Royal Lytham & St Annes

The 1996 Open Championship

 “There is plenty of rough grass on either side and the hitting of a good straight tee shot which seemed so simple and made the holes seem simple will be a cause for constant anxiety.”

These are the words used by Bernard Darwin to describe the underlying challenge of the links of Royal Lytham & St. Anne’s Golf Club. On the eve of the 125th Open Championship the course, described by Darwin as a “beast but a just beast”, was not really baring its teeth. Lancashire had been caught in a heat wave. The fairways were rock hard and running, the rough light and wispy, the greens relatively slow and the wind no more than a light breeze. The lack of any wind or rain to protect the integrity of the course concerned the Royal & Ancient Club of St. Andrews. Indeed the R&A’s secretary Michael Bonallack commented: “I am fearful of what is round the corner. The weather is incredible, really.” Paul Azinger reminded everyone that links golf courses rely on wind: “Most of them have four defences – wind, water, sand and rough. Take away the first two and they’re close to helpless.”

Despite the benign conditions the roll of honour of Open Champions at Royal Lytham offered evidence of the manner in which Royal Lytham rewards self-control, patience and concentration. Running undulating fairways would make it even more challenging to find the safe portions of the fairways and patiently plot an error free path around the 206 punitive bunkers.

Round 1

The first round began with temperatures in the mid-twenties Celsius, high pressure and winds of less than five miles per hour. It was an Englishman, Paul Broadhurst, who took maximum advantage of the benign conditions and equalled the course record of 65. This record had been set by Severiano Ballesteros during The Open of 1988 on his way to winning his third claret jug. In fact, it was in this same championship that Broadhurst played as a 22 year old amateur and went on to win the silver medal. Broadhurst claimed after his 65 that the course was “so fiery it’s not easy to keep the ball on the green.” However, it was on the greens that he had most success and he had only 23 putts in total - one putting nine consecutive greens from the 9th, having gone out in 32 strokes. At the end of the first day’s play he held a two stroke lead over eight men all clustered at 67. There were seven Americans in this group including Tom Lehman and Mark McCumber. No American professional had ever won the Open at Lytham, with the only American success coming from the amateur Bobby Jones in 1926. There were a further eight players on 68, which included three of the pre-tournament favourites: Nick Faldo, Nick Price and Ernie Els. The 1995 Open Champion John Daly went out in an impressive 31 and then birdied the par five 11th hole to reach five under par. He reached this 542 yard hole with two iron shots using a ‘zero iron’ - a club with only ten degrees of loft. He then started to falter and stumbled home in 39 strokes. He never really challenged again. Jack Nicklaus, playing in his 35th consecutive Open, was in a group of seven players grouped on 69.

What of the returning hero Severiano Ballesteros? The members had fixed a note to the same locker that he had used in 1988, which read: “Welcome home Seve, we all want you to win again. Good Luck, from the members.” Past his prime, he was unable to draw enough inspiration from the scene of his two previous Open triumphs. He could only manage an opening 74 despite being cheered onto every green by his adoring fans. A second round 78 led to a missed cut. He said at the end: “When I watch the films of the Open, I see if I can pick up anything that I am not doing now. I’m just sad that I can’t be youthful forever but no one can do that, everyone is going to die, that is the only truth in life. You can’t do anything about it. You just have to take it.”

 

John Daly the 1995 Open Champion with his ‘zero iron’

Round 2

Once again the temperature climbed into the mid-twenties and stopping the ball on the greens remained the biggest challenge. On the par five 7th Lehman pounded a drive 350 yards and then an eight iron 200 yards to reach the green in two. The best rounds of the day came from the Irishman Paul McGinley and a Swede, Peter Hedblom, who both shot 65s for a total of 134. The story of the morning belonged to Jack Nicklaus. His round of 66 mesmerised the appreciative Lytham crowds and he went into second place, one behind McGinley. He had won the Masters 10 years earlier aged 46, his last major – could he really challenge for another and add to his tally of eighteen? Later in the afternoon Tom Lehman shot a second consecutive 67 and became joint overnight leader. McGinley, whose round was climaxed by a hole-in-one at the ninth, went out in 29. His back nine was not quite as memorable and he missed from four feet at the 18th. This would have set a new course record.

The first round leader Broadhurst went out late and admitted: “I think I’m good enough to win but I’m sure I will be pretty nervous.” His nerves got the better of him and he finished with an erratic 72 for 137, in a tie for thirteenth place. Nick Faldo, with a second successive 68, was now tied sixth on 136, two shots off the lead alongside Mark McCumber. Tied with Broadhurst on 137 were Mark Brooks and Fred Couples, having followed their opening 67s with rounds of 70. These two continued to challenge the leaders over the weekend whilst others fell back. Greg Norman added a 68 to his opening 71 to remain in contention at 139.

It is worth noting that there were two other rounds of 66 that day to match Nicklaus’s remarkable score. One came from Corey Pavin who had played with Gary Player, the winner of The Open at Lytham in 1974. The other was from Eldrick ‘Tiger’ Woods, the US Amateur Champion. His round of 66 matched the previous amateur record set by Frank Stranahan, 46 years previously at Royal Troon. Tiger went on to win the silver medal, finishing in a tie for twenty-second place. Like Stranahan in 1950 it was after this tournament that Woods decided to turn professional.

Tom Lehman was now clearly a contender at Lytham. He had served his time in previous majors. In 1993 he finished third in The Masters and the following year went one better, finishing second to Olazabal. In 1995 he finished third in the US Open after going into the last round tied with the leader. He had missed out on this year’s US Open just three weeks earlier by finishing with a bogey at the last hole to lose out to Steve Jones by a single shot. His play over the first two days was steady if not spectacular with long putts dropping for both birdies and pars.

The 36-hole cut came at 143 - one over par. On their way home were Colin Montgomerie, Ian Woosnam, Paul Azinger and Ian Baker-Finch. Bernhard Langer was forced to retire with a back injury.

 

Eldrick ‘Tiger’ Woods the US Amateur Champion with local caddy Richard Noon

 

Round 3

The leaders Paul McGinley and Peter Hedblom again had dry and sunny weather on day three. They had very different opening nines. McGinley bogeyed the par three 1st, missing the green and chipping his approach into a bunker. This set the tone for an indifferent round and he turned in 37. Hedblom on the other hand went out like a bullet shooting 32 for the front nine and quickly reached ten under par. It was now that the course began to bare its teeth, a seven for Hedblom on the 15th and a six on the last meant he came back in 43. He slid out of contention. McGinley came home in 37 and with a 74 he was tied for eleventh place.

Nick Faldo shot a third consecutive 68 and was revelling in his new-found popularity with the Lytham crowds. He said later: “They have given me a wonderful reception. They were egging me on all the way round.” He played almost flawless golf on the outward nine and finished with 32 despite missing a number of makeable putts. His back nine of 36 included bogeys on the 14th and the 16th which were offset by birdies on the 11th and the 17th.

Others shot disappointing scores but this did not really affect their position in the field. Three scores of 71 are worth mentioning. McCumber returned one of these to lie in a tie for seventh. With a final round of 66 he would eventually go on to finish tied second. Ernie Els also carded a 71 and held a share of fifth with Fred Couples, who had shot 69. Another dangerous player who had been circling for the first two rounds was Greg Norman.  His 71 to add to his second round 68 and opening 71 saw him finish at 210. He was, however, disappointed. After a blistering 32 on the opening nine he had stood at six under par, but when he attacked the five finishing par fours they bit back. He bogeyed three of them to come home in 39. Another victim of the course was Corey Pavin, renowned as one of the world’s deadliest putters. His round of 74 included a missed putt of two feet and he never made up the ground.

This round belonged to Tom Lehman. Playing in the last group with McGinley he ripped through the first nine in a sizzling 30 strokes. It could not have been any better and his putter remained red hot. He made birdie putts of eighteen feet on the 1st, fifteen feet on the 2nd, eighteen inches on the 4th,  fifteen feet on the sixth and ten feet on the 9th. Turning for home he made par at the 10th and laid up on the long 11th. His pitch to eight feet yielded another birdie. Regulation par at the short 12th and a missed putt of twelve feet on the 13th for birdie showed that he was human. Normal service was resumed on the 14th and 16th, where he holed a six foot and a thirty-five foot putt for birdie. If he could par the last two holes he would set a new course record of 63. It would also equal the lowest eighteen hole score in The Open Championship. His second to the 17th finished fifteen feet from the cup, but his putt lipped out. Now, full of confidence, he stood on the 18th tee and looked towards the clubhouse. There was no wind, no water and little rough to speak of but would the hole be rendered helpless? There was still sand and plenty of it: seven deep bunkers arranged in two rows across the fairway and eight surrounding the large green. He tried to fade his drive in between the rows of bunkers but his ball disappeared into one of them that ran along the right hand side of the fairway. The depth and severity of the revetted face gave him no option but to pitch out well short of the green. This led to the solitary bogey of his round and his final score was 64. This broke the course record and also the 54-hole scoring record for the Open Championship by a stroke. He now had a six-stroke lead and afterwards stated: “I don’t think I could have putted any better. Every putt I hit was in the hole or it felt like it was going in the hole.”

In The Masters earlier that year Nick Faldo had overcome a six-stroke deficit in the last round to beat Greg Norman by five strokes. Lehman was asked could lightning strike twice and answered: “This is a different time and a different place. I feel like I am playing very well and I like my chances.”

 

Tom Lehman blasts out of the fairway bunker on the 18th en-route to a 64

Round 4

Only a miracle round could deny Tom Lehman a place in the history books. Faldo said that he needed a 63 to stand any chance to catch him, but there were no miracle rounds on that Sunday. Faldo had shot 67 to overcome Greg Norman and win the green jacket earlier that year.

Lehman was vulnerable and had cracked before. Fred Couples put him under some early pressure with an opening nine of 30 and was at this point within two strokes of Lehman. The back nine again was his undoing, as in 1988, and he stumbled home in 41. Mark Brooks got to eleven under par with three early birdies, but two bogeys to finish left him on 276 alongside Jeff Maggert. The American had shot the best round of the day, a 65, but started too far back. Els had the best chance as on the 16th tee he stood at thirteen under par, within two of Lehman. Again the closing holes took their revenge. A bogey on both the 16th and the 18th finished his challenge. A closing 67 meant he finished on 273. Greg Norman had his best round of the week also scoring 67. He joined Greg Turner and Peter Hedblom on 277 in a tie for seventh.

Despite his average scoring Lehman was showing immense strength of will. His play was solid, hitting all but three greens in regulation. It was his putting that was running hot and cold. Early on he was charging a number of approach putts four to six feet past the hole, but he resolutely made all of the returns. He holed only one makeable birdie chance from fifteen feet on the 12th, but missed a number of other birdie chances.

Faldo had cut Lehman’s lead to four with a birdie three at the 4th with the American having bogeyed the 3rd, having found a fairway bunker. An imperious iron shot to six feet on the short 5th by the Masters champion looked certain to cut the lead further. Faldo’s putt lipped out and Lehman holed from four feet for par. It was at the 6th that the complexion of the championship changed. Faldo hit a perfect and daring drive over the corner of the curved fairway by carrying a huge bunker set in a grassy mound. Lehman hooked his drive badly into a copse of trees but managed to punch a recovery shot out from an almost unplayable lie. Faldo hit a superb seven iron second which just rolled off the back of the green. Lehman still had a distance to the green for his third and left it short and right of the green. He chipped it up to six feet. Faldo played a delightful pitch to three feet and it appeared the lead would be cut to three. However Lehman calmly rolled in his par putt and an agonized Faldo missed the shorter one for birdie. It was clear that Lehman was not going to give up this championship without a fight. A missed six foot birdie putt on the 7th by Faldo suggested it was not going to be his day. His shoulders slumped and the fight was slowly draining out of him.

 

Lehman plays out of trouble on the sixth

Faldo at last holed a birdie putt on the ninth from twelve feet. They then matched each other with pars at the next two holes. At the 12th Lehman at last had something to encourage him. He struck a majestic shot with a four iron to twelve feet which he holed for a two. He was back to level par for the day. There were no more birdies from Faldo and he found a fairway bunker on the 15th which resulted in a bogey. It was the end to his challenge. His round of 70 left him at 274 in fourth place.

 

Lehman plays his approach to the short ninth

Lehman three putted the 14th for a bogey five but saved par on the 15th from a bunker. He secured a safe par on the 16th then found a fairway bunker on the 17th. This resulted in a bogey but he reached the 18th tee with a two stroke lead. He thumped a one iron down the left to avoid the bunkers and then an eight iron to the front of the green. It left him with three putts to win. He needed only two.

 

Lehman hugs his caddy on the 18th in front of the packed clubhouse

 

Its mine and I’m not letting go

The unassuming 37 year old from Minnesota was the Champion Golfer of the Year and the first American professional to lift the claret jug at Royal Lytham and St. Anne’s.

‘It was not pretty but it was gritty. It was a struggle but I stuck it out. It really is the greatest day of my life.’





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