The year was 1951.
Harry S. Truman was President of the United States. Edward VI was King of England and Winston Churchill was the country’s Prime Minister.
The U.S. was in the midst of the Korean War. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King And I was the huge hit on Broadway and I Love Lucy made its debut on American television.
History was made at the British Open. It was played outside England and Scotland for the first time — right there at Royal Portrush and the eventual winner was Max Faulkner.
Distant memories of another time and place. Nearly seven decades have passed and the world is a vastly different place.
Finally, The Open Championship is returning to the fabulous setting that is the Dunluce Course at Royal Portrush.
This is an eye-pleasing setting on the very tip of Northern Ireland. Graeme McDowell, a revered son of Portrush describes it as: “A very raw, beautiful, rugged landscape which feels very remote.”
It has taken 68 years for the championship to return. In the 60s, Northern Ireland was a place of unrest, civil war of a sort — history and those from Ireland refer to the turmoil of the time as “The Troubles.”
There was violence — a lot of violence. It was the time when the IRA became notorious. It was all quasi-political and those politics crossed religious lines — Catholics on one side, Protestants on the other. It was more than “trouble.” It was death and destruction.
Some of the scars still remain. Citizens of Northern Ireland are not proud of their past. But the past is past and now there is reason to celebrate.
The 148th playing of the Open Championship begins on Thursday and the world is watching.
And with this last major of the season, it’s time to turn our DogLeg eye on the inexact science of predicting who may or may not contend this week.
So with Northern Ireland’s troubled past in the rear view mirror, let’s turn our attention to its wonderful present.
THE BETTING FAVORITES:
Brooks Koepka: The wise followers of major championships have learned that Brooks Koepka has to be mentioned in every conversation when it comes to favorites. He’s at it again, adding the PGA this year to his resume. Everyone is talking about his advantage this week and that is his caddie — Ricky Elliott. The 41-year-old, who played at Royal Portrush as a junior, was a promising youngster, winning titles such as the Ulster Boys Championship and the Ulster Youth Championship. He represented Ireland at the 1990 European Youths Championship with Michael Hoey, who has gone on to win five times on the European Tour. Elliot gave professional golf a shot but when it didn’t work out, he went the caddie route and today things are pretty lucrative for him as Brooks’ looper.
Elliott has been hounded by the media over the past few weeks to the point where he finally cut off the interviews so he could get down to the serious business of prepping his man. Conditions promise to be less than ideal this week with rain in the picture nearly every day.
Koepka began his career on the European Tour so he’s been in those less than ideal conditions. His tough mental makeup should serve him well when the conditions get rainy.
Rory McIlroy: Huge pressure on Rory this week. As a son of Northern Ireland, all eyes are upon him, the expectations are through the roof of every pub in the country. He shot 61 at the Dunluce course as a 16-year-old and that still remains the course record today. Rory has conceded that his game is major-ready. He used the Scottish Open as a warmup and his results looked like a warmup. This could be a boom or bust type of situation for Rory. The first round will tell a lot about his chances.
Jon Rahm: The crowds will pull for him, not as loudly as for Rory, but they’ll be in Rahm’s corner. He’s the Irish Open champion from two weeks ago and his closing 62 gave a good indication as to the state of his game. His compact swing should work fine in the rain.
Henrik Stenson: Some of the U.K. books have this guy at 30-1. He’s a winner of this championship and as a ball-striker, he’s as good as they come. The slower greens make it easier for him to contend. Don’t be surprised if Stennie is in the thick of it this week.
Francesco Molinari: No one is giving the defending champion an ounce of respect. We are. Ball-striking machine last year at Carnoustie. Hasn’t done well on the PGA Tour this season but he’s more at home in Europe. Don’t be surprised if Frankie hangs around this week.
MAYBE, MAYBE NOT:
Adam Scott: He’s been there for a week getting ready. If we’re talking ball-striking, well, Scott has to be in the conversation. Putting is still his weakness but slower greens make it easier for him to compete.
Justin Rose: Time for him to show up. Has all the ingredients and again, if we’re talking the best ball-strikers, he’s on the list.
Louie Oosthuizen: He’s been showing up a lot lately on the leaderboards.
Gary Woodland: No one’s talking about the U.S. Open champion. We are!
Xander Schauffele: Came close last year at Carnoustie. Obviously he’s not afraid of the big stage.
WHAT ABOUT THESE GUYS?
Tiger Woods: El Tigre confessed that the weather at Pebble Beach was not ideal for his back. The weather this week will most likely be, well, less ideal. Cool temperatures and rain every day. Tiger’s last competitive round was June 16. Hey, he is a 15-time major champion but a miracle worker he is not. Yes, he can hang around but he’ll be fighting his body and that’s not a fight you want or a fight you can win.
Dustin Johnson: Has anyone even seen D.J. lately? He practiced with Tiger on Monday, so yes, finally a D.J. sighting. He has been less than impressive since tying for second at The Masters last April. Still, he’s the No. 2 player in the world, even if he hasn’t looked the part. For the record, D.J. is all lovey-dovey again with Claude Harmon III. After dumping Harmon as his coach, the two were back together this week, Harmon working with D.J. on the practice ground.
Bryson DeChambeau: Nope, nothing scientific about links golf. Short game is his weakness and you can’t win this week without a great one.
Matt Wallace: One of the most talented young players in Europe. They talk about Jon Rahm having a temper, this guy makes Rahm look mellow.
Justin Thomas: Played decent in Scotland. J.T. has to get back on form sooner or later, doesn’t he?
Phil Mickelson: So Lefty thought he was too hefty, lost 15 pounds with some weird fast that involved him drinking water and some secret coffee-based drink. Lefty’s problem is the Devil Ball and it will bite him on his buttocks this week.
Rickie Fowler: It’s easy being Rickie, it’s just not easy for Rickie to win a major as he has consistently proven. Sure, everyone would love to see Rickie win but it’s a full-time job just being Rickie.
Matt Kuchar: Please, no! Not Kooch The Caddie Mooch.
Paul Casey: Here’s the best longshot pick. Nice ball-striker not a great putter.
Tommy Fleetwood: This time last year Tommy was among the favorites but he’s having quite the sub-standard year for the guy who was Europe’s best player.
There you have it. Twenty players to ponder.
The final major is upon us. NBC and The Golf Channel will give us 50 hours of coverage.