Remembering Tony Lema 50 Years After Open Triumph

USING ARNOLD PALMER’S CADDIE AND PUTTER, and after playing just one full practice round, Tony Lema won the 1964 British Open at the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland. It was his first appearance in golf’s oldest major championship. Lema’s 279 total was five shots better than runner-up Jack Nicklaus. He famously served champagne to the press after his victories, thus becoming “Champagne Tony.”

Lema’s career and life were cut short in the summer of 1966 when he and his wife died in a small plane crash on the way to an exhibition near Chicago. Lema had planned to give his fee to a charity that benefited kids. He was 32.

A native of Oakland, California, Tony Lema won 12 times on the PGA Tour, including the one major. According to the above Golf Channel profile, George Clooney is considering a movie project about Lema.

Photo of author
Neil Sagebiel

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