Anticipation for The Open has been building steadily ever since The R&A confirmed that Royal Portrush would be returning to the rota.
When play gets underway, it will be nearly 70 years since Max Faulkner lifted the Claret Jug at the Dunluce links.
His name will be mentioned many times in the lead up to the 148th Open Championship, as golf remembers one of its flamboyant characters.
Here’s the story of his success at the 80th Open Championship in Royal Portrush, in July 1951.
Max Faulkner the underdog
Faulkner attracted a lot of attention for his colourful outfits, However, despite a few victories to his name, the man from East Sussex certainly didn’t arrive in County Antrim as one of the favourites for the Claret Jug.
South Africa’s Bobby Locke was on for a third straight Open title and the 98-man field was a strong one. It included Northern Ireland’s Fred Daly, who’d triumphed at Royal Liverpool four years previously, and Australia’s Peter Thomson, who was making his Open debut.
The battle for the Claret Jug
Scotland’s Jimmy Adams and Norman Von Nida from Australia led the way after round one, both shooting 68s (-4) – rounds that wouldn’t be bettered all week.
However, 34-year-old Faulkner, who shot an opening 71, hit the top of the leaderboard with a second-round 70. Both Adams and Von Nida carded 77s and subsequently fell out of contention.
The story goes that Faulkner – who vowed to wear bright colours after leaving hospital following the Second World War – signed autographs with the words, “Open Champion 1951” on the evening before the final two rounds.
Faulkner holds his nerve
One can only imagine the headlines such a show of confidence would create in the modern era. However, Faulkner didn’t need to track down any of his fans and edit his bold addendum.
On Friday, he matched his round two total with another 70, and went into the afternoon’s final round with a six-stroke lead over Norman Sutton and Antonio Cerda.
Faulkner held off the challenge from Argentina’s Cerda to win by two strokes. His winning score of 285 earned the Champion Golfer of the Year a first prize of £300, whilst for the third successive year the Silver Medal went to American amateur Frank Stranahan.
It would be 18 years until another British golfer claimed the Open title – Tony Jacklin at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 1969.
Peter Thomson catches the eye
The 80th Open Championship was special in a number of ways, not least because it was the first time it had been contested outside of England or Scotland. However, it was also when a certain Australian made his Open debut.
Peter Thomson carded a two-under 70 to sit in a tie for third after Wednesday’s opening round. The 23-year-old finished in a tie for sixth, eight adrift of Faulkner. He only had to wait three years before lifting the Claret Jug, and he’d do so again on four more occasions. Only Harry Vardon (6) has more Open titles to his name.
Thomson’s last Open victory came at Royal Birkdale in 1965. In 1988, he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, and before he passed away last year he offered these words about golf’s oldest Major returning to the links where he graced The Open for the first ever time…
“Although my memory of that time is faint, it is a classical links course. I do remember playing two rounds with Joe Carr and I enjoyed the experience.”
1951 Open Championship Leaderboard
1 Max Faulkner (ENG) 71 70 70 74 (285)
2 Antonio Cerda (ARG) 74 72 71 70 (287)
3 Charlie Ward (UK) 75 73 74 68 (290)
T4 Jimmy Adams (UK) 68 77 75 72 (292)
T4 Fred Daly (NIR) 74 70 75 73 (292)
T6 Bobby Locke (SA) 71 74 74 74 (293)
T6 Bill Shankland (UK) 73 76 72 72 (293)
T6 Norman Sutton (UK) 73 70 74 76 (293)
T6 Peter Thomson (AUS) 70 75 73 75 (293)
T6 Harry Weetman (UK) 73 71 75 74 (293)
T12 Dai Rees (UK) 70 77 76 72 (295)
T19 Christy O’Connor Sr (IRE) 79 74 72 74 (299)
T58 John Jacobs (ENG) 81 76 (MC)
T68 Peter Alliss (UK) 79 80 (MC)
Royal Portrush is ready to stage the 148th Open Championship. Who knows… perhaps this year we’ll witness the arrival of a new star!