SOUTHPORT, England — Even if you didn’t know what was about to happen, the crowd told the story.
Branden Grace waltzed down the 18th fairway at Royal Birkdale Saturday afternoon orbited by two cameramen. He removed his hat, waved to the left, then to the right. Back to the left again. The crowds knew they were about to see history, or at least a damn good run at it.
Grace, a 29-year-old South African, needed to get up and down from behind the green to shoot the first 62 in men’s major championship history. Thirty-one 63s had been recorded, the first being Johnny Miller’s in 1973. But nary a single 62. The elusive number.
That is, until 3:15 p.m. local time here at the 146th British Open. Grace’s first putt from just off the green left him a mere four feet from history. But for 62 nothing is guaranteed.
Grace stood over his putt and calmly tapped it in. Eight-under 62. He’s the answer to golf’s newest trivia question even if he didn’t know it at the time.
“Let’s get this out of the way,” said Grace, opening his press conference. “I didn’t know what was going on on 18. I promise you.”
With little wind there were low scores to be had on this blue-sky Saturday. Grace struck first. He jumped all the way to four under for the championship and in a tie for second, two shots behind leader Jordan Spieth, who had yet to tee off.
Branden Grace made history Saturday at Royal Birkdale.
Grace made the turn in five-under 29 — the same as Matt Kuchar Thursday — and got to six under with a birdie on 14. His 62 chances took a hit when he lipped out for birdie on the first par-5 he saw, the 15th, but he moved to seven under by birdieing 16.
From the green on 17, another par-5, he was a tiny figure hundreds of yards away in the fairway. The crowd was deafly silent as he swung. The only noise was the faint sound of the on-course reporter softy providing the play by play.
“This looks on target.”
Grace thumped the green and stalked his putt from all sides, then two-putted for par. He needed only to par 18 for 62. He seemed calm and relaxed. Walking off the tee he flashed a smile at playing partner Jason Dufner, who found himself in the unusual position of signing for a 66 and getting whipped by four. On the green, waiting for his tap-in for history, Grace and caddie Zack Rasego smiled and chatted. Rasego broke the news after Grace rattled in his par putt.
“Zack came up and said, ‘You’re in the history books,'” Grace said. “And I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ So obviously now it makes the day even sweeter.”
Someone else came smiling off that green minutes later, 17-year-old Jonathan Joyce, the standard bearer for the group. Grace signed two balls that Joyce gripped tightly as he left the scorer’s area — 62 balls.
“I’m pleased,” said Joyce, flashing his braces with an ear-to-ear grin. Joyce was almost as popular as the new record-holder. A few spectators even stopped him to take photos of the scoreboard he lugged around for more than four hours. He didn’t mind. He said he plans to frame his new gift to keep them safe.
“It’s pretty special, it is,” Joyce said.
Grace thought so, too.
“To do it at the Open Championship is pretty special,” he said. “It’s something I’ll remember forever.”