“And the Champion Golfer of the Year is… ”

Those are the iconic words bestowed upon the winner of the Open Championship at the presentation ceremony each year. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about how special it must feel to hear your name at the end of that famous line.

The Open has always been my favourite Major because it offers up the opportunity for an array of styles to contend for the title. From John Daly blasting driver everywhere on his way to victory at St Andrews in 1995 to Tiger Woods’ conservative approach of hitting irons off nearly every tee at Royal Liverpool in 2006. Nick Faldo won with 18 straight pars in the final round at Muirfield in 1987 while in 2016 at Royal Troon, Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson recreated their own version of the famous Tom Watson/Jack Nicklaus ‘Duel in the Sun’ at Turnberry 39 years earlier. Speaking of Mr Watson, he almost won his sixth Open in 2009 at the ripe old age of 59! There is no other tournament in world golf where this would be possible.

Nick O'Hern: Open Championship
The Open provides conditions – and golf courses – unlike anything most players will experience all year.

Playing the ball along the ground, rather than through the air, remains an effective strategy when the elements turn against you. That’s because course conditions and weather play the leading roles in links golf. Rain and wind have brought many a fine golfer to their knees after finding the wrong side of the draw. A hard-fought 72 in horrible morning conditions might turn into a very mediocre score after weather clears for the afternoon players. That’s the uniqueness of The Open. Sometimes the golf gods say, “next year” to those who encounter the full force of the weather during certain periods of the event. Players that bring a cool head, guile and an ability to adapt their games to whatever confronts them are the ones that sit near the top of the massive yellow leaderboards at week’s end.

Rain and wind have brought many a fine golfer to their knees.

The honour roll of champions is still a who’s who of the game, but every so often an unknown (of sorts) prevails, such as Ben Curtis and Todd Hamilton in recent years. They aren’t exactly household names but when their opportunities arose, they walked away with the most famous urn in golf. This year the championship moves outside of Scotland and England for the first time in 68 years to Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland where Max Faulkner won in 1951. Local hopes rest on the shoulders of Rory McIlroy, their country’s most famous golfer. It will be interesting to see whether Rory’s ‘home-course’ advantage helps or hinders his tilt to etch his name on the Claret Jug again after his 2014 victory.

With most of the world’s leading players finding their games of late, the stage is set for an enthralling Open Championship yet again. Will it be a past champion or is it time for another surprising win from a journeyman? Whatever the case, the Champion Golfer of the Year will have earned his right to walk onto the 18th green and bask in the applause of an appreciative audience.