British Open Golf History
The British Open Golf Championship or simply referred to as the Open or Open Championship is the oldest of all Major Championships and was first played for at the Prestwick Golf Club in 1860.
The Early Years
In the early days, golf was very much in its infancy and the first Open only attracted eight players and instead of prize money the winner was awarded with a Red Leather Belt with a Silver Buckle. However by 1894, the tournament had become a 72 hole event, administered by Prestwick golf course, the Royal & Ancient at St Andrews and the Honourable Company of Scottish golfers from Musselburgh. These three courses hostd the event in rotation from 1872.
Substantial prize money had become the order of the day, the famous Claret Jug had already been introduced and the event was competed for by players from all over the country, provided they could get there.
The early winners, Willie Park Senior and Old and Young Tom Morris, had become the tournament's first legends and for the first time in 1894, the Open Championship was played for outside Scotland, at the Royal St George course in Kent.
In 1898 a certain Harry Vardon from Jersey won the Ope for the first time. Vardon would go on to win the Open a further five times, between 1898 and 1914, giving him a total of six wins, which is still the record to this very day.
After the First World War, invitations to play in the tournament were dispatched worldwide, particularly to America and it was not long before a Yank won the tournament for the first time, that man was the great Walter Hagen, who would go on to win the event four times. In 1926 the Open had its first amateur winner in Bobby Jones, who would win a further twice. The wins by the Americans put the Open Championship truly on the World map where it had become by this stage the most prestigious golfing event in the World. It still holds that distinction today.
The early part of this period the tournament was dominated by players such as Bobby Locke, but between 1955 and 1965, the Open had become the property of just one man, Peter Thompson of Australia, who won five times. In between his victories however, one or two other legendary names would raise their heads for the first time, players such as Gary Player, who won the tournament in three separate decades, between 1956 and 1974.
A certain Arnold Palmer won it back to back in 1960 and 1961, while Jack Nicklaus would win his first of his three Opens in 1966 at Muirfield. Tony Jacklin in 1969, became the first Briton for 20 years to win, while there were also back to back wins for Lee Trevino in 1971 and 1972.
As Australian Peter Thompson had done in the 1950s, Tom Watson was to do in the mid 70s to early 80s and win the Open Championship five times. It was a wonderful era at that time, with Watson, competing with the Golden Bear Jack Nicklaus for world golfing supremacy. Nicklaus it has to be said came off second best to Watson during those years, who could ever forget the Duel in the Sun between the two at Turnberry in 1977, which Watson won by a stroke with two of them miles ahead of the rest of the field. Nicklaus in fact got his just desserts the following year with a win at his beloved St Andrews, it was a third and final Open victory for Nicklaus but it was a feat that even the great Watson could not achieve on the Old Course.
Luckily for the St Andrews galleries, 60 year old, Watson will be back at St Andrews this year still looking for that elusive win on the Old Course and who is to say he cannot do it after finishing 2nd at the age of 59 last year at Turnberry.
Whilst Watson dominated the earlier part of this era, the latter was initially dominated by a new force in golf from the shores of Spain. He was 21 year old Severiano Ballesteros, who delighted the Open crowds at that time when he won his first of three Open Championships in 1979. He also won at St Andrews in 1984 and had a third success in 1988 at Royal Lytham St Annes.
Little did Sevvy know at the time but his win seemed to wake up European golf and it was not long before a succession of Europeans broke through the barrier.
Sandy Lyle from Scotland came first with his win in 1986, but it was the three wins achieved by golfing Knight, Sir Nick Faldo that established Europe as a major force in golf once more. Faldo emulated Sevvy by winning one of his crowns at St Andrews with a score that at the time was record against par for a Major Championship.
Caught up with Ballesteros and Faldo at that time was the Great White Shark, Greg Norman from Australia who won the Open twice in 1986 and in 1993 but there was no other golfer who won during that era who went on to win the title again.
Of course since 2000 there has been one man, Tiger Woods who has taken the Open Championship by storm and he will be back again at Royal St George's this year looking for his fourth title. Woods is to golf today what Jack Nicklaus was during his long era at the top and he will always be the man to beat at the Championship. His win at St Andrews in 2000 beat the record held by Faldo of the lowest score to par at a Major Championship and if he can produce form half that good this year he will be lifting the Claret Jug on Sunday.
Of course there is Irishman, Padraig Harrington, who has also won the Open twice. He did it in both 2007 and 2008 and will be a major contender once again this year.
Below is the list of the past ten winners of the Open Championship, all will be in the field once again this year.
2017 - Jordan Spieth USA
2016 - Henrik Stenson SWE
2015 - Zach Johnson USA
2014 - Rory McIlroy N.IRE
2013 - Phil Mickelson USA
2012 - Ernie Els SA
2011 - Darren Clarke N.IRE
2010 - Louis Oosthuizen SA
2009 - Stewart Cink USA
2008 - Padraig Harrington IRE
2007 - Padraig Harrington IRE
2006 - Tiger Woods USA
2005 - Tiger Woods USA
2004 - Todd Hamilton USA
2003 - Ben Curtis USA
2002 - Ernie Els SA