The Open is one of four “major” championships in golf. The others are the Masters, which is held in April, the PGA, which was just moved from August to May this year, and the British Open (July). 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 round on Father’s Day. The Open field includes 156 players from all over the world. Golf has truly become an international sport. The Open includes four rounds of stroke play over four days. Until 2018, if a playoff were required a full 18 holes was played on Monday. If there were still a tie the winner was decided by sudden death. Beginning in 2018 the USGA instituted a new format, which guarantees that the championship will be settled on Sunday. First, there will be a two-hole playoff with the golfer with the lowest aggregate total winning. If there is still a tie, we will go to sudden death. Take one guess as to the architect of this change in format. Hint: the initials are F O X.
This year’s Open will be contested at Pebble Beach Golf Links in the Bay Area on June 13-16. This will mark the sixth time Pebble has hosted. The total purse will be $12.5 million, with the winner garnering $2.25 million. Not a bad payday. There are several interesting storylines, other than the usual. For example:
1. Brooks Koepka is going for his third consecutive title. No one has won three in a row since 1905. Do you know who did it? Probably not, unless you are a golf savant. See the answer below.
2. Tiger Woods is seeking his 16th major title. At one time, he appeared to be likely to beat Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18, but injuries cut short his prime years, and now age is also catching up to him. It is axiomatic in sports that “Father Time” is undefeated. So, time may be running out on Tiger. Still, he did win the PGA in May, and Pebble’s layout does suit his game, so who knows?
3. Sergio Garcia has missed the cut at 7 consecutive majors, hard to believe for a golfer of his caliber. Let’s see if he can make this one.
4. Does Phil have one more run in him? He’s no longer one of the best golfers, but he is one of the most popular, and I, for one, will be rooting for him. He needs the Open to complete the career grand slam, which is a rare feat that has only been achieved by five golfers. Can you name them? See below.
5. First-time winners have become routine at majors. Don’t be surprised if we see one this weekend. The following golfers are ranked in the top 15 in the world and have NOT won a major yet: Patrick Cantlay, Bryson DeChambeau, Xander Schauffele, Rickie Fowler, Jon Rehm, Matt Kuchar, Tony Finau, and Paul Casey. Any one of them is most capable of breaking through this weekend.
Only about half of the players in the field are actually required to qualify. The remainder gain entry by one of many exemptions. Some of the exemption categories include:
1. Winners of the past ten US Opens.
2. Winner and runner-up of the previous year’s US Amateur Championship.
3. Winners of the past five Masters, British Opens or PGA Championships.
4. Winner of the previous year’s Senior Open.
5. Top 60 ranked golfers.
6. 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:
1. The winner of the inaugural tournament in 1895 was Horace Rawlins, an Englishman.
2. The record score is 268 by Rory McIlroy in 2011.
3. 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). See the answer below.
The USGA rotates the site of the Open among various sites. Next year’s will be at Winged Foot in Mamaroneck, NY. Do you know which site has hosted the most Opens? See below.
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, last year’s winner received $2.16 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.
Other four-time winner – Willie Anderson. He was also the last person to win three consecutively. 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.
Most times hosting – Oakmont Country Club – 9.
Career grand slam winners – Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.