British Open Championship 101: History, qualifications, course rota, most titles

British Open Championship 101: History, qualifications, course rota, most titles
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Take a look at some answers to frequently asked questions about The Open:

What’s all this “The Open” stuff? I thought it was the British Open.

What you call it has historically depended on where you were. If you were in the U.S., you called it the British Open, just as Europeans refer to the PGA Championship as the U.S. PGA. Outside the U.S. it generally has been referred to as The Open Championship. The preferred name of the organizers is The Open.

How old is it?

It’s the oldest golf championship, dating back to 1860.

Where is it played?

There is a rotation – or “rota” – of courses used. Currently there are nine: Royal Birkdale, Royal St. George’s, Royal Liverpool and Royal Lytham and St. Annes, all in England; Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland and St. Andrews, Carnoustie, Royal Troon and Muirfield, all in Scotland. Muirfield was removed from the rota in 2016 when members voted against allowing female members, but when the vote was reversed in 2017 it was allowed back in. Turnberry, site of Tom Watson’s 1977 “Duel in the Sun” win over Jack Nicklaus and Watson’s loss to Stewart Cink in 2009, is effectively not part of the rota. R&A chief Martin Slumbers said in 2021 that The Open would not return to Turnberry “under current circumstances” (with Donald Trump as its owner).

Where will it be played this year?

Royal Troon in Troon, Scotland. The course last hosted an Open in 2016, which provided an epic final-round duel won by Henrik Stenson over Phil Mickelson. This will mark the 10th time The Open has been held at Troon, dating to 1923.

Who has won The Open on that course?

Outside of Stenson, there have been: Todd Hamilton (2004), Justin Leonard (1997), Mark Calcavecchia (1989), Watson (1982), Tom Weiskopf (1973), Arnold Palmer (1962), Bobby Locke (1950) and Arthur Havers (1923). Sophia Popov also won the AIG Women’s Open at Troon in 2020.

Here are the players who have won The Open Championship and where they prevailed.

Who has won this event the most?

Harry Vardon, who was from the Channel Island of Jersey, won a record six times between 1896 and 1914. Australian Peter Thomson, American Tom Watson, Scot James Braid and Englishman J.H. Taylor each won five times.

What about the Morrises?

Tom Sr. won four times between 1861 and 1867. His son, Tom Jr., also won four times, between 1868 and 1872.

Have players from any particular country dominated?

In the early days, Scots won the first 29 Opens – not a shocker since they were all played at one of three Scottish courses, Prestwick, St. Andrews and Musselburgh. In the current era, going back to 1999 (we’ll explain why that year in a minute), the scoreboard is United States, 12 wins; South Africa, three wins; Ireland, three wins; Northern Ireland, two wins; and Sweden, Italy and Australia, one win each. The only Scot to win in that period was Paul Lawrie, who took advantage of one of the biggest collapses in golf history.

Who is this year’s defending champion?

Brian Harman. The American overcame some antagonistic fans and rainy conditions to prevail in dominant fashion at Royal Liverpool. Harman finished six shots clear of four others in second place.

The ‘claret jug’ is the name of the trophy?

Informally, yes. It’s official name is the Golf Champion Trophy, but you rarely hear that used. The claret jug replaced the original Challenge Belt in 1872. The winner of the claret jug gets to keep it for a year, then must return it (each winner gets a replica to keep).

Which Opens have been the most memorable?

Well, there was Palmer in 1961 and ’62; Jean Van de Velde’s collapse in 1999; Ben Hogan’s win in 1953; Woods’ eight-shot domination of the 2000 Open at St. Andrews; Watson almost winning at age 59 in 2009; Doug Sanders missing what would have been a winning 3-foot putt at St. Andrews in 1970; Tony Jacklin becoming the first Briton to win the championship in 18 years; and, of course, the aforementioned “Duel in the Sun” at Turnberry in ’77, in which Watson and Nicklaus dueled head-to-head over the final 36 holes, Watson winning by shooting 65-65 to Nicklaus’ 65-66.

What is the field criteria and how do players qualify?

There are a variety of way. One, involves the exemption categories, which are listed below. Players can also earn spots via The Open Qualifying Series, which awards top finishers in select events around the world. There are also regional and final qualifying events, much like the USGA uses local and final qualifying for the U.S. Open.

Exemption categories, per the R&A:

  • 1. The Open champions aged 60 or under on July 21, 2024 (for all champions up to 2024)
  • 2. The Open champions aged 55 or under on July 21, 2024 (for all champions from 2024)
  • 3. The Open champions for 2013-23
  • 4. First 10 anyone tying for 10th place in The 151st Open at Royal Liverpool in 2023
  • 5. The first 50 players on the OWGR for Week 21, 2024
  • 6. First 30 in the Final Race to Dubai Rankings for 2023
  • 7. The BMW PGA Championship winners for 2021-23
  • 8. First 5 DP World Tour members and any Race to Dubai members tying for fifth place, not otherwise exempt, in the top 20 of the Race to Dubai Rankings on completion of the 2024 BMW International
  • 9. The U.S. Open champions for 2019-24
  • 10. The Masters Tournament champions for 2019-24
  • 11. The PGA champions for 2018-24
  • 12. The Players champions for 2022-24
  • 13. Top 30 players for the final 2023 FedExCup
  • 14. First 5 PGA Tour members and any PGA Tour members tying for fifth place, not exempt in the top 20 of the PGA Tour FedExCup for 2024 on completion of the 2024 Travelers Championship
  • 15. The 117th Visa Open de Argentina 2024 champion
  • 16. The first 5 players on the 2024 Federations Ranking List as of closing date
  • 17. The Japan Open champion for 2023
  • 18. The Senior Open champion for 2023
  • 19. The Amateur champion for 2024
  • 20. The U.S. Amateur champion for 2023
  • 21. The European Amateur champion for 2024
  • 22. The Mark H McCormack Medal (men’s world amateur ranking) winner for 2023
  • 23. The Asia-Pacific Amateur champion 2023
  • 24. The Latin America Amateur champion 2024
  • 25. The Open Amateur Series winner 2024
  • 26. The Africa Amateur champion 2024
  • 27. Medical Exemption

(Exemptions 19-26 can only be taken up by players retaining their amateur status.)

When I watch this tournament on TV, I hear lots of unfamiliar terms, like “gorse” and “whin” and “burn.” What do these terms mean?

Gorse is a prickly shrub, which sometimes is referred to as whin. Heather is also a shrub. What the scots call a burn, would also be considered a creek or stream.

Hey, wait, I almost forgot: Did you say final major of the year?

Yep. With the PGA Championship’s move to May and the Masters (April) and U.S. Open (June) keeping their normal spots on the schedule, The Open is now the final of the four big events.

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