No Tiger. No Phil. No ratings? That last one remains to be seen, but the USGA and Fox TV will be holding their collective breaths for a close, suspenseful tournament that will attract the casual golf fans. Despite Woods’ varied issues, golf-related and personal, he and Phil remain the two most compelling figures in the sport, particularly with respect to casual fans. Phil is not injured; he will be attending his daughter’s high school graduation. This will be the first Open since 1993 without either of those two present. Jordan Spieth, three time major champion and one of the game’s brightest young stars, commented, “It kind of makes me feel like we’re maybe ten years down the road” [to a time when Tiger and Phil will be retired from big-time golf].
The 117th Open will commence tomorrow at Erin Hills in Erin WS, about 1 hour southwest of Milwaukee. For you trivia buffs, this will be the first Open held in WS. The Open is one of the four major championships in golf. The others are the Masters, which is held in April, the British Open (July), and the PGA (August). As in tennis, the majors are considered to be so important that players’ legacies are determined, in large part, by the number they have won.
Originally, the majors were generally considered to include the US and British Opens and the US and British Amateurs. Those were the tournaments that Bobby Jones won for his Grand Slam. However, concurrent with the rise of professional golf in the US in the 1940s and 1950s the Masters and the PGA replaced the two amateur tournaments in importance. After all, it no longer made much sense to include amateur tournaments as majors when most of the best golfers could no longer qualify to compete in them. The watershed year was 1960. That year Arnold Palmer, who was the best and most influential golfer at the time, won the Masters and the US Open. He observed that if he could add the British Open and the PGA he would have completed a “grand slam” equal to that of Mr. Jones. He failed to do so, but the notion of those four tournaments as the four majors “stuck.”
The Open is always scheduled for mid-June with the final on Father’s Day. The Open field includes 156 players. This year there will be golfers from 23 countries, including every continent, except Antarctica. Golf has truly become an international sport. The Open includes four rounds of stroke play over four days. If a playoff is required a full 18 holes are played on Monday. If there is still a tie the winner is decided by sudden death. Do you recall the name of last year’s winner? See below.
Only about half of the players in the field are required to actually qualify. The remainder gain entry by one of many exemptions. Some of the exemption categories include:
Winners of the past ten US Opens.
Winner and runner-up of the previous year’s US Amateur Championship.
Winners of the past five Masters, British Opens or PGA Championships.
Winner of the previous year’s Senior Open.
Top 60 ranked golfers.
Special exemptions granted by the USGA. These are usually top-ranked players who, though past their prime, are deemed worthy.
There are other exemption categories, but I think you get the idea. Those who are required to qualify must survive two stages – Local and Sectional. There is no age requirement, so it not unusual to find a teenager in the field. The youngest qualifier ever was 14 (Andy Zhang of China).
Some interesting facts about the Open that only the most knowledgeable golf fans would know:
The winner of the inaugural tournament in 1895 was Horace Rawlins, an Englishman.
Last year’s winner was Dustin Johnson.
The record score is 268 by Rory McIlroy in 2011.
The record for most Open Championships is four and is held by four men. Three of them will be familiar to you – Jack Nicklaus, Bobby Jones and Ben Hogan. If you know the fourth, you are either a golf historian or a trivia buff, and my hat’s off to you (even though I don’t wear one). His name is Willie Anderson. Anderson was an interesting and tragic story. He was born in Scotland and emigrated to the US at the age of sixteen. He was one of the outstanding golfers of his time. He won the tournament in 1901,1903, 1904 and 1905. He was an original member of the PGA Hall of Fame and an inductee into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1975. Tragically, he died at the age of 31 from epilepsy.
The inaugural Open was contested on a nine-hole course at the Newport Country Club. Only ten professionals and one amateur bothered to enter. They played 36 holes in one day. The winner received $150 out of a total purse of $335 plus a gold medal. By contrast, this year’s winner is expected to receive in excess of $2 million out of a total purse of some $12 million. I think we can say the tournament and the sport have grown considerably.
Enjoy the Open. Let’s root for a tight, suspenseful tournament that doesn’t get decided until the last hole.