R&A to re-examine Open age limit
The age limit for past Open champions, reduced from 65 to 60 only two years ago, is to be looked at again following the staggering performance of Tom Watson.
The age limit for past Open champions, reduced from 65 to 60 only two years ago, is to be re-examined following the staggering performance of Tom Watson.
“I don’t think we contemplated a 59-year-old leading the Open Championship going into the back nine on the final day at the time,” said Royal and Ancient Club chief executive Peter Dawson today.
Failing to win means that as things stand Watson’s 33rd Open appearance at St Andrews next July will be his last as a past champion, though there are other routes to keep his career in the championship going.
“Every year after the Open we look at the exemptions and no doubt we’ll look at this one. It’s much too early to say what, if anything, we’ll do with it, but we’ll certainly be looking at it.
“I’m sure if someone at age 59 had been winning the championship, bringing down the age limit would have been lower on the agenda (when the reduction was made).
“But we brought it down in order to give more spaces in the championship to younger players allegedly in their prime to compete.
“Tom Watson was amongst those consulted on the matter and offered his support to our objective.”
The change was also made, of course, before 53-year-old Greg Norman led with nine holes to play at Royal Birkdale last year.
Masters champions are given life exemptions, but are now encouraged to stop playing when they no longer feel competitive.
“I don’t think we would change having an age limit,” added Dawson.
“I don’t see a difficulty with it – someone will probably tell me it’s going to be against the age discrimination legislation, but we’ll look at that if that arises.”
Watson would have earned himself a 10-year exemption if he had holed his eight-foot par putt on the final green, but next year will be his last unless one of the following things happen: the rule is changed, he finishes in the top 10 at St Andrews, he wins the 2010 British Senior Open or he qualifies.
What is almost certain not to happen is the Royal and Ancient falling in line with the bodies that run the other three majors.
Augusta National for The Masters, the United States Golf Association for the US Open and the Professional Golfers’ Association of America for the US PGA all issue special invitations from time to time.
Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie has one for next month’s US PGA, for example, but Dawson stated: “We certainly haven’t discussed changing that and we think that the procedure we have for exemptions and qualification is the right way to go for a championship of this quality.”
Before the R&A made their decision on the age limit they will doubtless read and hear comments from other players.
Justin Rose was firm in his view at Turnberry.
“Tom said to me this week – and I’m sure he’s said it publicly – that he wanted to win this championship so he can keep playing in it,” commented Rose.
“The greatest links player of all time deserves to play the Open Championship for as long as he wants in my opinion.”
Former winner Justin Leonard, who went out onto the course to watch the play-off, added: “He’s the king of links golf as far as Americans are concerned and maybe throughout the world, considering how many Open Championships and Senior Opens he’s won.
“It’s great to see him come over here and it would be nice to see a few more years added to his exemption.”
Australian Mathew Goggin, who finished fifth, said: “He can contend on these golf courses forever the way he strikes the ball.
“In America it’s a bit lusher and the courses are a bit longer and you’ve got to carry the ball, so he probably doesn’t have much of a chance.
“But here every year this would be perfect for him.”
Luke Donald, who played with Watson when he made the cut at St Andrews in 2005 at 55 and so admired his ball-striking, commented: “I love the fact Tom had a chance to win and compete.
“I think the game of golf has become advantageous to the guys who bomb the ball. Here it’s more about strategy, controlling your ball, shaping your shot into the wind and Tom can obviously do that.”
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