Like the old leathery man at the end of a bar, St. Andrews has seen it all. And in terms of golf's signature holes, few anywhere on the planet measure up to No. 18 at the Old Course.
Named after Old Tom Morris, who designed the first and last holes at St. Andrews, No. 18 is considered one of the easiest par 4s on the tour. Seventeen, also known as the Road Hole with its hellish Road Bunker, is actually more of a man-eater. But 18 has all the tradition and all the signature elements, like the 700-year old Swilcan Bridge, the ancient clubhouse looming in the background, and the dreaded Valley of Sin.
The eighteenth hole at St. Andrews is more than 400 years old and has been the backdrop for some of golf's signature moments, partly because St. Andrews has hosted a remarkable 28 Open Championships since 1873. But the birthplace of golf also tends to bring out the best — and worst — in jittery competitors and has produced equal shares of agony and ecstasy.
This is the hole where Constantino Rocca sank a 60-foot putt out of the Valley to tie John Daly in 1995. It's where Seve Ballesteros pumped his fist in 1984 when he recorded a birdie on the 72nd hole to win by two strokes. It's where Doug Sanders, only needing a par to win the Open in 1970, made the planet-sized green in two, and somehow wound up losing to Jack Nicklaus in a playoff the next day.
Indeed St. Andrews has seen a lot throughout the course of its hallowed history. And this weekend could add yet another chapter to its lore as Jordan Spieth looks to go were so few golfers have gone before.
Spieth, the 21-year-old phenom who has rescued the sport from its fading Tiger funk, is halfway through his trek to become the first golfer in 85 years to capture golf's Grand Slam. So far he's won the Masters and the U.S. Open. This weekend, he's looking for his third major win of the year at the Open Championship at the legendary Old Course at St. Andrews.
Spieth is one of only six players to win the first two majors of the year. Only one — Ben Hogan in 1953 — won the first three.
The Grand Slam is one of the most elusive accomplishments in all of sports, one of those dust-caked records high up on the wall that nobody's touched in generations. Bobby Jones won all four of golf's majors in 1930, beginning with the British Amateur at St. Andrews, and nobody has done it since. Back then, the four majors consisted of the British and U.S. Amateurs, the British Open, and the U.S. Open.
Now the Slam consists of the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open, and the PGA Championship. Spieth is looking for his third crown in a place that has not been kind to fellow Slam seekers: Arnold Palmer, Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods all had their bids smashed there.
In 1960, Palmer arrived at St. Andrews after winning the Masters and the U.S. Open. He lost the British by a stroke. Nicklaus also went to Scotland after winning the first two legs of the Slam in 1972, but he lost by a stroke at Muirfield. In 2002, Woods also went into Muirfield the winner of the first two legs and failed in his attempt.
Of course Woods won the fabled Tiger Slam when he held all four majors at the same time — the U.S. Open, British Open, and PGA Championship in 2000, and the Masters in 2001 — but not even Woods in his prime wasn't able to capture a straight-up Slam in a calendar year.
So now here comes Spieth, a tactical phenom from Texas, trying to do something the guys on the Mount Rushmore of golf were never able to do. Standing in his way is a course as old as the game itself.
When he played in the Ryder Cup in Scotland last year, event organizers misspelled his name on his stall at the driving range. Now Spieth returns with more than just name recognition.
And if he is going to take another step closer to history, he's going to do it after walking the most historic hole on the most historic course on Earth.
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