The only question most are asking about the Senior Open presented by Rolex at the Old Course is – why did it take so long?
It’s such a perfect fit; the most historic venue in the game with some of the sport’s most treasured figures returning to the scene of their triumphs. And not just in a ceremonial fashion either; this championship, from July 26-29, will be a wholly competitive contest by athletes still able to perform to incredible standards as they pass 50 years of age and beyond.
Golf alone as a sport can do this, and it makes one wonder why it’s taken then over 30 years of Senior Opens to make such an obvious call.
Tom Watson, who personified the way that longevity works in golf when he so nearly won the 2009 Open at Turnberry just a few months shy of his 60th birthday, was one of those who gently nudged the Staysure Tour, the R&A and St Andrews Links to bring the Seniors to the Old Course.
The five time Open champion golfer, a three-time Senior Open champion as well, has never won at the Old Course, but he understands the significance of bringing the Seniors to St Andrews at last.
“Any tournament at the Old Course at St Andrews is a special event, and it’s the venue that everyone thinks of when they think of the Open Championship and golf in Scotland,” he said.
“It simply needs to be there. The Senior Open simply had to come to the Old Course.”
The reaction from senior golf community has been downright staggering, even though we all expected the demand and desire to play a Senior Open at St Andrews would be considerable.
The exempt list of 119 contains some of the greatest figures in the game from the last four decades, and all those still active in senior golf – as well as quite a few who just dabble now and then – were sure to come.
However no-one anticipated an entry of 636, almost 50 per cent up on last year and approaching double that of Carnoustie in 2015, for just the 24 remaining places in qualifying at four venues a week on Monday.
The exempt list is already a roll-call of golf’s greats. There are 22 major champions, 24 Senior major winners, and 40 players who have represented either Europe or the USA in the Ryder Cup.
There’s eleven captains of Europe and the USA, led by two-time American skipper Watson, but also Sir Nick Faldo, Mark James, Tom Kite, Bernhard Langer, Tom Lehman, Paul McGinley, Colin Montgomerie, José Maria Olazábal, Corey Pavin and Ian Woosnam.
There are eight winners of the Open Championship, led by five-time champion golfer Watson , but also Faldo, Lehman, Todd Hamilton, Scotland’s own Sandy Lyle, Mark Calcavecchia, Mark O’Meara and the 1995 winner at the Old Course, John Daly.
Daly will surely relish the chance to play at his favourite venue and perhaps in tandem once again with the man whom he contested that unforgettable finish 23 years ago, Italy’s Costantino Rocca.
The prospect of a renewal of Britain’s great rivalry of the eighties, Faldo versus Lyle, will be another sure to bring out the crowds.
Langer, perhaps even a more incredible athlete at 60 than he was in his prime winning two Masters, is the defending champion and probable favourite, seeking a record fourth Senior Open title to nudge ahead of Watson. The great German has 10 Senior major titles already and shows few signs of slowing down.
One of his chief adversaries will be his long-time friend, Scotland’s own Colin Montgomerie, winner of three Senior majors since he joined the circuit and who has made this championship his main goal for this year.
Kenny Perry, with four Senior majors, is making a rare trip across the Atlantic while three-time major winner Vijay Singh is another notable entry. The ever-popular Miguel Angel Jimenez, winner of first senior major of the year The Tradition, and Paul Broadhurst, who followed up his Senior Open win at Carnoustie in 2016 with the Senior PGA Championship title, are other serious challengers.
Broadhurst is a former Old Course record holder and has played the great links since he was a teenager, and is perhaps a wise money bet.
From the venerable Hale Irwin at 73 to those just joining the senior ranks, it’s a field packed with quality. And while we know it won’t be the last Senior Open to be staged at St Andrews – the precedent is set now – the honour of being the first will be great indeed.