The 148th Open Championship gets underway today at the Royal Portrush Golf Club in Northern Ireland.
The Open is golf’s oldest championship. It was first contested in 1860 when professionals gathered at Prestwick Golf Club in Scotland to compete for the Challenge Belt. Willie Park Jr. beat “Old” Tom Morris by two strokes to win the belt and become Champion Golfer of the Year.
The Open Championship is a pilgrimage to ancestral ground. The fourth and final major championship of the year [beginning this year, the PGA Championship moved to May, making the Open the last major of the season] draws the strongest field among the Grand Slam events. Qualifiers include the top 50 players in the World Golf Rankings, all previous Open champions age 60 and under and the top ten finishers from the previous year’s championship. The field also includes all players who have won any major in the previous five years.
Arnold Palmer saved the British Open.
After Ben Hogan won at Carnoustie to complete the Triple Crown in 1953, the Open Championship fell off the radar of American golfers. Purses were small and travel to the U.K. strenuous. In 1959, not a single American pro was in the Open field. Aware that Bobby Jones and Walter Hagan had cemented their legacies at the Open, Arnold Palmer came to Scotland to play in the event’s 100thanniversary, in 1960. Arnie finished second to Ken Nagle but returned to win back-to-back Claret Jugs in 1961 and 1962. The world took notice, and the Open became cool again.
In 1867, “Old” Tom Morris became the oldest golfer to win the Open at 46 years and 99 days old. The following year, his son, “Young” Tom Morris became the youngest winner, at 17 years and five months old.
The tournament’s grand prize is the Golf Champion Trophy, commonly known as the Claret Jug. Awarded annually since 1873, the trophy, originally manufactured by Mackay Cunningham & Company of Edinburgh, stands 20.75 inches tall and weighs just over five pounds.
“It’s the coolest trophy that our sport has to offer.” – Jordan Speith, 2017 Champion Golfer
A field of 156 players compete for the Open Championship title. By contrast, the Masters had a record-low field of 87 in 2019 and hasn’t broken 100 since 103 players teed it up at Augusta in 1966.
In addition to winning the Golf Champion Trophy, the Open winner is presented a Gold Medal. Since 1948, the tournament has also awarded a Silver Medal – of the same size and design of the winner’s medal – to the low amateur. Beginning in 1972, all amateurs, other than the leading amateur, who make it to the final round have received a Bronze Medal.
Gary Player has appeared at the British Open 46 times, more than any player in history.
Frank Stranahan won a record four Silver Medals as low amateur between 1949 and 1953. Other Silver Medal winners include Jose Maria Olazabal, Tiger Woods, Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy.
The Open Championship was canceled from 1915 and 1919 because of World War I. The Second World War forced the tournament’s cancellation from 1940 through 1945.
Jack Nicklaus has won three Open Championships. The Golden Bear has finished runner-up at golf’s oldest championship a record seven times.
Harry Vardon has won a record six Claret Jugs. Vardon, who invented the overlapping grip, won his first Open Championship at Muirfield in 1896 and his last at Prestwick, in 1914.
Henrik Stenson outdueled Phil Mickelson in their epic showdown at the 2016 Open Championship. Stenson’s aggregate score of 264 is tied with Brooks Koepka [2018 PGA Championship] for lowest in major championship history. Mr. Stenson’s 20-under-par equaled Jason Day [2015 PGA Championship] for lowest score relative to par.