The Open Championship will be played once more at Royal Portrush in 2019, 68 years after the course’s last appearance in 1951. But what happened back then? By Jacob Whitehead
Remembering Max Faulkner’s 1951 Open Win At Royal Portrush
To date, the 1951 Open Championship was the only event to have been held outside mainland Britain, taking place on the scenic shores of County Antrim in Northern Ireland.
Englishman Max Faulkner won his only major title with a score of three under par – and it would be eighteen years before an English compatriot emulated him.
A flamboyantly-attired player, he once spent a winter milking cows to strengthen his golfing hands.
He was propelled to the title by a strong putting performance, with the greens at Royal Portrush the fastest he’d ever seen at an Open.
There were very few Americans in the field, as the PGA Championship at Oakmont, won by Sam Snead, concluded on Tuesday 3 July – the second day of Open Qualifying.
The tournament also saw the Open debut of Australian Peter Thomson, who would go on to win the Claret Jug five times, including a three-year streak between 1954 and 1956.
Thomson would finish tied for sixth, alongside four-time Open winner Bobby Locke.
Scotland’s Jimmy Adams and Australia’s Norman Von Nida led after the first round by shooting rounds of 68, as Faulkner lurked in fifth.
Incidentally, this Open would have a sad conclusion for Von Nida, who tore up his card during the final round with a score of 43 at the turn, vowing never to return, telling the Glasgow Herald, “they’ve finally convinced me that I’m finished.”
A course that can break golfers then, and Faulkner seized control the day after, taking a lead he would not relinquish amidst inclement weather conditions.
In the second round he recorded two under par, as an afternoon thunderstorm waylaid many competitors, indeed Faulkner was the only leading contender to play the last three holes to par.
By the final day Faulkner had stretched his lead over the Argentinean Antonio Cerdá to six shots, and was so confident of his victory that before the round he signed autographs for observers with included the words ‘1951 Open Champion’.
Cerdá put pressure on Faulkner by shooting 70, threatening an even lower score before double-bogeying the Par 4 16th.
On the same hole the eventual champion also found himself in trouble, struggling to envisage how he could take a full swing from beside an out-of-bounds fence, way off the fairway.
However, a sliced 4 wood into the centre of the green gave him a chance to make his par and secure Faulkner the title.
After winning, Faulkner told reporters that he did not care if he never hit another golf ball again, and he’d be content to fish and work on his father’s Surrey farm.
This didn’t eventuate, as he played the Open on 21 more occasions, securing top ten finishes in 1957 and 1965, although he could never regain the heights of 1951.
Who was Max Faulkner?
- Born in Bexhill-on-Sea on 19th July 1916, but grew up in South Wales and Surrey
- His father was a club professional, who tied for 12th in the 1931 Open Championship
- Served in the RAF in WW2 as a Physical Training (PT) instructor, becoming services boxing champion
- Played in five Ryder Cups, but only managed to win a single point
- Reportedly owned over 300 putters in a lifelong attempt to discover the perfect club
- Won 16 European tournaments, including three Spanish Opens
- Claimed the PGA Seniors Championship title twice
- Died on 26 February 2005 at the age of 88
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