On This Day

On this Day: July 12, 1970

That putt - Sanders misses and loses a playoff the following day (Photo: Getty Images)
On this day in 1970, Jack Nicklaus won his second Open Championship and the 8th of what would eventually become 18 major championship titles when he defeated Doug Sanders in a playoff at St Andrews, the first occasion the event had been determined by an 18-hole playoff.

Sanders had been runner-up three times in majors and surely, as he walked to the 72nd tee with a one-shot lead and only the relatively straightforward par-four 18th at the Old Course to play, his time had come.

Sanders' drive at the last was just 75 yards from the green and although the dangers of the 'Valley of Sin' lay ahead and that he was coming downwind to a front flag, surely, from that distance, he could find a way to get down in three shots to hold off Nicklaus, who had already completed his round, and win his first major.

How did we know it was 75 yards in an era when that information was not all readily available? Well Sanders walked up to the flag from where his drive had come to rest, avoiding Lee Trevino in the process, who, strangely, seemed keen to shadow him as he prepared to play perhaps the most important shot of his life.

Perhaps Trevino was keen to support Sanders but it seemed a very unusual thing to be doing at the time especially when Sanders needed as much breathing space as possible.

Sanders took the 'Valley of Sin' out of the equation by pitching some 45 feet past the hole but BBC commentator Henry Longhurst best described the challenge Sanders still faced.

“Of all the greens I wouldn’t want a long downhiller from the back of to get down in two to win the British Open, this is it,” said Longhurst.

As he stood over his lengthy birdie putt, Sanders was distracted by a cameraman and backed off then proceeded to leave his putt far enough short to be a concern. As he stood over the subsequent sliding three-footer which would have clinched the victory, Sanders again took time to clear his line of a loose impediment. Then, as playing partner Lee Trevino looked on, he missed and a playoff the next day became necessary.

Despite his shattering experience the previous day, Sanders was able to push Nicklaus all the way in the playoff and when they reached that fateful 18th, Nicklaus was ahead by just one. Nicklaus would, however, hit a shot that would be talked about over and over again in the history of the game.

Nicklaus unleashed a powerful drive that ran through the back of the green and although Sanders did everything he could by knocking his approach close enough for an almost certain birdie, Nicklaus hit a great pitch from the thick rough behind the green to set up the birdie and the win.

Nicklaus flicked his putter high in the air in celebration, almost hitting Sanders as it fell to the ground creating another memorable but awkward moment in Open Championship history.

To his credit, Sanders returned to finish 9th and 4th at his next two Open Championships but his great chance had gone with that short missed putt on the 72nd green.

He was just 36 at the time but would only win two more of his 20 career PGA Tour titles, that moment on July 11th the day before the playoff very much one of sliding doors for the man who not only made a name with his golf game but with a golfing dress sense amongst the best of his era.     


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