St Andrews has known its fair share of champions, but few have received a hero’s welcome quite like Tiger Woods. On Friday 15 July 2022, during the second round of the 150th Open, the sporting icon strode down the 18th hole of the Old Course as a generation of golfing enthusiasts lined the fairway to pay their thanks for his enormous contribution to the game. A cacophony of applause, whistles, and cries of “Tiger!” grew louder as arguably the greatest player of all time stepped across the Swilcan Bridge, raised his cap briefly to the adoring crowd, and continued the journey towards his golf ball – for one last time at the Home of Golf.

Woods had told reporters earlier in the week that he had no plans to retire anytime soon, but that in all likelihood he wouldn’t have the opportunity to play at the Old Course the next time it hosted The Open. It’s a sad fact of life that sporting immortality doesn’t grant you the gift of eternal youth but, even still, few of us were prepared for such a bittersweet moment, as Tiger tapped in for par and waved a heartfelt goodbye to St Andrews.

“He’s never been one to show emotion, but he’s going through it right now,” Ewen Murray told ​​Sky Sports viewers as Woods blinked away tears. “Over the last quarter of a century, it has been a privilege to witness such excellence – an honour, really, to live in his era.”

He might have missed the cut on this occasion but, in typical fashion, Woods’ presence alone was enough to create a lasting impression at golf’s most historic tournament.

For many, it felt like the closing chapter for one of sport’s most influential superstars. Whether Woods goes on to compete for his 83rd victory or quietly transitions towards more of an elder statesman role, that final mesmerising walk one fateful afternoon at the Old Course – where some 400 years ago golf itself came into being – will forever be suspended in time. A freeze frame of the finest athlete that ever graced the game sharing his gratitude with the spectators and legions of fans responding in kind.

Jack Nicklaus is said to have worn the same yellow gold Rolex Day-Date for 55 years

Time is intrinsic to the very spirit of golf: a sport that requires several hours to play, where every shot grounds you in the present while at the same moment respecting centuries-old traditions, and where each of its champions are consigned to the rich tapestry of the game’s history. Of all sports, then, it’s perhaps no surprise that golf would be the first to strike up a partnership with the world of watchmaking. Without the watch industry’s commercial support over the decades, it’s quite conceivable that the game we know and love today – a game capable of gifting us such captivating moments – would never have happened at all.

It began, as golf always does, with a handshake. In 1967, Rolex appointed Arnold Palmer as its first official sports ambassador (or, as Rolex rather quaintly puts it, ‘testimonee’). Palmer was the sport’s biggest star of the era: a multiple major winner whose swaggering style and movie-star good looks helped contribute to golf’s exponential growth in the television age. As one Rolex Day-Date ad put it in 1982: “Like the Rolex he wears… [Palmer is] a testament to style, to endurance, to timeless value.” Or, to put it another way, he simply made golf cool.

Fellow legends of the game Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player joined Palmer as Rolex testimonees the same year, kickstarting the Swiss giant’s unique relationship with golf. For his part, Nicklaus is said to have worn the same yellow gold Rolex Day-Date reference 1803 for 55 years – a feat that would make this watch the most successful in golfing history, being on the Golden Bear’s wrist for 12 of his record 18 Major triumphs.

In Rolex, golf had a new champion: a superpower from the world of luxury keen to explore the new horizon that televised sport and live events offered its brand. By late 1968, ‘The Big Three’ would play a pivotal role in the founding of the Tournament Players Division, the organisation which would go on to become the modern-day PGA Tour. The rest, as they say, is history.

For decades, Rolex had partnered with great explorers and adventurers, individuals who stared into the unknown and kept pushing. In 1926, Rolex invented the world’s first waterproof wristwatch, the Rolex Oyster, featuring a ground-breaking case that utilised a patented system consisting of a screw-down bezel, case back and winding crown. To prove his invention, Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf equipped a young English swimmer, Mercedes Gleitze, with an Oyster when she swam the English Channel a year later in 1927. After more than 10 hours under water, the Rolex watch emerged in perfect working condition and, in doing so, proved that a watch could be more than a fragile fashion accessory but a tool that the toughest professionals could rely on in extreme conditions.

Rolex's sporting testimonee, the legendary golfer Arnold Palmer
Rolex testimonee Jack Nicklaus

Guided by the principles of Wilsdorf himself, Rolex creations would continue to prove themselves in every terrain – whether that’s climbing the highest peaks or diving to the very depths of the ocean. Without these exploits, watch icons like the Explorer and Explorer II, the Cosmograph Daytona and, of course, the Submariner wouldn’t have the revered status they have today.

Golf might not extoll the same pioneering virtues as the great explorers of this world, but its values of tradition, humility, and integrity are closely aligned with that of Rolex. As the last 50 years has shown, it’s a partnership that continues to go from strength to strength.

Since its gentleman’s agreement with Arnold Palmer in 1967, Rolex has contributed greatly to the ever-evolving landscape of golf. It was one of the first sponsors of the American Junior Golf Association – supporting the game’s brightest stars even before they became household names – and celebrates a partnership of more than 40 years with the LPGA (Ladies Professional Golf Association); it’s a headline sponsor of the Rolex Series on the DP World Tour; as well as sponsoring the leading team tournaments in men’s and women’s golf (the Ryder Cup, the Presidents Cup, and the Solheim Cup); and is the Official Timekeeper of the five women’s Majors and the four men’s Majors.

Above all, its relationship with The Open, the sport’s original championship celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2022, is perhaps the most special. Rolex clocks have adorned the roster of venues for more than 40 years, having first appeared at Royal St George’s in 1981, and have become an iconic sight at the historic tournament.

Since 1967, Rolex has contributed greatly to the ever-evolving landscape of golf

Its ties with The R&A, organiser of The Open and the AIG Women’s Open, were founded on mutual respect. As Johnnie Cole-Hamilton, executive director of championships, explains: “Rolex is such a good partner not just because of The Open but for what they do for junior golf, for amateur golf, for Latin America and Pacific golf where amateur championships are such a big part of golf, they present The Senior Open and the AIG Women’s Open as well. Everything that Rolex does, they do with quality and The R&A likes to think that everything we do, we do with quality which is a great synergy between Rolex and ourselves.”

Today, Rolex sponsors several sports, including yachting, tennis, equestrianism and motor sport, but its partnership with golf has endured through the ages. From The King himself, Arnold Palmer, to the great Tiger Woods, Rolex has shared in the moments that have elevated golf to the pantheon of sport. No doubt it will continue to do so as the next chapter of this historic game is written.

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