HOYLAKE, England (AP) — Brendan Steele played in the final group at a major three years ago. Brendon de Jonge played in the Presidents Cup last year. They will be among 36 players making their debuts Thursday in golf's oldest championship.
Is it too much to ask for them to go home with the claret jug?
Royal Liverpool is the least known of the links courses on the rotation — this is only its second time to host the Open since 1967 — though all links golf can be a mystery. Winning for the first time is not as unusual as it would be at Augusta National, where a first-timer has not won since 1979.
Even so, examples are rare.
Willie Park Sr. was the first, but only because 1860 was the first championship. Ben Curtis was the most recent in 2003 at Royal St. George's. Among the candidates might be Patrick Reed, who at No. 30 is the highest-ranked player in the British Open for the first time.
Here are the five best debuts in Open history:
5. SAM SNEAD
Sam Snead was one of only three Americans who journeyed across the Atlantic in 1946 when the British Open was staged for the first time after World War II. Back then, Americans lost money playing the Open because first place paid only 150 pounds.
It's safe to say the Slammer wasn't terribly impressed when the train pulled in the home of golf.
"Say, what abandoned course is this?" he said to the man next to him.
That would be the Old Course at St. Andrews, and Snead quickly learned to respect the ancient ground. He opened with rounds of 71-70, pulled into a share of the lead with Johnny Bulla and Dai Reis with a 74, and then closed with a 75 to win by four shots over Bulla, a fellow American.
He did not return the next year.
4. TONY LEMA
Arnold Palmer gets credit for invigorating the Open when he came across in 1960 as part of his quest to win the Grand Slam. Since then, more Americans began playing golf's oldest championship. His influence was a little more direct on Tony Lema.
The Bay Area native known as "Champagne" Tony wasn't sure he wanted to play at St. Andrews in the 1964 British Open. Palmer talked him into it, though Lema asked if he could borrow Palmer's putter and his caddie, Tip Anderson.
It was a winning combination.
Lema shot a 68 in the second round to take the lead, shot another 68 to stretch the lead and won by five shots over Jack Nicklaus. It was his fourth victory in a six-week span. Two years later, the rising American star died in a plane crash.
3. TOM WATSON
Tom Watson wasn't a complete stranger to major championships when he showed up at Carnoustie in 1975, but he didn't know much about links golf. A year earlier, Watson was 24 when he took the 54-hole lead at Winged Foot in the 1974 U.S. Open, only to close with a 79 and tie for fifth. A month earlier, Watson was the 36-hole leader at Medinah in the U.S. Open until a 78-77 weekend.
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