This may be unpalatable for Americans, but the British Open is the best of the four men’s major championships.
Commonly called – most often in the U.S. – the “British Open,” it is known in the rest of the golfing world as The Open Championship.
And justifiably so.
Let’s eliminate the pretenders in chronological order.
By the time the United States Open Championship was first played in 1895, The Open was 35 years old. In 1860, Willie Park Sr. won the one-day tournament, three times around the then-12-hole Prestwick Golf Club, in 174 strokes. Before the first tee ball was struck at the inaugural U.S. Open, Park and his son, Willie Park Jr., and Old Tom Morris and his son, known as Young Tom, had dominated the real Open, already etching their names into golf history with 14 combined titles.
And while the U.S. version undeniably has been played, almost without exception, on great courses, recent venues have illustrated that the USGA envies the unequaled links upon which The Open is played.
In the vain hope that “nothing succeeds like excess,” the faux links Chambers Bay in Washington in 2015 and Erin Hills in Wisconsin last month gave players and fans the golf equivalent of a Budweiser as opposed to a Guinness. It’s all beer, but … It ain’t the real thing. No. 2 on my list.
In 1916, Jim Barnes won the first PGA Championship. Played at match play until 1958, the PGA has been criticized for suspect venues, perhaps chosen more for political and geographical considerations by the PGA of America than for more objective reasons. Rather than bowing to pressure from TV broadcasters, it should have stayed a match-play event. At least that would have distinguished it from its major brethren. Lord knows nothing else does. No. 4 on my list.
And now, every American golfer’s sacred cow: The Masters.
Now more sizzle than steak, Augusta National without a doubt continues to provide sensory exhilaration for golfers, spectators and TV viewers when it perennially plays host to the Masters in April. Even non-golfers tune in to bathe vicariously in its unnatural beauty. The “second nine” has provided unequaled thrills over the years. But what was intended by founders Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts as an “inland links” has become a pincushion flower garden, played by a field that, top to bottom, is the least intriguing in the majors. No. 3.
Let’s pause here to ponder which trophy awarded to the winner of these majors comes to mind. What’s a Wanamaker, anyhow? What does the U.S. Open trophy even look like? What’s it even called? And a miniature replica of Augusta National’s clubhouse? Really?
Ladies and gentlemen, doubters all, I give you the Claret Jug. Presented since Young Tom Morris walked away with the original red-leather, silver-embossed belt awarded to The Open champion after his third straight win, it is the most recognizable trophy in the game. It is singularly recognizable not only as the chalice presented to the “champion golfer of the year,” but is the iconic logo of The Open Championship.
It may have taken 100 years, but when Arnold Palmer traveled across the pond to play in The Open, Americans finally caught on to what the rest of the world already knew. When he won the following year, 1961, at Royal Birkdale (site of this year’s championship), the U.S. realized what golf and its majors were all about. Realized, perhaps. Understood? Not so much.
With a bullet.
John Gordon, who has covered golf for more than 30 years for Canadian newspapers, magazines and a TV network, has authored eight books on the game. He lives in Midland, Ontario. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @gordongolf