The Open Championship returns this month to Royal St. George’s after a year’s hiatus, during which we visited the 1998 champion.
IN 2020, a golf season in which the oldest major championship didn’t take place for the first time in 75 years, getting to see any “Champion Golfer of the Year” pose with the iconic Claret Jug certainly imparted a measure of order to a cattywampus year.
In my case, that Champion Golfer was Mark O’Meara, whom I had the privilege of interviewing last October during my short-lived retirement from this publication. On assignment for Links magazine, I met him at his stunning home at Tuhaye Golf Club, the course he designed near Park City, Utah, as part of the four-season Talisker Club.
In 1998, at the age 41, O’Meara hoisted the Jug at Royal Birkdale three months after his good friend Tiger Woods had slid the green jacket on him at O’Meara’s first and only Masters victory. Though he and Woods have grown apart—it still irks O’Meara that Woods, “who meant so much to me in my life,” did not at- tend his 2015 World Golf Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the
University of St Andrews—the avuncular O’Meara insists he still “would do anything for him.”
As genuinely likeable and upbeat as he appears in inter- views, O’Meara possesses an incandescent enthusiasm that fills a room in much the same way his golf trophies—including those from his two majors, the 1979 U.S. Amateur, 1999 Ryder Cup and five AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Ams—sparkle behind glass in his living room. These days, at age 64, he’s as impassioned about fly-fishing and snowmobiling as he is about golf. Utah’s a great place to cast a line; it’s also prime turf to be a “sled head,” as the owner of six snowmobiles refers to himself.
O’Meara, who decided the most recent Masters would be his final one, last made the cut in the Open in 2016. When he asked if I wanted a picture with the Claret Jug, how could I refuse?
“You know what the best part about this trophy is?” he joked. “Tiger’s name isn’t on it yet.” —Jon Rizzi
This article was also featured in the July 2021 Issue of Colorado AvidGolfer.