The Open Championship: Did You Know?

Michael FitzpatrickFeatured ColumnistJanuary 25, 2010

To truly understand the magnitude of modern day accomplishments in the game of golf one must first possess a knowledge of the game’s history.  

This is the first part of a series that will explore some obscure facts about historical events and players that may be unknown to most golf fans.


It’s the Open Championship and not the British Open

The Open Championship took place 35 years before the US Open was even created.  

Today, the Open Championship is known in America as “The British Open”, however, is known to the rest of the world by its proper name, The Open Championship.

Who are we to change the name of an event that was taking place before a club or a ball even made the journey across the Atlantic to the shores of America?


Prestwick Golf Club is the home of the Open Championship

Although many associate St. Andrews with being the home of golf, the Open Championship actually began at Prestwick Golf Club.

The Open Championship began in 1860 and the first 11 events were held at Prestwick.

It wasn’t until 1871 that an Open Championship was played at St. Andrews, and shortly thereafter, a small course rotation was created.


They played for a belt, not a Jug

When the Open Championship, was created in 1860, professionals played for a belt similar to the one that heavyweight champions are given today.

The winner of the Open would be allowed to keep the belt for the duration of one year and would be required to return it just prior to the start of the following year’s tournament.

Before the first tee shot was struck in 1860, the governing powers implemented a rule that if a player won the belt three consecutive years, he would be allowed to take possession of this valuable item forever.

And in 1870, it happened.

Young Tom Morris won his third consecutive Open in 1870 and was allowed to keep the belt forever.

Shortly thereafter, the Claret Jug was created.


Old Tom Morris and the most dominant performance of all-time

Old Tom Morris won his second consecutive Open in 1862 in what many consider to be the most dominant performance in the history of major championship play.

Morris won the 1862 Open by a margin of 13 strokes. This record margin of victory was not surpassed at a major until Tiger Woods won the 2000 US Open at Pebble Beach by 15-strokes.

However, Woods’ 15-stroke margin of victory in 2000 was over the course of 72 holes.

Morris’ 13-stroke margin of victory at the 1862 Open Championship was over the course of just 36-holes.

Could you imagine Tiger Woods holding a 13-stroke lead at the half-way mark of a major?


Bobby Jones is the last Champion Golfer of the Year not to receive a check

We all know what Jones accomplished in 1930 – the Grand Slam.

Bobby Jones’ win at the 1930 Open held at St. Andrews was the third leg of his quest to win all four majors in one calendar year.

To this day, Jones’ win at the 1930 Open was the last time an amateur has won this historic event.


Walter Hagen opens the flood gates

Although Jock Hutchinson won the Open in 1921 and had lived in America so long he was considered to be an American golfer, he was Scottish Born.  

Walter Hagen became the first American born golfer to win the Open in 1922.

Following Hagen’s victory in 1922, American born players won 10 out of the next 11 Open Championships.


The PGA Tour finally comes around

Although American born golfers have been winning the Open since the early-1920s, it wasn’t until 1995 that the PGA Tour finally recognized the Open as a PGA Tour event.

Prior to 1995, money won on at the Open was not counted towards yearly PGA Tour earnings, and despite the Open being considered a major championship since 1860, victories across the pond were not recognized by the PGA Tour.  


Arnold Palmer re-opens the gates to the Open Championship

Between the late 1930s and 1960, few American golfers were making the trip across the pond to attend the Open.

There were three reasons for American golfers snubbing the Open for around 25 years.

First, by attending the Open players would give up an opportunity to compete in the PGA Championship which was scheduled to take place the week immediately following the Open.  

Second, the cost of travelling across the Atlantic often far outweighed the prize money.  Win or miss the cut, by attending the Open players would more than likely take a financial loss.

Third, the Open had a qualifier that everyone was required to participate in just to earn a spot in the championship.

So, an American could spend a small fortune to travel across the Atlantic, have one bad round and not even qualify for the event. 

In 1960, Arnold Palmer had both a sense of history and the foresight to understand the importance of the Open.

Palmer became the first big-name American golfer to attend an Open since Ben Hogan won on his first and only trip to the Open in 1953.

Palmer finished second in the 1960 Open Championship but won the event in '61 and '62.

With the emergence of the television era in the game, Palmer’s win at the 1962 Open  was the first time most Americans had seen an Open Championship, and the intrigue immediately began to mount.

If the Open was good enough for Palmer, it was good enough for the rest of the PGA Tour, and American golfers have been dominating the event ever since.


Can America Tie Scotland in Open Championship wins?

Although official records state that Scotland and America each have 42 wins at the Open Championship, Jock Hutchinson is still considered to be an American.

As mentioned earlier, Hutchinson had lived in America for a number of years when he won the 1921 Open at St. Andrews, but he was not an American born golfer.

That would be the modern day equivalent to Paul Casey, who has lived in America for nearly a decade now, winning the 2010 Open Championship and being considered an American golfer.

So, technically, America trails Scotland by one in total Open Championship wins.

Can we pull even with the Scots in 2010?

We shall see.    


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