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British Open History

British Open History

The 2017 British Open

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British Open History


The Open Championship, as it is known throughout the British Isles, is the oldest and most revered of the golfing world's contests dating back to the first held Oct. 17, 1860 at the Prestwick Golf Club in Ayrshire, Scotland. Unlike the hundreds of tournaments staged throughout the world today attracting an international field, the very first Open was played by eight professional Scottish golfers. Willie Park beat Tom Morris by two strokes, carding a 174 after three rounds on the 12-hole course. The following year, the second Open welcomed eight amateurs joining the professional field of 10 golfers.

Unlike the many cup-like trophies awarded today, the first 10 years of Open play awarded the winner a championship belt of red leather with a silver buckle. It took three Opens until a prize fund was established at about $50, split among the second through fourth-place finishers. The champion retained the belt for a year, handing it over to the next year's winner. During the fourth year, Tom Morris was awarded the first cash prize of £6 for winning the tournament.

The belt was finally replaced after Tom Morris Jr. had a run of three championships in a row up through 1870. There was no contest in '71 and the Claret Jug was introduced as the Golf Champion Trophy in 1872, won by Morris Jr. The original jug was created by Mackay Cunningham & Company of Edinburgh. It cost £30. Unfortunately, it wasn't made in time to be presented to Morris, but his name was already engraved when the 1873 winner, Tommy Kidd, collected it.

The original trophy – along with the original belt – went on display at the Royal and Ancient Club of St. Andrews. The one presented to the 2009 winner was first awarded to an American Walter Hagen, in 1928. Although the winner is required to return the jug before the next year's Open, all champions receive an exact replica to keep. Three other replicas exist – one on display at the British Museum and two more used for traveling exhibitions.

The Open's first champion – Tom Morris Jr. – had a short but successful career. He was credited with the first Open hole-in-one in 1868 at the 8th hole of Prestwick. He also has the distinction of carding a win with his father coming in second the same year. Also, Morris Jr. carded the first albatross, more commonly known as a double eagle, on the first hole during his 1870 win.

Unlike the majority of today's professionals who tour for a living, the Open was populated by men who worked as greenkeepers, caddies or club makers supplementing their incomes in match plays throughout Scotland. By the end of the 19th century, the tournament evolved to 72 holes of play and attracted entrants from throughout Scotland and England. After suspended play during World War I, entrants from throughout the world set their eyes on the Claret Jug. Although champions usually hailed from the ranks of professionals, six amateurs earned the championship title; the last being American Bobby Jones, who won his third in 1930. The first American born champion was Walter Hagen who won in 1922.

Americans dominated the Open between the world wars, winning every year from 1924-1933. In fact, up to World War II, only one Frenchman, Arnaud Massey, along with a handful of Americans, were the only other nationalities to sport an Open champion other than Scotland and England. Sam Snead was the 1946 Open champion in the first year play after the Second World War.

Post WWII found an increasing international blend of Open participants, including champions. Northern Ireland's Fred Daly won the year after Snead and South Africa's Bobby Locke carded his first win in 1949, again in '50 and his third in '52, going on to a fourth win in '57. Peter Thomsen was the first golfer from "down under" to claim the Claret Jug with his first of a three-year spree in 1954. The Australian carded three more Open wins in '55, '56 and '58.

Exploding onto the Open scene in 1959 was another champion from South Africa – Gary Player. He would join with some of golf's most revered names during the next quarter century allowing only one win to England – Tony Jacklin in 1969 – and one to Scotland's Sandy Lyle in 1985. During these years names like Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Seve Ballesteros and Tom Watson all carded multiple wins. Watson carried the Claret Jug home five times in this time period.
In the next 10 years, Open play was dominated by Englishman Nick Faldo with three wins while Australian Greg Norman nailed two championships. Spain's Ballesteros carded a third Open win in 1988.

The Open was added as an official PGA tournament in 1995 with American John Daly crowned champion. In the nearly quarter century that has elapsed since Daly's win, Americans have dominated the leader board including the present number one rated golfer in the world, Tiger Woods, who won his first in 2000 and then carded back-to-back wins in 2005-6. 2007 and 2008 have seen the winner hail from the Irish Republic, Pádraig Harrington taking home the cup both years.

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