A History of the Open Championship
For all the talking up the American golf fans do about their own Masters, not to mention the PGA Championship and US Open, it truly is impossible to grasp the full weight on the game of golf until the third Major of the year rolls around in the third week of July.
Why? Because this is the 154th installment of The Open Championship, usually called the British Open by those across the pond, and the weight of history, legacy and tradition that embodies golf is found here more than any other place on the planet.
To put that in perspective, here are a few things that were going on in 1860, the year the first Open Championship was held:
- Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States, widely believe to be the impetus of the US Civil War.
- The Pony Express began its first run from Missouri to California.
- France’s Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville becomes the first human to record sound on a machine.
- Italy annexes Tuscany.
- Charles Dickens publishes the first installment of Great Expectations.
- Cocaine is invented.
Meanwhile, at Prestwick Golf Club in Scotland, eight golfers played three rounds at a 12-hole course with Willie Park Sr. defeating Old Tom Morris by two strokes. Three years later, a prize of £10 was given to the winner, about £911 in today’s market.
Scotland held on to the tournament exclusively until 1894, when it moved to the Royal St. George’s Golf Club in England. This was also the first year there was a cut.
Three years later, The Royal Liverpool hosted the Open Championship for the first time, with Harold Hilton firing a 80-75-84-75 – 314 to take the crown. Located in Merseyside, North West England, it was founded in 1869 and became a “royal” designation when it enjoyed the patronage of the Duke of Connaught, a younger son of Queen Victoria.
The course is built on the seaside in Hoylake, giving it some of the most spectacular views in the entire UK. In its present form, it is a 7,258-yard par-72 course, with just four par-5 holes. The shortest is the 161-yard No. 15, the longest, the 560-yard No. 18.
Bernard Darwin once described the course as “Blown by mighty winds, breeder of mighty champions.” It hosted the Open Championship 10 times between 1897 and 1967, then suffered a drought of 39 years before getting the prestigious event again in 2006, when Tiger Woods torched it and the field with his 18-under victory, his first after the death of his father two months prior.
A Scot won the tournament every year from its inception until 1890, when England’s John Ball, an amateur, won the title. It wasn’t until 1907 that someone from outside the UK took the title, that being France’s Arnaud Massy.
Last year’s Open was one of the most compelling in recent history as American Phil Mickelson rallied from ninth place on the final day to win the tournament by three strokes over Henrik Stenson. The course at Muirfield Golf Links provided one of the steepest challenges for the entire season. After two rounds, only nine players were under par, and the cut was set at a rather high +8. Spain’s MIguel Angel Jimenez, at the time 49 years old, held the lead at 3-under, with the likes of Stenson and Woods a stroke back.
By the end of Saturday, the number of players under par was down to three – leader Lee Westwood at 3-under, and Woods and Hutner Mahan at 1-under, with Mickelson at 2-over. As Westwood faded on the back nine, Mickelson was making his move, with birdies on 13 and 14, then two more on 17 and 18, to clinch his fifth Major title. Mickelson caddy Jim Mackay declared it the best round of Mickelson’s career.