Legends of the game have got together at the R&A Celebration of Champions as golf icons from across eight decades celebrated the opening of the 150th Open at St Andrews.
Held on July 11th, the event saw 10 groups and 40 golfers taking part in a star-studded field of champion golfers, women’s Major champions, male and female amateur champions, and champion golfers with disability competing over the 1st, 2nd, 17th and 18th holes of the famous Old Course in celebration of the historic playing of golf’s original Championship.
25 Champion Golfers took part including the likes of Tom Watson, Gary Player and Sir Nick Faldo, while last year’s winner Collin Morikawa hit the first shot.
Morikawa was followed by 2017 Champion Golfer Jordan Spieth in Group 2, who teed off with fellow champion golfers Mark Calcavecchia and Ian Baker-Finch, as well as Juan Postigo Arce – who sits in third spot on the world ranking for golfers with disability.
There was an Irish flavour to Group 4, which saw champion golfers Darren Clarke and Shane Lowry playing alongside 1986 Women’s British Open champion Dame Laura Davies and Jack Bigham, who won the R&A Boys’ Amateur Championship last August.
Group 5 featured the the two oldest players in the field – 86-year-olds Gary Player and Sir Bob Charles – teeing off, alongside fellow Champion Golfer Sandy Lyle and paragolfer Monique Kalkman.
Five-time Champion Golfer Tom Watson played alongside Stewart Cink, who so memorably beat him in a play-off at Turnberry in 2009, while four St Andrews Champion Golfers – Sir Nick Faldo, Zach Johnson, Louis Oosthuizen and John Daly followed, and finishing with a flourish, the last group saw Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Georgia Hall and Lee Trevino tee off.
Golfers played in teams of four with the best two scores out of four counting on each hole.
The R&A Celebration of Champions was broadcast live from St Andrews to millions of fans around the world on TV. It was also available to view digitally on TheOpen.com and The Open’s YouTube channel, while fans could also follow the action via The Open Radio, The Open App and The Open’s various social channels.
From the first tee shot struck by defending Champion Golfer of the Year Collin Morikawa to the final putt rolled in by Rory McIlroy, this was an event that truly lived up to its name.
The star-studded field of Champion Golfers, women’s Major Champions, male and female amateur champions, and golfers with disability champions delivered sensational golf shots, a lot of laughs and memories for fans to cherish for a lifetime.
As expected from a field comprised of wall-to-wall winners, it did not take long for the competitive juices to start flowing and the scoreboard soon turned red as birdies started to drop.
Team Morikawa hit the ground running as they led the mini-tournament off, with the 2021 Open winner and amateur star Keita Nakajima both making birdies on the 1st hole.
Reigning AIG Women’s Open champion Anna Nordqvist then almost holed out for eagle on the second, hitting the flag with a superb approach before tapping in for another birdie.
Yet while it was no surprise that the standard of golf around the Old Course was impressive across the four holes, the fans who lined the fairways were also treated to comedy gold.
Three-time Champion Golfer Gary Player set the standard in his group, which also featured fellow Open winners Sandy Lyle and Sir Bob Charles, along with paragolfer Monique Kalkman.
The South African was in his element out on the famous Old Course links, replying to a child who asked for his tee: “You can have my wallet, my clubs and my car keys too.”
Meanwhile, back on the practice putting green, Tiger Woods waited to tee off as 1995 Champion Golfer John Daly called him over to embrace – much to the delight of those watching.
Woods also traded stories with Sir Nick Faldo, a fellow three-time Champion Golfer, who had none other than Fanny Sunesson on his bag – just as he did when he won at St Andrews in 1990.
For those lucky enough to be in attendance, golf’s biggest names just kept coming through thick and fast until Woods, Rory McIlroy, Georgia Hall and Lee Trevino brought up the rear.
And while Team Faldo – comprised of Daly, 2015 winner Zach Johnson and 2010 Champion Golfer Louis Oosthuizen – ultimately prevailed with an impressive six-under total, there was no doubt who stole the show on when it came to the laughter stakes.
It takes a lot to out-do Daly but Trevino’s larger-than-life personality had Team Woods in hysterics from the very first tee shot – he’s not nicknamed the ‘Merry Mex’ for nothing.
After driving down the right side of the 1st, the two-time Champion Golfer turned to his teammates and asked jokingly whether he had to play the ball as it lied or could take a drop, adding cheekily: “What are they going to do, disqualify me?”
Trevino proceeded to punch his approach shot in close, with the unmistakeable swagger of a man who was more than comfortable in the company of Woods, McIlroy and Hall.
Elsewhere, former rivals Tom Watson and Stewart Cink – who denied the five-time Champion Golfer at Turnberry in 2009 – discussed the merits of different approaches to the 17th.
The Road Hole is regarded as one of the toughest in golf and it certainly bared its teeth on Monday afternoon as Team Matthew, Team Morikawa and Team Player all dropped shots.
Team Faldo had no issue, though, managing to escape with a couple of pars as Watson, Cink, Paul Lawrie and Kipp Popert watched on while waiting for the 18th green to clear.
Daly in turn gave Watson an approving hug after watching the legendary American take aim down the last, greeting him with a smile before asking him, “how you doing dad?”
The Wild Thing was not the only person waiting to greet Watson either, with three-time Champion Golfer Jack Nicklaus also stopping by to say hello to his Duel in the Sun rival.
Nicklaus was then treated to an encore of the Lee Trevino show, with the two greats recalling their previous encounters as Woods, McIlroy and Hall watched on in amazement.
Trevino soon had Woods reeling away in laughter once again as he demonstrated a chip to his audience before launching what he said might be his last ever drive down 18. “Oh God,” he proclaimed to more laughs, having hooked his ball down the adjacent first hole.
The supporters who packed the stands must have wondered if what they were watching was real, a feeling that was probably only heightened by what followed moments later.
Nicklaus joined Team Woods on the famous Swilcan Bridge – the scene of his emotional 2005 farewell – for perhaps the most fitting photo to celebrate The 150th Open.
It was the perfect conclusion to the Celebration of Champions, a ‘pinch yourself’ moment for everyone who lined the fairway and watched on in total and utter disbelief.
Once again, St Andrews delivered images and memories that will be treasured forever, before the 150th Open had even started.
See also: Abertay University Studies Golf Injuries