1986: Greg Norman wins The Open at Turnberry for his 1st major championship


Greg Norman earns his 1st major championship

By: Claudia Mazzucco – On this day, July 20, 1986, Australian Greg Norman captured the 115th Open Championship at Turnberry Golf Resort, in Scotland. He shot a 1 under par 69 in the last round for an even par 280 to beat Englishman Gordon Brand Jr. by five strokes, with Bernhard Langer and Ian Woosnam in third place, Nick Faldo fifth and Seve Ballesteros tying for sixth. Ballesteros shot the lowest round of the day with a 64.

Norman was at the top of his game throughout this year: in just fifteen tournaments on the PGA Tour, including two wins, three seconds and a third, he broke Curtis Strange’s money record established in 23 events. Norman was 96 under par for the year. But the Majors were a mixture of jubilation and disappointment. Norman led all four Majors going into the final rounds, but was able to take the crown in only one: The Open Championship. The Norman Conquest, as it was called, was above all a triumph over course and conditions; a triumph which owed a great deal to a refreshing and determinedly positive attitude.

“I’ve never cried on a golf course before, but walking down the seventeenth and eighteenth in the final round at Turnberry, I was fighting to hold back the tears, especially on the 17th. When I hit my approach in there about five or six feet, the people went crazy.” -Greg Norman

Few enjoyed the first day. It was wild, rainy and windy. Norman called the day an intimidating, humiliating, hacking, brutal experience; a test of every one’s patience.  Forty-eight of the world’s greatest golfers shot 80 or worse. The 4-over-par 74, Norman wrested from the hostile elements was at once a signal that he would not lightly accept that this was not to be his year and the highest opening round by an eventual winner since Gary Player at Carnoustie in 1968. He found himself four strokes off the lead, held by Ian Woosnam. A local newspaper showed a picture of Norman sitting head in his hands, with the caption, “Don’t cry, Greg.”

The next day, however, Turnberry turned playable. Norman put together one of the great rounds ever in the Majors: he made eight birdies, two bogeys, and an eagle to equal the Open record with a 7-under-par, 63. He played as though he intended to break 60.  The Shark was only 18 feet from an eagle on the 17th, but the downhill putt just slid by on the left. He was typically aggressive with his long birdie try on the 18th green, hoping for a 61, and totally misjudged the speed of a five-foot putt, ending up with three putts. “I’m not a record hunter,” Norman said. “But I’d like to shoot my 62 on Sunday.”

With a total of 137, he was leading the pack by two strokes over Brand Jr. Tommy Nakajima of Japan had nine straight one-putt greens, and pulled into a tie with Faldo for third place at 141. Six American players finally showed up at 145: Raymond Floyd, Donnie Hammond, Gary Koch, Payne Stewart, Bob Tway and D.A. Weibring. Jack Nicklaus, Severiano Ballesteros, Lee Trevino and defending champion Sandy Lyle made the cut exactly at the cutoff point of 151. (Nicklaus needed to eagle the 17th hole, for the second straight day, to keep from checking out of his hotel.)

Only one golfer broke par on Saturday (Ho Ming Chung from Thailand who shot 69) but he was nowhere near the leaders. Through the rain and the wind, players struggled, and Norman came in with a 74, four over par. He began the last round a stroke lead over Nakajima. They were partnered together. His lead become three when Nakajima three-putted on the first green from four feet for a double-bogey 6 and then five when Norman holed from the bunker on the third hole while Nakajima was making bogey. But Greg bogeyed the fifth and the par-5 seventh where Nakajima got within three again with a birdie.

“I was getting a little jumpy after that bogey on 5,” Norman said. “So I tried for a big tee shot on 7 because I wanted to get a four (birdie) to get myself settle down. But I hit my worst shot of the day.”

Then Norman started talking with his caddie, Pete Bender, as he often did when his game started to falter under pressure. They decided to try to walk slowly to the eighth tee in an effort to calm Norman. And it worked.

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“I hit a beautiful drive on eight, a 4-iron to about five feet away and made the putt,” he said. “It was then I said to myself, “That should get it. You are playing too good. Let’s close the door.”

He stretched his lead to five on the 8th hole and never looked back. Greg was the third Australian to win the Open. Peter Thomson and Kel Nagle were the others. His victory was so popular that he was doused with champagne before he left the final round. He feasted on Australian lamb flown in by Concorde just hours after his victory. But when hostess offered Norman champagne as he entered the post-tournament dinner, he asked for a beer.

Claudia Mazzucco

Claudia M. Mazzucco is a researcher at Golf Channel and teacher of History of Golf at the PGA of Argentina, in Buenos Aires. She is the author of Legendary Lessons (2016), El Golf de los Tiempos, A Novel (2002) and The Guide of Golf Courses in Argentina (2003). She received the PGA Award from the PGA of Argentina in 2005

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