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How to make that curtain call
A ceremonial bowing out during an Open Championship at the Home of Golf has latterly become part of the lore of the game. For Britain's greatest golfer, might the accolade come later rather than sooner?

Arnold Palmer has known it. So has Jack Nicklaus. Perhaps very soon, so will Severiano Ballesteros. Tom Watson – maybe him, too. And Britain's greatest- ever golfer, Nick Faldo...well, he may want to wait another five years for that famous, much-photographed, career-defining, career-ending Swilcan Bridge moment. The R-word can be a tough act to stage-manage.

The five aforementioned men are, of course, great Open champions of the past, even while some of them continue to entertain us in the present. Between them they have brandished the claret jug a total of 16 separate times. That's more majors than TigerWoods has won. Three of the five have won the title at St Andrews – Nicklaus twice – while Palmer (1960) and Watson (1984) have been thwarted there with victory tantalisingly close to their grasp.

It was in 1995 that Palmer, the man generally recognised as reviving the fortunes of the Open Championship, bade farewell to his Open career with a flourishing yet somehow typically modest wave from the Swilcan Bridge as he played the 18th hole of the Old Course for a final time. It was in the second round, obviously, but no one cared that he'd not made the cut.Well, except for Arnie himself, of course.What mattered was that in 1960 he'd made the journey to Scotland as the reigning Masters and US Open champion and thereby indicated to his contemporaries in American golf that the annual trip to Britain every July was a peregrination worth making. For his pains, he was denied victory in the Centenary Open by Kel Nagle, who pipped him by a stroke. In the next two years, however, no one could deny the great man.

Nick Faldo in 1990
Nick Faldo won the Open at St Andrews in 1990. When will he get to enjoy the final-hole acclaim he deserves when he retires?

In 2005, it was the turn of Jack Nicklaus to bid farewell to the championship he had graced since 1962, the year of Palmer's second and last triumph. Inside this issue you will see the photograph of Jack's final appearance on the Swilcan Bridge.

Fifty years on from Palmer's debut in the championship, we have reached the 150th Open, again staged at St Andrews. Per legend, like London buses, the retirements of the greats this time around could come in threes.

First, Seve. The 1984 winner at St Andrews is in long-term recovery from surgery to remove a brain tumour that was undertaken some 18 months ago. His health fluctuates, as is to be expected, but as of this writing his apparent intention was to be at St Andrews this July to play in the four-hole competition involving past champions that the R&A now arranges for theWednesday afternoon preceding the beginning of Open Championships over the Old Course. Assuming Seve does this – he would, of course, not play in the event proper – we are guaranteed another Swilcan Bridge moment, with the multitudes lining the 1st and 18th fairways being able to acknowledge European golf's favourite son with the accord he is due, with both he and we understanding the occasion for what it would be – a farewell. There might not be a dry eye in the clubhouse.Whisky and dry, probably, but with tears.

Next, Watson. His extraordinary performance at Turnberry last summer caused the R&A to revise its rules for eligibility for the championship or else this would, for certain, have been Watson's last appearance in the Open. He turned 60 last September. But given that lightning – or miracles – seldom strike twice, the five times past champion might take the view that this is as good a time as any, and better than most, to say goodbye to a golf tournament that he has adorned so spectacularly. And even if he were to return to, say, Royal St George's next year, the likelihood is that he won't still be treading the golfing boards when the Open again returns to St Andrews, presumably in 2015.

And what of Nick Faldo? All other things being equal, this might have been the year for Faldo to say his farewell to the championship he has won three times, including at St Andrews in 1990. Had Watson not done what he did last summer, that may very well have been it for him. As it is, he's back, and after Seve has been waved off on Wednesday, perhaps Watson will be the one responsible for the sound of thunderous fond applause ringing around the old town on Friday (or Sunday?) afternoon.

The same goes for Faldo. He's unlikely to make it through to the weekend, other than as a commentator for American television, but it does seem a mite unsatisfactory that he and Watson might effectively have to share the same stage. But then Nick is a mere 52; 53 on the Sunday of the Open. If this is to be Watson's last showing at golf's oldest theatre, couldn't Nick wait another five years so that he can take the ovation all for himself?

July 2010

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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