fortunate. I’m now with my fourth Turnberry owners and have been involved with most of the improvements and new projects including the new spa and clubhouse to the development of the Kintyre and Arran courses.

“I was about 60 when Starwood took over 10 years ago and I wondered if they’d want this old fart to carry on? Fortunately they did and it’s turned out fantastic.”
The Kent man has enjoyed virtually every minute of his time at Turnberry. “On a nice day Turnberry has got to be one of the most scenic courses in the country. There certainly aren’t many better than this.

“It’s good to have The Open back – Turnberry deserves it. Mind you, we haven’t done badly down the years as we’ve had a couple of Amateur Championships, Ladies Opens and six or seven British Seniors!”

He may be slightly biased, but George believes the Ailsa will stage another classic. “The player who wins is going to be the player with the most skill, not necessarily the longest hitter. Turnberry is one of the fairest tests of golf and I think the last three Opens here proved that.

“Hopefully we’ll have a nice stand of rough while the man ‘upstairs’ will have the final word regards the weather which will obviously be a major factor,” smiled George, relishing putting his feet up after the Claret Jug has been handed over, his parting shot being: “I’m looking forward to spending time with the wife and family before I snuff it!”