Tradition, legacy, difficulty, the chance to be crowned Champion Golfer of the Year – there are many reasons why the world’s best golfers love The Open.
First played at Prestwick in 1860, The Open is the oldest and most prestigious major in the golfing calendar and many professionals grow up dreaming of lifting the famous Claret Jug. In fact, the reigning Champion Golfer Francesco Molinari summed up perfectly what it means to win The Open after the Italian emerged triumphant at Carnoustie in July last year. “To look at the names on that Claret Jug, what can you say? It’s the best golfers in history on there and it’s incredible for someone like me coming from Italy,” he said. So as it’s Valentine’s Day and love is in the air, it seems only fitting to look at why The Open holds such a special place in the hearts of golfers all over the world.
“Historically it's the most famous tournament, it's the most difficult tournament to win because yardage doesn't mean a thing.” Gary Player
Every major has its own identity, but The Open stands apart from the rest for its tradition and the difficulty presented by the different links courses on the rota.
Links golf is often described as the purest form of the game, due to its connection with the way golf originated in Scotland – on courses shaped by nature with undulating terrain.
With further challenges presented by the weather no round is ever the same, which is one of the main reasons why three-time Champion Golfer Gary Player regards it so highly.
“Why do I love The Open? It’s very simple,” he said. “Historically it’s the most famous tournament, it’s the most difficult tournament to win because yardage doesn’t mean a thing.
“You can have 150 yards and hit a sand wedge or you can hit a three wood. It brings out the playability, the wise man has a better chance of winning and the whole ambience is unequalled.”
Links Golf Battle
Player is not alone in relishing the challenge presented by The Open, with fellow three-time winner Tiger Woods also falling in love with it after playing links golf for the first time.
“My first recollection of an Open was ’86 when it came on extremely early for us on the West Coast, it was just a different kind of golf,” said the 14-time major winner.
“I thought it was really weird to see the guys bounce balls into the greens because I have never seen that before. It was fascinating to watch but it was so different.
“I didn’t really truly understand links golf until I actually got the chance to go out there and play it. Once I got the first chance to play it, I fell in love with it.”
Rory McIlroy, who was inspired by watching Woods win his first Open at St Andrews in 2000, added his name to the Claret Jug in 2014 and believes it presents a test like no other.
“I think every aspect of your game at an Open gets tested and ultimately the person who handles the adversity the best is usually the guy that comes out on top,” he said.
For many professionals, The Open was their first introduction to the sport and resulted in them spending many hours practicing holing out putts to win the Claret Jug.
“When The Open was on I didn’t want to miss a shot,” said Darren Clarke, who fulfilled the ambition he had dreamt about when he claimed the title at Royal St George’s in 2011.
“Not everybody reaches their dreams but unless you have them you are not going to push yourself to get there. The Open was always the one I wanted to win.”
The tradition of being named Champion Golfer of the Year also hooked American Jordan Spieth after he won The 146th Open by three shots at Royal Birkdale in 2017.
“The traditions of The Open are special,” he said. “It's a unique title for their Champion and it's been an honour being introduced that way throughout the year at different events.”
A Lasting Legacy
Perhaps the most important reason The Open means so much to so many people is the reverence in which its Champions Golfers are held after sealing their place in history.
The legacy of The Open was certainly at the forefront of the mind of two-time Champion Golfer Padraig Harrington – the first European to win back-to-back Claret Jugs in more than 100 years.
“For as long as we go on there will be an Open Championship and my name will be on that trophy,” said Harrington. “It's far more than I ever believed I could have done.”
Jack Nicklaus, who was crowned Champion Golfer on three occasions in 1966, 1970 and 1978, also believes the lasting impact of claiming the Claret Jug marks The Open out from the rest.
“The Open to me is about all of golf through all of time,” he said. “Right through the times of all the Champion Golfers, the Bobby Joneses and the Bobby Lockes and Peter Thomsons.
“People still talk about them. Rarely at a US Open, rarely at a Masters, rarely at the PGA Championships do we talk about 50 years ago, but they do at The Open.”