Of all the Open Championships I have attended, the 1993 Open at Royal St. George’s stands out as special. Special in that it was a fellow Australian and my golfing idol, Greg Norman being handed the famed Claret Jug by legendary Gene Sarazen at week’s end.
Also making it special was seeing the Australian Cricket Team in attendance with Alan Border’s men already boasting two wins and a draw from their three Ashes series matches against ole foes England.
I had been among the media contingent some five weeks earlier at Old Trafford when Shane Warne made his series debut in the second innings, with his first ball to Mike Gatting now firmly part of cricketing folklore. A week following The Open, Australia would win the fourth Test at Headingley to retain the smallest trophy in all of international sport.
Though what made the 122nd Open Championship extra special was Norman capturing a second major championship in the manner he did, producing probably the round of his career on the final day to defeat the world’s best who also played their best golf that week in Sandwich.
The manner of Norman’s triumph, at the time of my ‘young’ golf reporting career was just the motivation to continue what had began in bizarre circumstances some five-years earlier in winning an all-expenses paid trip for two to the 1988 Players Championship in Florida.
For all but the opening round, the then top three players in the world were atop of the Royal St. George’s leaderboard – Nick Faldo at No. 1, Bernhard Langer at No. 2 and Norman then No. 3 in the world. Faldo had won the 1992 Open Championship at Muirfield and Langer was the reigning Masters champion with Norman having won a then 12th of 20 PGA Tour wins three months earlier at the Doral-Ryder Open.
Norman began his quest for a second Claret Jug with an opening six-under par 64 to be sharing the lead with three others, including fellow Aussie Peter Senior and American Mark Calcavecchia
My first Open had been the 1989 championship at Royal Troon where Norman and Wayne Grady found their way into a play-off alongside Calcavecchia. The winner should have been Grady as he opened the door on his fellow Queenslander Calcavecchia, who was the reigning Australian Open champion.
Sadly, Norman found what is now affectionately known as ‘Norman’s Bunker’ down the right side of the 18th, the last hole in the then designated four-hole play-off to virtually hand the Claret Jug to ‘Calc’. Now four years on and nothing would deny Norman.
Rounds two and three of the 1993 Open were dominated by Norman, Faldo and Langer with Faldo posting a course record 63 on day two to lead by one at eight-under and with Langer one back while Norman was tied with 1992 Masters champion, Fred Couples and another American in Corey Pavin, two adrift of Faldo.
‘Moving Day’ saw Faldo joined atop of the board by Pavin at eight-under and Norman and Langer sharing third place on seven-under par. Sunday dawned and a day that would see the ‘The Shark’ exact revenge. No matter if you had the largest shark net or the combination of a gas cylinder and fluke rifle shot as we saw in the first Jaws movie, no-one was going to deny Norman, and definitely not Faldo.
Norman’s 64 would be the most perfect game of golf that anyone has witnessed at an Open Championship for many years. He delivered Faldo an unwanted 36th birthday gift in joining the Brit in a share of the lead with a birdie at the first before muscling his way in front when Faldo bogeyed four.
The Open stayed on a knife-edge with Faldo drawing the majority of the applause until Norman landed a 5-iron to just six inches at the par-3 16th for the easiest of birdies to move three shots clear of his arch rival.
“Today, I did not miss-hit a shot,” said Norman clutching a second Claret Jug. “I hit every shot perfect and I hit every iron perfect. I’m not a guy who normally brags about himself but I was just in awe of myself out there today.”
Well, there was one, and only one not so perfect shot and that was missing a short 14-inch par putt on 17 that hit the back of the cup and bounced out for a bogey. The bogey saw Norman drop from three clear to now just two ahead of Faldo with one hole to play. Surely, Norman could not lose another one? There had already been too many Sunday final day letdowns with Norman already losing three majors in playoff’s.
Norman had arrived at Royal St. George’s having missed the cut a month earlier at the U.S. Open and now he stood on the 72nd tee leading by two but with the pro-British crowd clearly against him and willing on Faldo. I was out on 18 when Norman smacked his closing drive down the middle and then stuck his second, a 4-iron, to some 18-feet short of the flag. I recall walking with the media contingent as Norman proudly strode down the final hole with his putter raised high.
Langer, who was Norman’s last round playing partner, playing in a bright red pair of trousers, described Norman as ‘invincible’ with Norman so focussed he did not even notice Langer drive OB off the 14th tee and onto the neighbouring Princes course in taking a double. In walking up the 18th, Langer spoke to Norman saying: “That is the greatest game of golf I have seen in my life”.
Faldo was still on course and reached the 17th green needing to hole a monster birdie putt but he left it short. The Englishman was a beaten man and he kind of displayed he’d lost to a better player in raising his arms and trying to cover his face moments after his putt had stopped some two rolls shy of the cup.
Now commanding the attention of the crowd seated around the last, Norman proudly walked onto the 18th green with his birdie putt just sliding by the hole for the easiest of pars. Norman’s 267 four-round tally had set a new Open Championship scoring record. He first embraced caddy, Tony Navarro and then his wife, Laura along with Frank Williams, who ran the Australian Masters, and then coach, Butch Harmon.
The Australian was in the scorer’s hut when TV footage showed Faldo’s final tee shot had come to rest against TV cables in thick rough down the left of the last. To his credit, Faldo saved par and punched the air vigorously in delight by holing a 15-footer for par to finish second on his own.
To his enormous discredit, Faldo did one of his stupid pretending to trip actions as he headed to the clubhouse and then also in being introduced at the presentation, he repeated the pathetic antic minutes later in making his way to the centre of the 18th green to accept the ‘Silver Medal’ for second. Langer finished third, a shot behind Faldo and three adrift of Norman.
Sarazen, aged 91 and the oldest living Open Champion, proudly handed Norman the Claret Jug that had been handed to him in 1932.
“To win the Open Championship, and golf’s greatest major once was great, but to win it twice means twice as much pleasure,” said Norman.
Despite all the criticism and the countless questions of all his collapses, Norman’s career had turned a full circle to again become a Major Champion.
“I’m not out here to prove other people wrong,” Norman said in response to a post championship reporter’s question. “I am out here to prove myself right.”
I recall Norman saying all week that Faldo was not unbeatable and in searching for the quote Norman had said: “Nick is the most tenacious player on the planet right now. Everybody said Nick was the player to beat and he was. If I hadn’t been him, he would have won.”
For a still inexperienced Australian-born journalist, the 1993 Open Championship was the stuff of dreams. I hadn’t yet attended the Masters so it was the first time I had seen Gene Sarazen and I had not embarked full-time on the PGA Tour. My first major, the 1989 Open Championship, was more like ‘Wow! How good is this?’, despite the outcome.
The year 1993 was a big career turning point and Norman’s victory proved a huge incentive for me to continue pursuing my new-found passion that all stemmed from winning a first prize at the 1988 Australian PGA Championship of air tickets for two to the Players Championship in Florida.
And back then, I had no inkling what lay ahead and certainly not for a moment thinking I would become close enough to him to comfortably approach Norman in working both the PGA or European Tours. Also, I had no inkling just a short time later that Norman would offer me a seat from Milwaukee to Denver on his private jet.
None of that was on my career radar in 1993.