2023 Open Championship: Royal Liverpool bound to add another mighty champion to its illustrious history
“Hoylake,” legendary golf writer Bernard Darwin once wrote, “blown upon by mighty winds, breeder of mighty champions.”
And this week at The Open Championship, another Champion Golfer of the Year will be crowned at Royal Liverpool Golf Club, often referred to as Hoylake because of its location.
In May 1869, a man named J. Muir Dowie suggested to a few of his friends that the town’s racecourse owned by the Liverpool Hunt Club would be a perfect spot to build a golf course. The land then doubled as a golf course and race track for horses until 1876.
Fast-forward 154 years, 12 Opens have been contested at Hoylake. The first was in 1897, when club member Harold Hilton became the second amateur to win The Open. Sandy Herd was next in 1902 and Arnaud Massy, the first and last Frenchman to win The Open, followed in 1907. Then, it was J.H. Taylor in 1913 and Walter Hagen in 1924, before Hoylake became a footnote in one of golf’s most historic achievements.
In 1930, Bobby Jones won The Open en route to claiming the season Grand Slam. Though it was only the second leg of the Grand Slam, Jones, the last amateur to win The Open, was awarded a ticker tape parade in New York City a week after his Open triumph.
Six years later, Alf Padgham added his name to the illustrious list of Open champions at Hoylake, followed by Fred Daly (1947), Peter Thomson (1956) and Roberto De Vincenzo (1967), who claimed his lone major title over Jack Nicklaus by two strokes a year before his famous scorecard flub cost him the Masters.
However, it would be another 39 years before The Open returned to Royal Liverpool.
The course was dropped from The Open rota due to a lack of space for spectator and media tents, practice areas and parking. But in 2002, the club acquired 10 acres of land adjacent to the property and added infrastructure. With the help of architect Donald Steele, three new tee boxes were built, several greens were reshaped and the course was lengthened 263 yards.
Then, the R&A brought The Open back to the Wirral Peninsula in 2006 — and it was quite a success.
Tiger Woods came to Hoylake with a heavy heart.
His father, Earl, lost his battle with cancer at age 74 in early May, and Tiger was fresh off a missed cut at Winged Foot’s U.S. Open, the first time in his last 40 major starts he failed to secure a weekend tee time.
“Hopefully I can win the British,” he said afterward.
Woods and the world’s best players at the time showed up to a course that was burnt and browned by the sweltering sun.
“The course was so firm, you couldn’t stop the ball with a mid-iron,” Phil Mickelson recalled in 2014.
Therefore, Woods took advantage of the conditions, only hitting driver once in 72 holes and putting on a ball-striking clinic all week in front of a total attendance of 230,000, an Open record.
“When I got to Hoylake I had to decide whether to lay up to the fairway bunkers or try to fly them,” Woods wrote on LPGA.com before the 2012 AIG Women’s Open at Hoylake. “They had redone the bunkers and you couldn’t advance the ball. There were some that you had to hit it out sideways. By staying with my plan, I think I hit over 80 percent of the fairways utilizing a 3-wood and a 2-iron. I had three eagles that week and nothing bigger than my seven bogeys.”
Woods finished at 18 under overall to win his 11th major and successfully defend his Open title. But after tapping in for the win, Woods embraced his caddie, Steve Williams, in arguably the most emotional moment of his storied career.
“That moment, it just came pouring out and of all the things that my father has meant to me and the game of golf,” Woods said afterward, “and I just wish he could have seen it one more time.”
The Open returned to Hoylake in 2014, but many things had changed in eight years.
“As I person I’ve gone through a lot” Woods said ahead of the 2014 Open, where he finished 69th, his worst finish over 72 holes in any major at the time, “the loss of a parent and having two kids. Life is very different than it was then. I’ve got a completely different golf swing than I did in ’06. A lot of aspects of my game and life have changed since ’06.”
The sport, meanwhile, had a new superstar — Rory McIlroy. Not many knew the Northern Irishman in ‘06. He watched Woods’ emotional win as a teenager in Spain after playing in the European Nations Cup, an annual amateur golf championship contested at the Real Club de Golf Sotogrande.
“I remember watching it and I remember how good he was down the stretch,” McIlroy said in ‘14.
McIlroy, though, would put on a performance that resembled Woods’ dominance eight years prior — going wire-to-wire and finishing at 17 under for a two-stroke victory over Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler.
“To sit here 25 years of age and win my third major championship and be three-quarters of the way to the career Grand Slam, I never dreamed of being at this point in my career so quickly,” said McIlroy, who would also win the PGA Championship weeks later. “Especially being someone from around here — The Open Championship was the one you really wanted growing up.”
Like Woods did nine years ago, McIlroy returns to Royal Liverpool a much different person.
He’s a husband, father and has had plenty of success on the course since his Open triumph, but it’s been nine years since he’s won a major.
“I have to go out with the mindset this week that I’m going to try to win my first (major) again,” McIlroy said at the 2022 U.S. Open.
Hoylake will play differently than it did in 2014, and Woods won’t be teeing it up due to injuries. However, McIlroy comes into this week with a slew of momentum, having won the last Open at Hoylake and fresh off a victory at the Scottish Open.
He’ll have to fend off 155 other top-notch players for the victory. But however this Open plays out, Hoylake is bound to breed another mighty champion — forever fitting Darwin’s narrative of this historic venue.