Els blog: The Open is truly the greatest

Mon 14 Jul 2014

Els blog: The Open is truly the greatest

  • SHARE
July 14: This is the 12th time the Open Championship has been played at Royal Liverpool Golf Club, perhaps better known as Hoylake, although my own personal history with this course goes back to 1988 when I won one of Britain’s leading amateur tournaments, the Tillman Trophy. It really is a classic links test and the competitors travelling here from every corner of the world are in for a real treat this week.
The last time the Open was here in 2006 I finished third, the kind of result that generates mixed emotions on your journey home. Obviously it’s hard to be happy when you’ve had a chance to win a major and it doesn’t come off. But at the same time, you’ve played some great golf to finish in the top-three in a major. Also, at that time I was just getting my game back in proper shape after serious knee surgery the previous summer. To be honest, it felt good to be back in the mix again.
There’s some bias on my part, because this is my favourite tournament of the year, but I think it’s true to say the Open is the greatest and the most open of all the majors. More than 25 nations will be represented here this week, featuring a strong contingent from the Asian Tour including Anirban Lahiri, Thongchai Jaidee, Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Juvic Pagunsan, Masanori Kobayashi, Yoshinobu Tsukada and Chris Rodgers. My fellow Asian Tour honorary members KJ Choi and YE Yang, himself already a major winner at the 2009 USPGA, are also in the field.
Obviously a few Asian players have come pretty close in the Open over the years, as far back as 1971 when Liang Huan Lu gave Lee Trevino a serious run for his money, finishing second at Royal Birkdale. The great Isao Aoki had back-to-back top-7 finishes in 1978 at St Andrews and in 1979 at Lytham. Then Masahiro Kuramoto was only a couple of shots behind the champion Tom Watson at Troon in 1982.
The record book highlights several other Asian top-10s as well; Nakajima at Turnberry in 1986, Maruyama at Troon in 1997 and again at Muirfield in 2002 when he was only one shot out of the playoff with me, Thomas Levet, Stuart Appleby and Steve Elkington. Then there’s Hideto Tanihara at Hoylake in 2006, KJ at Carnoustie in 2007 and most recently Japan’s Kenichi Kuboya last year at Muirfield. That’s quite a list!
That’s enough of the history lesson, though. The reality today is that with the incredible growth of the game in Asia and the sheer number of top quality young players coming through, there’s a good chance that the wait for an Open champion will surely not be a long one.
The Open is the major that brings the most potential winners into the frame. Obviously there are a lot of talented young guys out there looking to step up and win their first major, others looking to back up their first major win with another, and we’ve seen these past four years that this championship also brings the 40-somethings into the equation. The last three winners – Darren Clarke, Phil Mickelson and myself – won in our 40s and in 2009 a 59-year old, Tom Watson, almost won it.
Actually, Tom’s performance that year at Turnberry gives my generation a lot of confidence for the years ahead. I genuinely feel like I can stay competitive in the Open Championship for at least another 10 years. Links golf is unquestionably my favourite style of golf. You don’t have to bomb it to win; you need to play smart, use your head and know how to play all the different shots that links golf demands of you.
Some of the young Asian guys coming here maybe for the first time might have quite a shock when they play a links course and get out there and see some of the strange bounces you can get…not all of them good! But that’s what practice rounds are for. You have to embrace the challenge, use your imagination, work the ball different ways through the air, keep it low to the ground, play the links game. It’s wonderful.
I fell in love with links golf the first time I started playing here as an amateur in the late 1980s. For others it takes a while – the love is more of a slow-burner – but nearly everyone does eventually learn to love it. It’s the purest form of golf and the ultimate test of your skills as a player.
At the end of the week the Open champion, as they say in the presentation ceremony, can rightly call themselves the ‘Champion Golfer of the Year’. It’s my proudest achievement to have done that twice, but I’d still dearly love to add a third!
Ernie’s Career Record at the Open Championship
Ernie has played in the Open Championship on 22 occasions, with two victories and 13 Top-10s: 1992 (T5th), 1993 (T6th), 1996 (T2nd), 1997 (T10th), 2000 (T2nd), 2003 (T3rd), 2002 (Won), 2004 (2nd), 2006 (3rd), 2007 (T4th), 2008 (T7th), 2009 (T8th), 2012 (Won)