Welshman Brian Huggett, the last home winner of the Senior Open Championship presented by Rolex, has welcomed the news that the Senior Major will be staged in Wales for the first time in 2014.
The former Ryder Cup Captain also hailed the decision to bring the Wales Senior Open back to the European Senior Tour schedule next year and believes that Wales’s successful hosting of The 2010 Ryder Cup has left an enduring legacy in his home country.
“It is great to see such big events coming to Wales as a direct result of The 2010 Ryder Cup,” said the 74 year old. “Celtic Manor provided us with a fantastic Ryder Cup, and now we can also look forward to a fantastic Senior Open Championship at Royal Porthcawl.
“There is no doubt that the Ryder Cup has done a lot for Wales, and golf in Wales. There is a legacy that has been left and you can see that in the return of the Wales Senior Open and also the Senior Amateur Open coming to Wales next year. I am thrilled at the news.”
Huggett won the Senior Open Championship presented by Rolex in 1998 at Royal Portrush after a string of fine performances in the preceding years, yet for a while doubted his chances of ever hoisting the senior version of Claret Jug.
“I was close on a number of occasions,” Huggett remembers, “but at 61 you tend to think you are going to miss out on the big ones.
“I had already finished second and third in The Open [in 1965 and 1962 respectively] so I was close there, and for a long while it looked like I was never going to win a major on the Senior Tour either.”
The ten-time Senior Tour winner had finished in the top ten on three instances prior to his Senior Open Championship presented by Rolex triumph in 1998, and had never missed a cut in the six years the event had been part of the European Senior Tour schedule.
Huggett, then, not surprisingly, retains fond memories of his victory in Northern Ireland.
“It was lovely,” he said. “There was a bit of pressure going out in the final group on Sunday, and it was a windy, windy day, but I managed to get a brilliant start.
“I pitched in from around 125 yards to make birdie at the first, and it was at that point I started to think ‘Maybe it’s my day’, and it was.”
Huggett beat Northern Irishman Eddie Pollard in an exciting play-off to scoop the then €84,000 first prize in front of a partisan crowd.
“It was a real thrill to win, and in front of a large, local crowd of maybe 8,000 people. It was a shame for Eddie, though, not to win in front of his own fans, and after I had beaten him in a play-off just the week before in the Wentworth Senior Masters!”
Awarded an MBE in 1978 for services to golf, Huggett points out that the Championship has developed a great deal in the years following his victory.
“It has grown an incredible amount since it was made a Senior Major [in 2003]. The field is stronger and the event a lot more high profile.
“You can see the growth in the number of fans that attend now and that is great. They flock there because they get to see some the greatest players ever, multiple past Major Champions, still competing at a very high level.”
Huggett reserves special praise for American Tom Watson, three-time winner of the event, for elevating the popularity of the Senior Open Championship presented by Rolex and senior golf in general.
“The way he conducts himself, and his continuing fine performances, it is just amazing and he has done so much for the senior game.
“I hope he is still going in 2014 so we can be graced by his presence in Porthcawl. And the way he is still swinging and playing, I’m sure he will be.”
Huggett, a long-time ambassador and dynamic force in Welsh golf, is mostly just pleased his country is being recognised in the global game.
“I’m very proud to be a holder, and I am equally proud that the Senior Open Championship is coming to Porthcawl, and to Wales.”