The Open Championship is the oldest of the major championships. The Championship was first played on October 17, 1860 at Prestwick Golf Club.
1860 … think about that date …
- Queen Victoria sat on the throne in England (and she would another 40 years)
- Elisabeth Schuyler Hamilton, Alexander Hamilton’s wife, had died five years earlier.
- Abraham Lincoln was still in the Senate.
- The Confederate States of America had not even been founded yet.
- Martin Van Buren, the eighth President of the United States, was still alive.
- Oregon had just been admitted to the Union as the 33rd state.
- Charles Dickens was just publishing his 13th novel, “Great Expectations”.
… And the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews was staging its first Open Championship.
In the early years the Championship was dominated by Willie Park, Sr. (4), Old Tom Morris (4) and Tom’s son, Young Tom Morris (4). Later, near the turn of the century, the dominate players were Harry Vardon (6), J.H. Taylor (5) and James Braid (5). Midway through the 20th century the dominate player was the Australian Peter Thomson, with five wins. Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus all won three Open Championships. The active player with the most wins is Byron Nelson’s young protégé, Tom Watson, age 64. Tom has won The Open Championship five times.
The site this year is Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Merseyside in North West England. Royal Liverpool was founded in 1869 and received its “Royal” designation in 1871 due to the patronage of the Duke of Connaught, Queen Victoria’s son. The club is actually located just outside of Liverpool on the other side of the estuary of the River Mersey in the town of Hoylake, thus giving Royal Liverpool its nickname.
The Open Championship was first played at Hoylake in 1897. The winner was a Hoylake member, Harold Hilton, who was an amateur. Another Hoylake member who won the Open was John Ball, who also was an amateur. Ball’s only Open Championship win was in 1890 at Prestwick. He went on to win eight British Amateur Championships, three of which were at his home club, Hoylake.
The Championship was played at Royal Liverpool ten times from 1897 to 1967. For some reason it fell out of the rota and was not used for the next 40 years. The Open returned to Hoylake in 2006 when Tiger Woods won the Championship.
The field for the Open Championship is 156. Golfers may gain a place in a number of ways. Most of the field is made up of leading players who are given exemptions. Further places are given to players who are successful in “Local Qualifying” and those who come through “International Final Qualifying”. Any remaining places (known as alternates) are made available to the highest ranked players in the Official World Ranking two weeks before The Open.
There are currently 32 exemption categories. Among the more significant are:
- The top 50 on the Official World Golf Ranking. This category means that no member of the current elite of world golf will be excluded.
- The top 30 in the previous season’s European Tour Race to Dubai.
- The top 30 the previous season’s PGA TOURs FedEx Cup.
- All previous Open Champions who will be age 60 or under on the final day of the tournament.
- Any major winner in the previous five years.
- The top 10 from the previous year’s Open Championship.
- Any Open champions who finished in the top 10 in the past five years.
Further exemptions are given to winners and other leading finishers in a number of important tournaments around the world, to leading money winners in the major tours and to recent Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup players. The latest winners of a few major amateur events are also given exemptions. They must remain amateurs to take advantage of this exemption.
While the US Open Championship rotates among over 20 courses The Open Championship has a “rota” of only 10 courses – five in Scotland, four in England and one in Ireland. The typical Open venue is wind swept with hard fairways and deep, wispy rough. Play in The Open is more of a ground game vs. the game played in the air here in America. Bump and run shots are much more common in the UK than in America.
The natural question for this week is this:
Why does a professional golfer play in the Open Championship?
Most people in the know will tell you that it is because this event is truly the Open Championship of the World. Hogan thought his career would be incomplete without a win in the Open Championship. He came in 1953 and won at Carnoustie. Even the penny pincher, Sam Snead, thought he had to compete in the “British Open” as it was called then. He won in 1946 at St. Andrews.
How is The Open Championship different?
First – conditions. A typical venue for the Open Championship will have very, very hard fairways with numerous uneven lies and deep pot bunkers not visible from the tee. This leads to funny bounces and balls running into bunkers or into the high rough making recovery difficult. To add insult to injury the player may have hit a perfect drive and he ends up dead. Bad bounces and high winds are a given at an Open Championship. American players accustomed to playing golf “through the air” hitting driver/9 iron to big, soft greens and making birdies are in for a surprise. That is far from what they will see at an Open Championship. Patience is the key as their mental tenacity will be tested on every hole.
Second – purse. The Open Championship purse, at $ 8,000,000, the smallest of the major championships.
So the conditions are trying, the cost is higher, the food is average and the money is low. Why do they still come?
It is most international of the major championships and, as Snead and Hogan thought, your career is not complete unless you win an Open Championship. It is golf as it was a century ago. Golf played along the ground. Man against conditions. It is pure golf and it is exhilarating. May the best man win.
… and who wouldn’t want to experience this?
Salesmanship Club of Dallas