Costantino Rocca found himself in an unfamiliar place. He had played in only a handful of major championships but stood on the 72nd tee of the Old Course at St. Andrews needing an eagle-2 to win the 1995 British Open.
Rocca, an Italian who would win five times on the European Tour, did not make eagle on that memorable Sunday. But with an improbable birdie from the Valley of Sin, the grass depression that fronts the 18th green, he thrust himself into British Open lore.
The shot long would be remembered, but after a playoff loss to John Daly, Rocca had to content himself with a runner-up finish, which would be a career-best in a major championship.
“It would have been the best amazing win,” Rocca, 61, said in April after trying to re-create the shot from the Valley of Sin during a media event. “It's special for me. It would have changed my life, because everyone remembers. People remember if you win that tournament.”
For the first time in the history of the Senior British Open, Rocca and many of those players from 1995 will get a second chance to make history. The Old Course will debut as host of the event, to be played July 25-29, the week after the British Open at Carnoustie (Scotland) Golf Links.
© GOLFFILE/DAVID LLOYD
Costantino Rocca, who nearly won the 1995 British Open at St. Andrews’ Old Course, makes amends after his brush with golf immortality.
The level of excitement by many of the 50-and-older set is high. That includes American Kenny Perry, who played in only seven British Opens in his 52 appearances in major championships. Perry said he has rented a five-bedroom house with a view of the 18th green for his family during the week.
“We're going to have a ball over there at St. Andrews,” he said. “I figured it's probably my last time I'll go.
“It's St. Andrews, man. When they said St. Andrews, I said I'm going, so I'm looking forward to it.”
Perry, 57, has assumed an unlikely role as cheerleader for the event, given the fact that he had skipped many British Opens during a PGA Tour career that included 14 victories. The Old Course has that allure.
“There's nothing else in the world like it,” said Scotland’s Sandy Lyle, 60, who won the 1985 Claret Jug at Royal St. George’s. “There have been areas where they tried to copy it, but that's unique in the history. I mean, the history, it's all there, isn't it? I enjoy playing the course because it's got its own character.”
Lyle recalls the Senior British Open at Sunningdale in 2015, when Marco Dawson won, how many of the Americans enjoyed the experience. The Old Course rates even better.
“For a lot of us, it will be the last time we're really ever going to play St. Andrews and in competition,” said American Fred Funk, 62. “So, it's very special.”
Joe Durant, 54, who won the Champions Tour’s Chubb Classic earlier this season, said he is “ecstatic” about the trip.
“This may be the last time we get to play it,” Durant said, “so I think it's going to be a great tournament, and we're chomping at the bit to get over there.”
The Old Course that players remember is virtually unchanged from when they competed in past British Opens, with only slight alterations, but the experience likely will be better than any in recent memory.
“I always wanted to win a big national title at St. Andrews,” said Lyle, a World Golf Hall of Fame member who also won the 1988 Masters among his 22 victories on the European and U.S. tours. “I always felt it was a course I could win around there, but this would be pretty sweet to pull that one off.”
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @AlexMiceli