When Sir Bob met Phil
BY NZ Golf | European PGA Tour | 2012 The Open Championship | General | 17 Jul 2012
Sir Bob Charles believed his superior fitness was the key to him winning the Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 1963.
The lean and lanky 27-year-old carded rounds of 68, 72, 66 and 71 for his 277 total to finish level with American Phil Rodgers. Charles made golf history when he won the 36-hole playoff by eight shots.
“When I got to the 36 hole playoff on the Saturday I thought I had a good chance of winning,” said the 76-year-old Charles from England.
“Dare I say it but Phil Rodgers was a slightly overweight fella and I thought my fitness would have worked in my favour and so it proved. In the playoff I won pretty comfortably.”
It is 49 years to the week since Charles became the first New Zealander and the first left-handed golfer to win a major championship but he is not sure whether he’ll return to the Open as a spectator this week.
“I don’t have any plans to go to Lytham this week. If I do it will be last minute on Thursday and Friday and we’ll see what is planned.
“Its 49 years since the biggest win of my golfing career and a lot of water has passed under the bridge in that time.
“It is nice to refresh the memory of the greatest act of my golfing career.”
Charles’ win at the Open is well known but his consistency in the majors is less known. He finished in the top three six times. He finished third at the US Open in 1964 and 1970. In 1968 and 1969 he finished runner up at the Open and in 1968 he finished runner up at the US PGA Championship only one shot back from the champion Julius Boros.
“I came close to winning a major championship on several other occasions with three runner-up finishes and two third places in majors so in that regard to win at Lytham was obviously very special.”
While his plans for the 140th Open are relatively low-key Charles plans to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his win in 2013 in style.
“What I plan to do is travel to Lytham next year which will be the 50 year anniversary of my win in the Open, with my son David who has never played the course and daughter. The three of us together to enjoy that anniversary will be a really special time I think.”
The World Golf Hall of Fame Member believed that the world’s oldest golf tournament was harder to win back in his day.
“In those days everybody had to pre-qualify for the event so it was tough to qualify for the championship. There were hundreds of good golfers playing for the spots in the Open Championship so when you made the field the tournament began.
“You played 18 holes on Wednesday and Thursday and then a Thursday night cut was made. The final two rounds were played on the Friday so it was a tiring week finishing off with 36 holes. To do it again in the 36 hole playoff on the Saturday was a real test and my fitness was a great asset.”
So too was his confidence. Charles had made a name for himself earlier in 1963 when he became the first left handed golfer to win on the PGA Tour when he won the Houston Classic.
“I came to the Open with a lot of confidence after winning at Houston. In that event I beat Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Arnold Palmer who were considered the Big Three at the time and between them all won a lot on the PGA Tour.
“Jack was right in contention to win there so to hold him off and win was a good achievement. Heading into the Open Championship at Lytham those three players and Peter Thomson and Kel Nagle were considered the players to beat. When I got into contention and Jack was there again I had confidence that I could beat him.
“One shot I remember is hitting a six iron to the 72nd hole and hitting it on the green. I two putted the 18th for par to match Phil Rodgers and beat Jack Nicklaus by one stroke. I was pretty proud of that effort.”
Charles captured headlines recently when he beat his age by 10 shots at Bad Ragaz Senior Open on the Senior European Tour in Switzerland with a fine four under par 66.
“I was a bit of a one-day wonder,” he said. “The first day I felt like a 36-year-old and then on the second and third days I started to feel my age. It was a lot of fun. I was playing alongside my good friend Gary Player and Maurice Bembridge.
“My game was firing on all cylinders. I was hitting the fairways in regulation and driving the ball well, hitting my iron shots cleanly and the putter was cooperating as well. It was a special day and nice to string it all together. I came back down to earth pretty quickly but it was nice to compete again at my age.
Charles had rounds of 73 and 72 to finish in a share of 42nd place. He will watch the Open with interest this week and in particular the performance of Steven Alker.
“It is good to have a New Zealand golfer in the field. I hope that Steve Alker has a good week at Lytham and he does New Zealand proud.
“It is also great to see Michael find some form again and restore his love of the game of golf. It is nice to see him finish 11th the other day in France that is encouraging for him and I hope it continues.”
The putter Charles won the Open with is on display at the Royal and Ancient Golf Club at St Andrews while the sand wedge is on display at Royal Lytham & St Annes. The rest of the set is at the Christchurch Golf Club. The links at Lytham will always hold a special place in his heart as he also won the 1993 Senior British Open there, 30 years after his major win.
“Going back to Lytham is always a special feeling. It’s a place that I have wonderful memories and to refresh the times when I have won there is always a nice thing to be able to do.”
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