The World Open Has Humble Beginnings


It is known in just about every place but America as, quite simply, The Open. The one in the United States has a little to do with that, of course. But the British Open was being played 35 years before the U.S. Open.
It has, furthermore, been called The World Open. Players from around the globe participate, as they have for a century or more. The British Open is all-inclusive. The U.S. Open has been moving in that direction for the last decade. But the British Open has been accepting a cast from around the world since the turn of the century.
The first 12 Opens were held at a quirky old course called Prestwick. Too hemmed in buildings and too short to be played there since 1925, Prestwick held the first British Open in 1860. Willie Park was the winner as the eight golfers went around the 12 holes three times in one day. The gutta percha ball had just been invented three years earlier, and Park shot a 174, which would equate to 87 strokes if there were 18 holes instead of just 12. The gutta percha could only go a maximum of about 190 yards, compared to todays launches which approach 375 yards.
Tom Morris Sr. ' Old Tom Morris - was the star of those early matches, winning four of the first eight. Then along came his son, Young Tom Morris, who was just 17 when he won his first British Open in 1868. At the age of 19, he won his third straight Open with a then unheard-of score of 149. Using the dead ball, he played some of the most brilliant golf ever. He won by a whopping 12 shots, including a 12-hole course record of 47. His first hole, a lengthy par-5, was covered in just three shots.
Young Tom died a young man in 1872, just 21 years old, after the tragic death of his wife. It is said he died of a broken heart. However, before his passing, he recorded four straight Open titles. There was no championship in 1871.
In 1873 the tournament moved for the first time, venerable old St. Andrews with its 18-hole layout hosting the event. Until 1892, the rota consisted of these two courses and Musselburgh. The championship was extended from 18 holes to 36 holes in that year, when Muirfield made its debut.
Harry Vardon won for the first time in 1896. He would win three of four years, the same as James Braid in 1904-08. In 1922, Walter Hagen ushered in the American era, when he and Bobby Jones combined to win seven of the next nine years.
In 1926 at Royal Lytham and St. Annes, Jones suffered the ultimate embarrassment. At the 18-hole turn on the 36-hole finale, he returned to his hotel room for a sandwich, then forgot his players badge and was refused entry by a stubborn guard. He had to pay for a ticket and proceeded to win by two strokes over Al Watrous.
Jones win at Hoylake in 1930 was the second leg in his improbable Grand Slam. He led the field all the way, breaking the course record by 10 shots. Along the way, he became the only man to equal John Balls feat of winning both the British Amateur and British Open in the same year.
Sam Snead won at St. Andrews in 1946 during a long stretch when American participation was few and far between. American players had to pay for the long journey when the income was much less than it is today. They had to miss a minimum of three weeks with the travel, skipping the PGA Championship in the process. And everyone had to qualify for Open in those days, including past champions. It was just too much of a gamble for the lengthy travel involved.
The shortest hole on the current eight-course rota, the 126-yard eighth at Troon, required 15 strokes for German amateur Herman Tizzies to complete in 1950. He constantly struggled with the bunkers on either side of the green, finally achieving the putting surface, and, shockingly, one-putting.
Ben Hogan won at Carnoustie in his only British Open in 1953. It prevented him from having a chance at the Grand Slam, since he had already won the Masters and U.S. Open. He did not return in time for the PGA. Hogan was a bit nervous about the courses condition. I have a greens mover back home in Texas. Ill have it sent over, he supposedly said. But he went on to win the Open by four strokes.
Arnold Palmer was the first to lead the American return in 1960. He had promised his father he would play all over the world, and the British Open was certainly one of the foremost championships anywhere. Air travel had replaced the ship as the conveyance of choice, and Palmer made his decision look brilliant with a win in 1961 at Royal Birkdale.