Great Scot

Three legends break down the British Open

Updated: August 5, 2013, 10:39 AM ET
By Scott T. Miller | ESPN The Magazine

golfDavid Cannon/Getty ImagesGary Player talks about the challenges of navigating the 18th green at Muirfield.

PEBBLE BEACH? A pitch-and-putt. St. Andrews? Cow pasture. Augusta National? Please. The place has no rough! No, the truest test of major mettle is Scotland's Muirfield Golf Club, host of this year's British Open (July 18-21). Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo and Ernie Els -- with 51 majors among them -- have each tamed Old Tom Morris' design, and no course to host at least five majors since 1953 can boast such a roll call. "Muirfield requires the very best from every department of your game," says Faldo. Here, he, Nicklaus and Player reveal what the field will face on the course's closing stretch.


Nick Faldo describes the 1987 final round that yielded his first Open a "Scottish pea soup kind of day." Facenumbing wind and horizontal rain sent pain coursing through his torso on each shot. When he reached the 16th, its 187 yards were playing into the gale. Faldo ripped a 2-iron; it landed five yards short. He got up-and-down for par -- he famously parred all 18 holes Sunday -- but a lesson was learned: In the wrong conditions, this seemingly harmless par 3 becomes a hang-on-for-dear-life hole. "That was one of the tougher pars all day. It was straight into the wind," Faldo says. "On 16, it doesn't matter what club you're hitting; it's whether or not you can hit it the right trajectory."

tkChris O'Riley

When Jack Nicklaus stepped to the 17th tee in the 1966 Open final round, he knew it was birdie or bust. His two closest challengers, Dave Thomas and Doug Sanders, had already carded disappointing pars on 17, leaving Nicklaus, the original par-5 killer, the window he needed to complete the career grand slam. "I hit a 3-iron off the tee and a 5-iron into the green -- it was playing downwind -- and I made my birdie 4," Nicklaus says. "This hole gives you hope that you'll always have the chance to catch up if you're behind."

tkChris O'Riley

Gary Player began the final day of the 1959 Open eight shots back with 36 holes to play. That didn't keep the 23-year-old from declaring, "I'm going to win the Open." True to his word, Player played the first 35 holes in six-under -- but on 18, it all went wrong. A pulled drive found a fairway bunker. Two shots and three putts later, he walked off 18 with a double bogey. "I was crushed," Player says. "I thought I'd blown my chance." But when his competitors faded down the stretch, Player won his first of nine majors. He's the only Muirfield winner since 1959 not to par the 18th in the final round -- so naturally, we asked him to detail its many hazards.

tkChris O'Riley
tkChris O'Riley

Illustrations by Chris O'Riley: From Top: David Cannon/Getty Images; (2); Bob Thomas/Getty Images; Central Press/Getty Images

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