In tribute to his Open Championship success in 1998, Mark O’Meara was awarded Honorary Membership of Royal Birkdale Golf Club ahead of the Senior Open Championship presented by Rolex.
The American triumphed across the celebrated Southport links 15 years ago to claim the Claret Jug following a playoff with Brian Watts – just months after winning his maiden major at the Masters Tournament, and this week returns to the north-west of England looking to build on an impressive turn in The Open Championship at Muirfield.
O’Meara was one of five players in The Senior Open field to make the cut in The 142nd Open Championship in East Lothian last week, eventually finishing in a tie for 58th having shared second place after the first round following an opening 67.
Now, back at Royal Birkdale looking to win his third title at the venue having also claimed the Lawrence Batley International there in 1987, O’Meara’s repeat successes have been recognised by the club.
“It's an unbelievable tribute to be made an Honorary Member of Royal Birkdale,” said the 56-year-old North Carolina native. “I've obviously had a long career of playing all the different links golf courses and I just have such fond memories of the great moments I've had here. It's my favourite links golf course anywhere in the world. It's a true test of golf.
“I first set eyes on it in 1987 when I won the Lawrence Batley here; in ’91 I came back and played with Ian Baker-Finch tied for the lead, but of course The Open Championship that was played here in '98 was a dream come true for me, to hold the Claret Jug right here on the 18th green was really the icing on the cake for me with my career.”
Despite rainfall softening the course in the days building up to the event, O’Meara still believes that Royal Birkdale will provide as stern a test to the 156-strong Senior Open field as Muirfield did last week.
“It's going to be just as demanding if not even tougher to be honest with you, especially if the wind kicks up,” he continued. “I've played it in really severe conditions before. You just have to be very patient and sometimes par is a very good score.
“I've had past success here and that helps but it doesn't give you the right to think you're going to go out there and play well.
“I have to hit good quality shots and drive the ball well this week and hole some putts. If I can do those things then hopefully I'll be able to contend on Sunday.”
Royal Birkdale Club Captain Jonathan Seal presented O’Meara with a commemorative tie ahead of the 27th edition of the Senior Open Championship.
He said: “It is a huge pleasure to extend Honorary Membership to Mark in the way that we have our other previous Open Champions going back to Peter Thomson, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Johnny Miller, Tom Watson and Ian Baker-Finch.
“On behalf of all the members of Royal Birkdale, we welcome Mark on board.”
O’Meara will launch his title bid on Thursday in the company of defending champion Fred Couples and Senior Open debutant Colin Montgomerie and says the grouping will be one to savor.
“We go way back,” he reflected. “I went to Qualifying School and got my touring card with Fred back in 1980 in the fall. We had some cool years. Colin I have a lot of respect for, and played a lot of golf with him.”