A major championship 62? The quest for golf’s Holy Grail is finally over
A men’s major championship 62. Jack Nicklaus won 18, but never did this.
Tiger Woods, Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan, Tom Watson, Sam Snead. Names that will forever be part of the golfing lexicon. But none of them ever pencilled the numbers 6 and 2 onto a major championship scorecard.
Johnny Miller was the first to get closest – one digit out at the 1973 US Open – posting a number that’s been matched 27 times.
But a 62 had always been the sport’s impenetrable barrier.
And Branden Grace didn’t even know he’d done it.
I’d hardly expected him to tear his shirt off and run round the green flailing it in triumph, but it did strike me that his reaction to the three-footer that wrote his name into the history books was, well, a little low key.
No fist pump. No real emotion. A little smile, a couple of waves to the crowd and then exit stage left – off to the recorder’s hut.
Turns out the South African was totally unaware of his unbelievable feat until caddie Zack Rasego whispered congratulations as the cacophony of noise rose ever louder from the grandstands on Royal Birkdale’s 18th.
You can trust that guy with a secret.
You’ve also got to admire Grace’s incredible powers of concentration – for failing to notice that a trickle of followers on the front nine had become a heaving mass of humanity by the time he was striding down 17.
“I honestly didn’t know. I was so in the zone of playing and taking it hole by hole,” he said. “My only thing on 18 was not to make a bogey.
“I knocked in the three footer and Zack came up to me and said, ‘You’re in the history books.’ I said, ‘What are you talking about?’”
After the tumult of day two, with so many of the field left bruised and beaten by both Birkdale and the weather, Grace’s mission had been simple: Play your way back into the tournament.
The birdies came quickly, though, and often. One, four, five, eight and nine. Before anyone had really woken up to it, he’d reached the turn in just 29 shots.
Yes, the sun was shining and the wind had dropped and the greens were soft – the course was playing more than five strokes easier than Friday – but you’ve still got to hit the shots and hole the putts.
And Grace was putting together some heavenly ball striking.
When the euphoria subsides and he realises just what he’s achieved, maybe he’ll hanker for the couple that got away.
On each of the 11th, 12th and 13th, cracking drives were followed by accurate irons and well-struck putts that agonisingly slipped just by the hole.
For the growing numbers of us willing them in, all of us fully aware of what was at stake even if he wasn’t, it was torture.
As was the putt that left the blade at the next, an effort that seemed to take an age to wind its way towards the hole before finally finding the bottom of the cup.
After the quiet at the start of the back nine, here came the storm.
He hit the hole on 15 – forced to settle for a par – and hoped a lean would pull his approach towards the flag at the next. The ball didn’t listen.
But this was once again a time for brilliance, and there was a touch of the dramatic about it too.
This putt looked like it couldn’t drop – there was a fear it might actually stop six feet short – but it found new legs and sat, for the merest of fractions, tantalisingly on the edge before gravity finally did its work.
Those of us perched on the greenside and surrounding banks, those of us who’d ignored the signs imploring us to stay off the ‘steep gradients’, are stirred into loud celebration.
Grace looked almost non-plussed. He really didn’t know what was going on, did he?
He shook out the shoulders, relaxed the tension in his neck, and then found some short stuff again on the 17th.
This hole was a brute on Friday, now the South African went full pelt at it with an iron from 227.
It had barely left the clubface before Grace hollered at it, urging it to stop on the first tier of the green.
The command is ignored.
But even though it appeared he was putting over the edge of a precipice, such was the slope that runs down this penultimate green, the ball trickled to hole side and sat invitingly for the crucial birdie.
One hole. One par. One record.
The drive found the semi rough and Grace had to hit a short iron to a flag that was obscured by a sizeable bunker.
Was there a bit of a flyer? Was there a bit of adrenaline? Whatever, the ball slipped through the back of the green and came to rest in a hollow.
When the putter came out, the grandstand murmured concern. There should have been no alarm.
It’s expertly dealt with, rising out of the deep and making its way across the closing green before coming to rest 90 centimetres short.
One more swipe did the rest.
“It’s special, it really is,” he said after finally realising what he’d done. “What a special place to get myself into the history books.”
And what a privilege it was to watch.