Doug Sanders

The late George Douglas ‘Doug’ Sanders was known as the ‘Peacock of the Fairways’ because of his colourful, flamboyant dress sense. All told, he won 20 events on the PGA Tour and was runner-up in four major championships. He finished tied second in the PGA Championship in 1959, tied second in the US Open in 1961 and tied second in the Open Championship in 1966, but owes his ‘nearly man’ tag primarily to that putt on the seventy-second green of the Open Championship, on the Old Course at St. Andrews, in 1970.

On Saturday, July 11, in blustery conditions, Sanders saved par by getting up-and-down from the infamous Road Hole Bunker, off the left front of the green on the penultimate hole. He hit the final green in regulation, thus leaving himself with two putts from thirty feet, downhill, to beat Jack Nicklaus by a single stroke and win the Open Championship.

After an indeterminable wait for Sanders to strike his first putt, during which he stepped away from his ball after being disturbed by crowd noise, BBC commentator Henry Longhurst said, ‘ You can see yourself going into the history books as the man who had only to get down in two putts to win the Open, and took three, and lost in a playoff.’ Sanders’ initial effort pulled up three feet short of the hole, leading Longhurst to exclaim, ‘Oh Lord! That’s not one I’d like to have.’

By this stage, Sanders was clearly a bag of nerves and, having examined the line of his putt from both sides, finally settled over his ball. However, having looked ready to ‘pull the trigger’, he hesitated again, bending down to remove a loose impediment, real or imagined, from his line. His subsquent stroke was weak and, as his ball missed on the right side of the hole, he motioned towards it, involuntarily, as if to try again. The following day, Sanders lost the resulting playoff to Nicklaus by a single shot.

Mary Decker

Mary Slaney (née Decker) was a celebrated US middle-distance runner who, at the inaugural IAAF World Championships in Helsinki, Finland in 1983, completed the so-called ‘Double Decker’ by winning gold medals in both the women’s 1,500 metres and 3,000 metres. At various points in her career, Slaney also held world records in the women’s mile, 5,000 metres and 10,000 metres. However, in a career dogged by injury and good old-fashioned bad luck, Slaney never won an Olympic medal of any description.

Originally nicknamed ‘Little Mary Decker’ because of her short, petite stature, Slaney rose to prominence, as a 14-year-old, in 1973. Too young to complete at the US Olympic Trials in 1972, Slaney won on her first attempt in international competition, in the USA-USSR Dual Track Meet Series at the Republic Stadium in Minsk, Belarus in July, 1973, while still a week or two shy of her fifteenth birthday. Indeed, in winning the women’s 800 metres she beat the silver medallist at the Munich Olympics, Nijolė Sabaitė.

A painful muscular condition, known as ‘compartment syndrome’, followed by a series of stress induced fractures, ruled Slaney out of the Montreal Olympics in 1976, while a US boycott, in protest against the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union in December, 1979, did likewise at the Moscow Olympics in 1980. When Slaney did finally make it to the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, she started hot favourite for the women’s 3,000 metres final, but failed to finish after colliding with South African born teenager Zola Budd, representing Great Britain. With less than four laps to go, Slaney fell to the track, injuring her hip and leaving unable to continue. Slaney also contested the women’s 1,500 metres and 3,000 metres at the Seoul Olympics in 1988 and the women’s 5,000 metres at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, but never recaptured her previous form.

Lee Westwood

Like Colin Montgomerie, who is 10 years his senior, Lee Westwood is one of the best golfers of his generation. He has the distinction of having won tournaments in Europe, North America, Asia, Africa and Australia and his 44 victories worldwide include 25 on the European Tour and, unlike Montgomerie, two on the PGA Tour.

Worksop-born Westwood, 48, arguably reached the peak of his profession when, in November, 2010, he replaced Tiger Woods as the number one golfer in the world, according to Official Golf World Rankings. Of course, he did so without winning a major championship and, over a decade later, remains one of the best players never to win a major. In fact, Westwood now holds the record, outright, for playing in the most major championships without winning one. Frustratingly, he remains the only golfer in history to have finished second or third in the Masters, US Open, Open Champion and PGA Championship without ever lifting one of the prestigious trophies.

In chronological order, Westwood finished third in the Masters in 2008 and tied third in the Open Championship and PGA Championship in 2009. The Open Championship result, on the Ailsa Course at Turnberry, was notable for the fact that Westwood missed out on a playoff by a single stroke after bogeying three of the last four holes. In 2010, Westwood finished runner-up in the Masters and the Open Championship, in 2011, he finished tied third in the US Open, in 2012, he finished tied third in the Masters and, in 2013, tied third, again, in the Open Championship. His most recent top-three finish in a major championship came when he tied second in the Masters in 2016. All told, Westwood has played in 88 major championships, finishing second three times, third six times and in the top five on twelve occasions.

 

 

Michael Edwards

Michael Edwards, nicknamed ‘Eddie’ since his schooldays, found fame at the Winter Olympic Games in Calgary in 1988, where he became the first competitor to represent Great Britain in Olympic ski jumping since Percy Legrand in 1936. Although little-known outside the world of skiing, Edwards was, in fact, the British record holder for ski jumping and had competed, albeit without distinction, in the FIS Nordic Ski Championships at Obertsdorf, in the Bavarian Alps, in 1987. As such, he already had a ‘cult’ following and, in Calgary, was greeted by a group of fans sporting a banner proclaiming, ‘Welcome to Calgary Eddie The Eagle’, thereby coining the nickname that has remained with Edwards ever since.

Edwards finished last, by a wide margin, in both the normal-hill and large-hill events but, although still 15 metres or more behind the shortest jump recorded by the second-last competitor, Canadian Tod Gilman, in the latter event, still extended his own British record to 71 metres. Instantly recognisable by his trademark ‘beer bottle’ spectacles – he was chronically long-sighted, which added another dangerous dimension to ski jumping – Edwards was a press man’s dream. Congenial and self-effacing, but nonetheless fearless and dedicated, he received more media attention than almost anyone else at the Games.

 

Despite Edwards’ conspicuous lack of success, the story of a formerly down-and-out downhill skier, who turned to ski jumping as a last resort, now living the ‘Olympic Dream’ captured the imagination of the wider public. His exploits, including his inspirational backstory, made back and front page news across the world during the Games and beyond. Edwards’ life provided the basis for the tongue-in-cheek biopic ‘Eddie The Eagle’, starring Taron Egerton in the title role and Hugh Jackman as Edwards’ coach, Bronson Peary, released in 2016.