Should past Open champions keep playing when they can't compete?
Past Open champions get a place in the field every year until they are 60. Should this rule be scrapped?
Yes, says digital editor Alex Perry, past Open champions shouldn’t take up priceless spots in the field
The opening shot of the 2017 Open Championship was hit by Mark O’Meara, the 1998 champion here at Royal Birkdale, at 6.35am on Thursday. He blocked it straight out of bounds en route to a quadruple-bogey 8.
“My day was toast and most people still hadn’t had their breakfast,” he later quipped.
Compare this to the start of Alfie Plant’s day. With his army of family and friends following him, Plant rolled home a birdie putt at the most difficult starting hole on the Open rota and, for half an hour or so, he was leading golf’s oldest major alongside the likes of Jordan Spieth, Ian Poulter and Justin Rose.
How much nicer would it be to have more fairytale stories like this, rather than the awkwardness of watching a 60-year-old former champion hack it round and struggling to break 80?
There are ways of applauding the legends without taking up spots of players who dare to dream.
Exemption to the age of 60 is far too long. Ben Curtis barely even plays on the PGA Tour, and when he does he’s hardly competing. Yet he has 20 more years left of his Open exemption. Todd Hamilton only seems to play at the Open these days.
There is already a 10-year exemption – isn’t that enough to salute our fading heroes?
Or if only there was a Senior Open Championship…
No, says NCG editor Dan Murphy, past Open champions have earned the right to play
I love seeing the likes of O’Meara, Sandy Lyle and John Daly paying their respects to the Open Championship each year. And I enjoy reminiscing about their moment in the sun.
These legends add something to the week – history is such a big part of golf and specifically the Open. I like to see the metaphorical tipping of the game’s hat to those who have worn the mantle of Champion Golfer of the Year.
When I look through the field this week there are plenty of names – and absolutely no offence to any of them – who will add little to the spectacle this week.
Especially for the fans lining the fairways, a glimpse of Darren Clarke or David Duval or Paul Lawrie is considerable more rewarding than a sighting of Phachara Khongwatmai, Fabrizio Zanotti or Dylan Frittelli.
Fans love paying their respects to past Open champions who have entertained us so richly over the years and I love the fact that somebody like Duval who spends the rest of his time these days in the commentary box, still wants to compete for one week a year as a proud former champion.
I also respect the likes of Nick Faldo and Greg Norman, who no longer compete. Both are too proud to relish the prospect of propping up the leaderboard after two days of struggles.
My point is, when you’ve won the Open you’re not just the champion for a year: you are an Open champion for life. And that means have earned the right to decide how you would like to celebrate that remarkable feat.
For more from Royal Birkdale, check out our dedicated Open site.