The story of The 66th Open at Carnoustie
The first instalment of our historical features on The Open at Carnoustie begins in 1931 with the coronation of the ‘Silver Scot’.
The 66th Open Championship was always going to be historic, as Carnoustie entered the rotation of host courses for the first time.
A roaring comeback ensured Scottish-born American golfer Tommy Armour became the first man to tame Carnoustie en route to lifting the Claret Jug, after four gruelling rounds over three days in Angus.
Eighty-seven years on, as it prepares to host The 147th Open, Carnoustie still retains a mystique matched by few golf courses in the world and it’s propensity for creating drama was evident right from its first Open in 1931.
Armour may have eventually earned the title Champion Golfer of the Year for the only time in his career but an eventful week also saw Jose Jurado fall agonisingly short of becoming the first man from outside of Europe and the US to triumph at The Open.
A chink in the Armour?
To say Tommy Armour had overcome adversity by the time The 1931 Open Championship rolled around would be something of an understatement.
Born in Edinburgh in 1896, Armour rose from a private to Staff Major in the Tank Corps in the British Army during his service in WWI – earning him an audience with King George V – but lost his sight due to a mustard gas explosion and needed a metal plate in his head and left arm.
He emigrated to America in the 1920s, regained sight in his right eye over time and had won the 1927 US Open and 1930 PGA Championship before heading to Carnoustie in 1931.
But the then-34-year-old enjoyed only a middling week through three rounds, carding a 73, a 75 and a 77 to sit in joint-sixth at nine-over, a full five strokes behind leader Jose Jurado of Argentina, heading into the final round.
A premonition and a fightback
Penning a column for the Milwaukee Journal shortly after being crowned Champion Golfer, Armour wrote about a premonition he’d had on the day of the final two rounds.
“I am not superstitious but it may be of interest to say that Friday I was No.13 on the card in the order of play,” he opined.
“I felt in good fettle and I was quite satisfied with my game. Carnoustie was my favourite course in my young days. I have always played well here.
“When I went out on Friday morning I had a sort of premonition that this would be a red letter day in my life.”
The 77 he shot in the third round on the Friday morning may have left him adrift heading into the final 18 but much like Jim Barnes six years prior, he would produce a stirring comeback to overturn a five-shot deficit and prove his premonition prescient.
One by one, the men who had been between Armour in sixth and Jurado at the top of the leaderboard fell away – the duo tied-second through 54 holes, Arthur Havers and Macdonald Smith, shot 79 and 76 respectively, while joint-fourth Reg Whitcombe and Johnny Farrell had an 80 and a 75.
Meanwhile, Armour was sublime to card a course record-equalling 71 – expertly navigating the toughest finish in golf by shooting a three at the 16th, a four at 17 and holing a tricky putt for a five at 18 to finish.
That left Jurado, still on the course, as the only man who could deny the ‘Silver Scot’, needing a pair of fives over the final two holes to tie him on 296 but he found the Barry Burn on the 17th and took a six.
Despite that, the Argentine came to the final hole thinking he needed a four to win and a five to tie.
After hitting a good drive, he elected to play short of the water, rather than go for the carry over the Burn, pitched to nine feet but missed the putt and later found he had needed a four to tie Armour, meaning his closing 77 was one stroke too many.
Regardless of Jurado’s confusion, Armour’s brilliance over the final 18 meant he was a fully deserving Champion Golfer and the fourth-round spectacle set a precedent for drama at Carnoustie that the Championship course has never failed to live up to since.