The Open 101: A guide to the year's third major


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 10: 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, Turnberry 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.

Where will it be played this year?

At Royal Birkdale, which is located north of Liverpool in northwest England. The town is called Southport.

Who has won The Open on that course?

Going back to the first time Royal Birkdale hosted, in 1954, winners there have been Peter Thomson (twice), Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, Johnny Miller, Lee Trevino, Padraig Harrington, Mark O'Meara and Ian Baker-Finch.

Palmer's name jumps off that list. I've read that he "saved" the British ... uh, The Open Championship, um, The Open. What's the story there?

Before 1960, few top American players bothered to make the transatlantic trip to play in The Open. It was an expensive trip, and the purses weren't very lucrative. But in 1960 Palmer, the biggest name in the game, won the Masters and U.S. Open and had his sights set on winning all four majors. So he made the crossing to play in The Open at St. Andrews.

Yet he didn't win, did he?

No. He finished second to Australian Kel Nagle by one shot. He returned for the event the following year at Royal Birkdale, and this time he won. Then he successfully defended his title in 1962 at Troon. He brought such attention to the championship that other Americans began adding it to their schedules.

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, nine wins; South Africa, three wins; Ireland, two wins; Northern Ireland, two wins; and Sweden, one win. The only Scot to win in that period was Paul Lawrie, who took advantage of one of the biggest collapses in golf history.

You can't leave us hanging like that. Explain, please.

In 1999 at Carnoustie, Frenchman Jean Van de Velde came to the final hole needing only a double-bogey 6 to win. But a bad drive and some subsequent bad decisions left him with a triple-bogey 7 (and he had to make a 6-foot putt to salvage that score). He fell into a three-way playoff with Lawrie and Justin Leonard, which Lawrie won.

Who is this year's defending champion?

That would be Swede Henrik Stenson, who finished three strokes clear of Phil Mickelson last year at Royal Troon.

Has Mickelson ever won this event?

Yes. He won in 2013 at Muirfield in dramatic fashion. After his closing 66 that included birdies on four of the last six holes, he said, "I played arguably the best round of my career, and shot the round of my life."

What is the trophy called?

The claret jug. 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 were the aforementioned appearances by Palmer in 1960, '61 and '62; Van de Velde's collapse in 1999; Ben Hogan's win at Carnoustie in 1953 which gave him that year's first three majors; Tiger 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 Duel in the Sun at Turnberry in 1977, in which Watson and Jack Nicklaus dueled head-to-head over the final 36 holes, Watson winning by shooting 65-65 to Nicklaus' 65-66.

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.