By Joel Tadman
From Tom and Jack's 'Duel in the Sun' in 1977 to Tiger's career grand slam, we explore the surprising level of success by American golfers at the Open Championship....
Traditional thinking would suggest that The Open Championship, played on firm Links courses with slower greens often frequented by bad weather, is a far cry from the manicured greens, flat fairways and hot sunshine of the PGA Tour American players are accustomed to. Some have even turned down the opportunity to contest the Claret Jug.
And yet, the list of Open champions shows that the United States of America are the most dominant nation at the oldest tournament in golf. If you count the two Scottish-born winners who were American citizens at the time of their victories, the USA has 42 Open Championship wins by 27 different players, one ahead of Scotland, the country that dominated the early years from the first Open Championship back in 1860.
Tom Watson, with five Open Championship wins, is the most prolific American champion, followed by Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods with three wins each. Even more surprising is the list of American players that won their first and only major at the Open Championship. There are ten in all, including Tom Weiskopf (1973), Mark Calcavecchia (1989), Tom Lehman (1996), Justin Leonard (1997), David Duval (1999), Ben Curtis (2003), Todd Hamilton (2004) and Stewart Cink (2009).
Jock Hutchison, one of the two American winners born in Scotland, was the first, beating in 1921 at St Andrews, beating England’s Roger Wethered in a playoff in 1921 at St. Andrews to secure the £75 first prize.
It was then that the rivalry between Walter Hagen and amateur Bobby Jones began, the pair winning seven of nine Opens from 1922. The 1953 Open at Carnoustie was memorable for being part of the ‘Hogan Slam’ as Ben Hogan came back from a near-fatal car accident to win, shooting a course record 68 on the final day. Arnold Palmer kick started his journey to stardom with his first of back-to-back Opens at Royal Birkdale in 1961, victorious by one stroke in a tournament affected by torrential rain.
Jack Nicklaus won his first in 1966 at Muirfield and in 1977 contested the famous ‘Duel in the sun’ at Turnberry against compatriot Tom Watson. Watson, coming off a Masters win over Nicklaus months earlier, was triumphant by a shot after an epic back-nine tussle. It was a tournament dominated by America, with 11 of the top 12 finishers from the USA.
Tiger Woods’ emphatic eight shot win at St. Andrews in 2000 was his first Open and completed his career grand slam. With victory, he held all four major titles at the same time and would win his second US PGA Championship a month later.
The 2009 Open Championship will go down in history as the fairy tale that could and should have been as Tom Watson was one putt away from becoming the oldest Open Championship winner at 59-years-old. Fellow American Stewart Cink became the villain, beating Watson in a four-hole playoff after Watson agonizingly bogeyed his 72nd hole.
The final word of this look back goes to Phil Mickelson, who after finishing runner up to Darren Clarke in 2011, went one better in 2013 at Muirfield, overcoming a five-shot, final-round deficit to beat Henrik Stenson by three shots to win his first Claret Jug, his fifth major title thanks to four birdies in his final six holes.
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