Tyrrell Hatton is after my time but how could you not take an interest in a sportsman with such a wonderful name? And it looks as though he might be able to live up to it after becoming the first person to win the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship two years in succession – at St Andrews no less. It doesn’t get much better than that. With a bit of luck and a fair wind, Hatton will prove to be a real diamond geezer and train on to win major championships but winning a big title twice in a row is a big deal in itself.
Defending a title is not particularly rare but it’s not common either and at the highest level the names tend to be familiar: Jones, Nicklaus, Sorenstam, Woods, Faldo, Inkster, Wright, Harrington, Watson, Davies, Hagen, Sheehan, Bradley, Vardon, Trevino – an elite bunch.
Laura Davies won the Standard Register Ping title at Moon Valley in Phoenix, Arizona, four years in a row and I think I was there for all of them. It was in the 1990s when Laura was in her pomp and it didn’t seem that outrageous because she was that good – and loved the golf course. On reflection, it seems amazing. And it was.
Tiger Woods was also good at winning the same tournament multiple times in succession – the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Jack Nicklaus’s Memorial Tournament, the WGC Bridgestone Invitational, to name just three – but it’s not the norm. No matter how good you are there are still a lot of variables and another player may be having a day of days or a week of weeks and holing everything. Tiger won the US PGA Championship twice in a row twice – in 1999 and 2000 and 2006 and 2007 – and he came second twice – to Rich Beem in 2002 and Y. E. Yang in 2009. Tiger won the Open in 2000 by miles (eight shots) but had a long(ish) wait before winning again, in 2005 and 2006.
Padraig Harrington, a different cat altogether but driven in his own way, elevated himself into the stratosphere by winning at Carnoustie in 2007 and Royal Birkdale in 2008. That put him in the company of, among others, Tom Morris Senior and Junior, J H Taylor, James Braid, Harry Vardon, Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen, Bobby Locke, Peter Thomson, Palmer, Lee Trevino and Tom Watson. Other genuine golfing greats like Nicklaus, Gary Player, Seve Ballesteros and Nick Faldo won the Open more than once but none of them won the oldest championship of all in consecutive years.
Rory McIlroy has said that he wants to be the best European player ever and he has to start by winning more major championships than Vardon, who won six Opens and a US Open and Faldo, who won three Opens and three Masters. Only he, Nicklaus and Woods have won at Augusta in consecutive years. If Rory manages to harness his desire and win a green jacket but then sticks on five majors, does that grand slam trump Faldo’s six titles? Mmmm. Good question. I think Rory has to move on to the magnificent seven and beyond to win that debate.
As time goes on, it’s easy to forget just how good Faldo was. In his book For Love or Money, Peter McEvoy, who won the Amateur Championship twice (but not consecutively) said, “We didn’t know that Faldo would go on to win six majors but there was something about him. He had charisma and talent….Throughout my amateur career there was only one British golfer who emptied clubhouses and that was Nick Faldo. Even the most cynical amateur put down his drink and went out to watch Faldo hit a golf ball.”
Tyrrell Hatton is, as yet, no Faldo but even if he never wins a major or even another tournament, in years to come he’ll always have those iconic photos of himself perching on the Swilcan Bridge clutching a very large trophy and the joy of musing: “Now, which year was that? Was I wearing those trousers in 2016 or 2017?”