New Name New Faces Great Year
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Tom Watson captured two major titles on the Champions Tour, won the money title and took the year-long Charles Schwab Cup and the $1 million annuity that comes with it.
Watson won the Senior British Open and the Tradition but his record in the other majors is also astonishing. He tied for 17th at the Senior PGA Championship, finished second at the U.S. Senior Open and tied for second at the Senior Players Championship.
In 14 starts on the elder-50 tour, Watson finished outside the top-17 once, a tie for 31st at the Toshiba Senior Classic. He was in the top-10 in driving distance (eighth), greens in regulation (seventh), putting average (second) and led the tour in eagles and scoring average.
Watson's success in 2003 was not limited to the Champions Tour. He held the first-round lead at the U.S. Open at Olympia Fields before tying for 28th place. Watson also tied for 18th at the British Open.
All of the riches Watson experienced this year, he did it with a heavy heart. His caddie and longtime friend Bruce Edwards is dying in front of his eyes due to ALS, a crippling disease that has whittled Edwards' body but not his spirit.
Edwards shared in the spotlight when Watson shocked the golf world at the U.S. Open. Galleries chanted his name and Watson played up to the challenge. Watson said that people in the stands handed him checks for thousands of dollars for research for ALS. Their partnership and Watson's outstanding play in big events, have done more for the disease than any public-service commercial.
To no one's surprise, Watson donated his $1 million annuity to various ALS charities. For all Watson endured in 2003, coupled with the way he stood over the rest of the tour, Tom Watson is the Champions Tour Player of the Year.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Craig Stadler was the only other player that could be considered for Player of the Year, so it makes sense for 'The Walrus' to be the 2003 Rookie of the Year.
In his debut on the Champions Tour, Stadler tied for 15th at the Senior PGA Championship at a tough Aronimink track. He tied for 10th place at the U.S. Senior Open, then broke through at the Senior Players Championship for win No. 1 on tour.
He added two titles late in the year and tied for ninth at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship.
As good as Watson was on the PGA Tour, Stadler was even better. He returned to the PGA Tour a week after winning the Senior Players and became the first player in history to go back and win on the PGA Tour when he titled at the B.C. Open.
TOURNAMENT OF THE YEAR
The Senior British Open became a major for the first time in 2003 and it was a doozy. The combatants were Tom Watson, winner of several major titles and member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, and Carl Mason, European Tour journeyman with two victories.
Watson bogeyed the 72nd hole on Sunday to post a 64 but seemed like all hope was gone. Mason, standing on the 18th tee, held a two-shot lead but collapsed, starting in a bunker after his drive. He had to chip out sideways but he hit too hard and it went into the gallery. Mason finally reached the green in four but two-putted for double-bogey and the pair were headed to a playoff.
The duo parred the first extra hole, the 18th, but Mason once again made a mess of it with the second playoff hole. He drove into another fairway bunker, chipped out, advanced his third a few feet, and reached the green in four.
Watson was calmly on in regulation and left himself with a tap-in par.
Watson seemed destined to win the Senior British Open after coming so close in the season's three other majors. His successful run at the U.S. Open, his close relationship with his struggling caddie, and his past triumphs in British Opens (five claret jugs), all made Watson a logical and emotional favorite to win.
Through the first 16 tournaments of the 2003 season, there were 16 different winners on the Champions Tour. Talk about parity. But after Bruce Lietzke captured the U.S. Senior Open, the number of multiple winners began to pile up.
Tom Watson, Hale Irwin, Craig Stadler and Jim Thorpe all came on to win at least twice in 2003 but Stadler was the only player to win three times.
One of the highlights every year is to see which rookies make an impact on the Champions Tour. D.A. Weibring and Craig Stadler both won on tour but they were the only first-year guys to make any waves.
What will be problematic for the elder circuit is next year. Keith Fergus, Mike Reid and 1999 European Ryder Cup captain Mark James are some of the names but the two biggest who are eligible might not come to the tour.
Jay Haas turns 50 in early December but he tallied eight top-10s, was selected to play in the Presidents Cup and finished 15th on the PGA Tour's money list.
Peter Jacobsen, whose charm and sense of humor would make him a natural fit on the laid-back Champions Tour, broke back into the winner's circle on tour when he captured the Greater Hartford Open.
Neither is sure what they will do next year, but both have indicated they will spend some time on the PGA Tour but when it comes down to it, they will spend some time on the Champions Tour. Fifty-four hole tournaments on easier courses will appeal to these guys more than anything else.
Jim Thorpe. Thorpe won the huge purse with the Charles Schwab Cup Championship to finish second on the money list. Since the Senior Players Championship in early July, Thorpe recorded 10 top-10s in 13 events.
Des Smyth. Smyth, an Irishman who won Q-School last year, finished 18th on the money list thanks to 10 top-10s. Although he didn't win in his rookie campaign, Smyth finished in the top-30 in almost every statistical category.
Mark Lye. Lye, who spent most of 2003 in the studios at the Golf Channel while battling cancer, played in only six events but made respectable showings in all six. With a full season under his belt, and his health back to form, Lye could be a top-25 guy on the Champions Tour.
Ben Crenshaw. This two-time Masters winner has not figured out the Champions Tour. In his second season, Crenshaw finished 58th on the money list with two top-10s.
Tom Kite. Hard to say a guy had a bad year with 12 top-10s and a sixth on the money list but Kite, who led the tour in greens in regulation, is at a stage in his career where multiple wins a season is not unrealistic. Zero wins in 2003 makes it a bad year.
Jan Stephenson. Stephenson became the first woman to play on the Champions Tour when she teed it up at the Turtle Bay Championship. She tied for last place, did nothing for the game and insulted almost every player on her tour, the LPGA Tour, with her ill-advised comments about Asian players ruining the tour.
Own history, grow the game with Open memorabilia auction
Get a piece of history and help grow the game, that's what The Open is offering with its memorabilia auction.
The official Open Memorabilia site features unique Open assets from famous venues and Champion Golfers of the Year. All net proceeds received by The R&A from this project will be invested to support the game for future generations, including encouraging women’s, junior and family golf, on the promotion and progression of the sport in emerging golf nations and on coaching and development.
Items for auction include limited edition prints of Champion Golfers of the Year, signed championship pin flags and limited edition historical program covers. Memorable scorecard reproductions and caddie bibs are also available to bid for on the website, with all items featuring branded, serialized holograms for authenticity.
Click here to own your piece of history and to get more information on the auction.
No indication when Trump Turnberry will next host an Open
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Turnberry last hosted The Open in 2009, during that magical week where Tom Watson, at age 59, nearly won his sixth claret jug. Ultimately, Stewart Cink won in a playoff.
While Turnberry remains on The Open rota, according to the R&A, there is no clear understanding of when the club, purchased by Donald Trump in 2014 before he became President of the United States, will next host the championship. The next open date is 2022.
“With respect to 2022, I’ve already said, ’21 we’re going to be celebrating the 150th playing of The Open at St. Andrews,” R&A chief executive Marin Slumbers said Wednesday on the annual news conference on the eve of The Open. “And in ’22, we’ll be going south of the border.”
South of the border means the 2022 Open will be at one of the three venues in England. Since the 2020 Open is at Royal St. George’s, that leaves Royal Lytham & St. Annes and Royal Liverpool as the two remaining options. Since Lytham (2012, Ernie Els) last hosted The Open before Liverpool (2014, Rory McIlroy), that’s the likely choice.
Trump was at Turnberry for two days last weekend, 150 miles southwest of Carnoustie. The R&A said it did not receive any communication from the U.S. president while he was in the country.
Turnberry hosted the Women’s British Open in 2015. Inbee Park beat Jin-young Park by three shots.
Slumbers explains driver test; Rory weighs in
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Players and manufacturers were informed about three weeks ago that the R&A intended to test individual drivers at this week’s Open Championship, marking the first time the rule makers have taken the current standards to players.
Although the R&A and USGA have been COR (coefficient of restitution) tests on drivers for some time, they have been pulling the tested clubs from manufacturers, not players.
“We take our governance role very seriously, not just on the Rules of Golf and amateur status, but also equipment standards, and we felt it was an appropriate next step to more actively seek to test players' drivers straight out of the bag,” said Martin Slumbers, the R&A’s chief executive.
Thirty players were notified their drivers would be tested this week - including Paul Casey, Brooks Koepka, Jason Day and Henrik Stenson - from a list that roughly mirrored the breakdown of various brands based on current equipment counts.
The R&A test center was set up on the Carnoustie practice range, and according to Slumbers there were no violations of the testing limits, which essentially measure the spring-like effect of the driver clubface.
Although none of the drivers failed the testing, Rory McIlroy did say that TaylorMade was “singled out a bit more than anyone else.”
“A manufacturer is always going to try and find ways to get around what the regulations are. It's a bit of an arms race,” said McIlroy, who plays TaylorMade equipment but said his driver was not tested. “If there is some drivers out there that have went a little bit over the limit, then obviously guys shouldn't be playing them. I think the manufacturers are smart enough to know not to try to push it too much.”
There was no individual driver testing at last month’s U.S. Open, and it’s not expected to become the norm on the PGA Tour, but Slumbers did say the R&A tested drivers at an event earlier this year on the Japan Golf Tour.
Carnoustie open to any number of scenarios
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Carnoustie holds a distinct position within the Open Championship’s rotation of storied venues. It’s come by its nickname, Car-Nasty, honestly as the undisputed rough-and-tumble heavyweight of all the championship links.
Historically, Carnoustie is a beast. A punch in the mouth compared to the other stops on The Open dance card. If the likes of the Old Course and Muirfield are the fair ladies of the rotation, the Angus Coast brute would be the unfriendly bouncer.
As personas go, Carnoustie wears its reputation well, but the 147th edition of the game’s oldest championship has taken on a new look this week. It’s not so much the softer side of Carnoustie as it is a testament to the set up philosophy of the R&A.
Unlike its sister association in the United States, the R&A allows Mother Nature to decide what kind of test a championship will present and this Open is shaping up to be something far different than what the golf world is accustomed.
Instead of the thick, lush rough that ringed the fairways in 1999 and 2007, the last two stops at the par-71 layout, this year has a dust bowl feel to it. The stories have already become legend: Padraig Harrington hit a 457-yard drive on the 18th hole during a practice round that bounced and bounded into Barry Burn and on Monday Tiger Woods slashed a 333-yard 3-iron down the same power alley.
“It’s so fast. It’s nothing like ’99 – that was like a jungle. It was wet, rough was up, there was wind. In 2007, it was cold and green,” said Ernie Els, who has played two championships at Carnoustie. “But this is very, very dry. Very different.”
Anywhere else these divergent conditions would simply be the nature of the game’s most hands-off major, but at Carnoustie it’s created an information vacuum and wild uncertainty.
Within a 48-hour window, two of the championship’s easy favorites offered diametrically contrasting philosophies on how they might play Carnoustie.
“There's eight or nine drivers we hit. Depending on the wind direction, we could hit more,” said Brooks Koepka, who won his second consecutive U.S. Open last month. “It's so burnt out, where there's a lot of opportunity where the rough's not quite as thick as I expected it to be.”
That was in contrast to how Jordan Spieth, this week’s defending champion, was thinking he would play the course.
“I talked to [caddie Michael Greller] a little bit about what he thinks, and he said, ‘You might hit a lot of 5-irons off the tee, you might wear out 5- and 4-irons off the tee instead of hitting 3- or 2-irons like you're used to,’” Spieth said.
Unlike previous championships that were played at Carnoustie, which were won by the player best prepared to take a punch, this one might come down to which strategy, controlled and calculated or bold and brash, works best.
In theory, the bombers seem to be on to something, primarily as a result of the dry conditions that have produced uncharacteristically thin and playable rough. The alternative is weaving irons in between the countless bunkers that pepper each fairway, which on links courses are widely considered true hazards compared to what players face at other major venues.
“I would definitely say it is a bomber’s course,” said Gary Woodland, who counts himself among the long-hitting set. “A lot of the bunkers here are 285, 290 [yards] to cover, for us that’s nothing. You can take them out of play, which normally isn’t the case because it’s windy and rainy over here.”
That line of thinking leads to a rather narrow list of potential contenders, from betting favorite Dustin Johnson to Rory McIlroy and Koepka. But that logic ignores the inherent unpredictability of The Open, where countless contenders have been undercut by the rub of a bad draw and the always-present danger of inclement weather.
Although this week’s forecast calls for continued dry weather, winds are currently forecast to reach 25 mph on Sunday which could upend game plans, regardless of how aggressive or conservative one intended to play the course.
Despite conventional thinking and the realities of a modern game that is being dominated more and more by long hitters, there are compelling arguments for the other side of the bash-or-bunt debate.
One needs to look no further than Woods’ record on similarly dusty tracks as an example of how a conservative approach can produce championship results. In 2006 at Royal Liverpool, Woods, who is playing his first Open since 2015, famously hit just one driver all week on his way to victory, and he was just as effective in 2000 at St. Andrews when the Old Course also played to a bouncy brown.
“It could be that way,” Woods said when asked to compare ’06 at Hoylake to this week. “Either case, I'm not going to hit that many long clubs off the tees.”
Adding to that uncertainty is Carnoustie’s track record in producing late drama on Sunday. This is, after all, the same slice of coast where Jean Van de Velde stepped to the 18th tee box with a three-stroke lead in 1999 only to slash his way to a closing triple-bogey 7 and the game’s most memorable, or regrettable, runner-up showing.
In ’07, the heartbreak went extra frames for Sergio Garcia, who appeared poised to win his first major championship before he bogeyed the last hole and lost a playoff to Harrington.
Even this week’s baked-out conditions can’t mitigate the importance and challenge of what many consider the most difficult Grand Slam finish; but the yellow hue has certainly created an added degree of uncertainty to an already unpredictable championship.