In the latest episode of The Open Podcasts, Steven Bottomley discusses his close call at the 1995 edition of golf's oldest championship
Steven Bottomley Relives Dramatic 1995 Open Championship Near Miss
On a day where players were tested to the limit thanks to winds that gusted as hard as 40mph across the famous Old Course of St Andrews, a journeyman pro from Bingley in Yorkshire nearly defied the odds to become the 1995 Open Champion.
In the latest episode of The Open Podcasts, Steven Bottomley recalled his memories of that dramatic Sunday on the East Coast of Scotland and how he came so close to producing one of the greatest sporting upsets of all time.
After securing his place in the tournament via a nine-man play-off at final qualifying, rounds of 70 and 72 ensured the man known as ‘Botts’ would play the weekend, before another 72 left him seven adrift of a young Michael Campbell as he prepared for the biggest 18 holes of his life.
“Everything felt like it was moving. Everything. Even my nose, my ears, my hands, it felt like it was shaking,” Bottomley explained.
“Obviously you’ve got to try and get off to a good start and it’s blowing a hooley. From memory I’ve hit a 3-wood down the first and then drew a 5-iron on the green. Left my putt about four feet short going downhill and holed it.”
With the nerves somewhat settled, Bottomley reached the ninth at one-under for the day and three-under for the championship, before a duffed pitch at the driveable par-4 left him lining up a mammoth birdie effort.
“My long-range putting was phenomenal. And if you’re going to pick a time to have a good long-range putting week, do it at St Andrews because they’re the biggest greens on planet Earth.
“And because the greens are so big, I used to pace how far I was from the hole. So I’d know memory-wise that I’d be 22 yards away and this is how hard to hit it.
“So I was 26 yards away with this putt and I holed it, by fluke. And that’s when I jumped in the air. I felt like I was about 50 foot in the air, which I clearly wasn’t as I was much larger then than I am now.”
The birdie was consolidated with a par on the 10th before another followed on the treacherous par-3 11th after Bottomley hit what he describes as “the best shot that I hit all week” off the tee.
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Now turning straight for home, the 30-year-old was working on one of the best rounds in progress as he edged his way into contention. Every shot was crucial at this point and, sizing up an approach into 15, that fact was clearly not lost on neither player nor caddie.
“Fifteen was my famous discussion stroke argument with my caddie who wouldn’t let me hit a particular club.
“After discussing what club I was going to hit, I said, ‘please give me the 5-iron, Joe’.
“And he went, ‘no’.
“I hit the club that he wanted me to hit and I have to admit I was wrong. I hit the 6-iron and it was perfect, just past the pin, about 25 feet.”
It was a back and forth the likes of which we rarely hear nowadays and, having been spared by his caddie’s stubbornness, Bottomley took full advantage, rolling in the big-breaking 25-footer to gain another stroke.
A 3-iron approach into 16 left the Englishman on the 17th tee where he brilliantly navigated the various swales and direction changes to save par before taking on the famous road hole.
“Get on the 17th and hit a beautiful drive. Then I get the wind totally wrong because when it’s coming over the Old Course hotel it’s swirling like you can’t believe. We thought the wind was off the right and it was actually downwind.
“So I’ve pitched a 3-iron and if it had not hit the bunker, it would’ve been in the burn.”
Despite making a good fist of the bunker shot, the resultant bogey was a real dent in Bottomley’s championship hopes. If he was to have any chance, a birdie at the last was imperative.
“I’m not really thinking I’m four-under, I’m just thinking I need to try and make birdie on the last.
“I can reach, even back in the day, because it [the wind] is down off the left and I just aimed it at the clock and hit a beautiful drive.”
As well as the strong breeze behind, the firm links ground also helped carry Bottomley’s drive to within 10 feet or so of the front-left portion of the green, leaving just the small matter of the Valley of Sin to contend with.
It was here that Bottomley drew on a chance encounter he’d had with a few famous names the Tuesday prior.
“The likes of [Jack] Nicklaus and [Lee] Trevino and [Tom] Watson they all have their past champions dinner and we as young kids were on the 18th when they were walking to their dinner.
“One of my mates asked Lee Trevino a question and in his nice Lee Trevino accent he says to us lot, ‘whenever you can putt it, putt it, don’t chip it’.
“And I hit the ball exactly where he was stood on that Tuesday night. I never got my sand iron out like Rocca did, I grabbed straight for my putter.”
As had been the case all day, Bottomley’s touch was superb, leaving around six feet up the hill for a closing birdie.
“Joe did a bit of his press-ups on the green and I managed to hole it to finish five-under, so I’m done now, I’m in. I was enjoying it then.”
And no wonder. Not only did the closing 69 mean Botts was the only player to break 70 on a brutal links afternoon, but he also held the clubhouse lead in the Open Championship for the best part of an hour.
However, he would ultimately come up short as John Daly eventually usurped his score by one, before Costantino Rocca’s final-hole heroics forced a play-off.
The consolation for Bottomley was that the £65,000 earned for finishing in a tie for third was the largest paycheque of his career and ensured he kept his tour card for the 1996 season, finishing 61st in the order of merit.
And he was able to enjoy a joke with Rocca about his famous putt from the Valley of Sin that denied him a share of the runners-up prize.
“I watched Rocca duff that chip, I was there. And then I thought, ‘that might make me second if he misses this’. Then he holed it didn’t he. I’ve had a laugh with him since then because I know Rocca quite well.
“I said, ‘you cost me about 20,000 quid you’. Back in the day I won 65 grand; they win about £800,000 now. Funny.”
In a career that was, for the most part, spent battling to retain his playing privileges, the Open Championship of 1995, one of four Opens he played, was undoubtedly the highlight for Bottomley, and one he can look back on with immense pride.
To hear more about Steven Bottomley’s career and experience at the 1995 Open, including the famous conversation with his caddie, click here to listen to the episode in all its glory.