Ian Poulter finished in a tie for fourth at the Scottish Open on Sunday night – then made a mad dash to Wembley
Never mind English football’s 55 years of hurt, what about English golf’s 52 years? That is how long since the nation celebrated an Open winner on home soil. Ian Poulter sums up this anomaly in one word – “bonkers”.
“Tony Jacklin at Lytham in 1969… that’s nuts,” Poulter said. “And if you think about it, it’s 29 years since [Sir Nick] Faldo last won the Open for England anywhere [at Muirfield]. We’ve had a few go close and this, of all weeks, would be a good time for one of us to end the wait.”
Poulter knows all about the Wembley woe on Sunday night. The 45-year-old was so determined to be there to see the Three Lions win their first trophy since 1966 that he completed an unlikely, and ultimately futile, mad dash to Wembley from the Scottish Open in North Berwick. “It was all a bit crazy,” Poulter said.
“I shot 63, got to 17-under, but couldn’t leave the course as I was leader in the clubhouse and might have been in a play-off. Then there was a 90-minute weather delay, then [Min Woo] Lee got in at 18-under, so my chance of the title was gone and we could leave for the plane. NetJets got me to Wembley in time for the second half, but for some reason, they wouldn’t let me in for a good chunk of that half!
“Eventually I did get in and it was an amazing experience. I was truly gutted for the lads to not finish it off in that penalty shoot-out.”
What Poulter would give to lift the mood of England here this Sunday. “It’s always been the ultimate dream to win the Open and to be honest, I wouldn’t care where I won,” he said. “But with 32,000 here a day, this would be an extra special one to win, after the pandemic and what everyone’s been through.
“It would be great to ride that patriotic tide. I’ve had a few near-misses. I came second behind Padraig [Harrington] at Birkdale in 2008 and put on a bit of a charge at Muirfield in 2013 [before finishing third]. But, like all of my countrymen, I’ve yet to get it done.
“If you think of the golfers England have produced since Faldo, it doesn’t make too much sense. We’ve had world No 1s and the guys have won other majors. There is a good cross-section of us as well – from youngsters like Matt [Fitzpatrick], all the way up to Lee [Westwood] at 48. Our challenge is once again pretty loaded.”
Westwood, of course, is one of those under the St George flag who has headed the rankings – the others being Justin Rose and Luke Donald. He finished one shot off the play-off at Turnberry in 2009 and came second the next year at St Andrews and third three years later at St Andrews. But in his 10 attempts at Opens staged in England, Westwood’s best result is a tie for 27th at Birkdale four years ago. “You can’t pick and choose,” Westwood said. “I’d love to win one anywhere.”
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Nobody has come closer to emulating Jacklin than Faldo himself. He was a two-shot runner-up here in 1993 when Greg Norman shot that unforgettable final-round 63.
“I didn’t feel any more pressure playing the Opens in England, although it is interesting I won my three jugs in Scotland,” Faldo said. “We’ve had a few major winners recently. Danny [Willett] won the Masters [in 2016], Justin won the US Open [in 2013], but for some reason the Open has remained elusive.
“I’ve been tipping up Fitzpatrick for ages, because I like the way he goes in with a strategic plan and at Royal St George’s that will be important. Yet we have a number of candidates, which is great when you think back to start of this century and it was just me and Lee in the world’s top 100. England is consistently producing elite players nowadays.”
Faldo has been influential in this and not just because of the example he set. On Monday, he was talking to Telegraph Sport from Welwyn Garden City, his home course in Hertfordshire, where he was celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Faldo Series.
Set up in the wake of his 1996 Masters triumph, it has developed into the only global amateur series for boys and girls. More than 45,000 junior golfers have played in more than 750 events in 45 countries across six continents. There were 95 girls teeing it up at Welwyn Garden City on Monday and 370 boys down the road at Brocket Hall.
“We didn’t have anything like this when I was growing up and that’s why I set it up – to find the next batch of England champions,” Faldo said. “It has gone global now but originally it was focused on the UK. We’ve had so many players coming through – Rory [McIlroy], Tyrrell [Hatton], Tommy [Fleetwood], Matt Fitzpatrick, Matt Wallace… the names go on and on. We have played our part, but so have the home unions. The support the juniors receive is unrecognisable to my day.
“Back then, it was terribly old school. We really were ‘amateurs’ and some of the old guys said ‘Faldo isn’t an amateur because he practises so much’. It was as if what I was doing – working hard on my game – was somehow unsporting.
“It’s a real athletic sport now and the kids are being shown how to train not only physically and technically but mentally as well. England golf has really benefited because of it and I can only see it getting better and better. A home champion this week would only help. It is about time, really.”
Shane Lowry BOB