‘Although I have great affection for the Masters, as far as pure golf is concerned, I’d rather play in the British Open than any other event.’
These are the words of the great Jack Nicklaus, who won three Open Championships during his illustrious career.
The wins are three less than his six Masters green jackets he won at Augusta. It’s less than his five PGA Championships and his four US Open crowns. But for Nicklaus the Open is the ultimate test of golf.
The ‘Golden Bear’, though, hasn’t been the most American successful golfer at the Open Championship. Tiger Woods also has three Claret Jugs, while Walter Hagen crossed the Atlantic and won this tournament four times.
However, Tom Watson is considered to be the greatest links player of all time, having won five the Open five times, including his epic battle with Nicklaus at Turnberry in 1977, which has since been known as the ‘Duel in the Sun’.
However, links golf isn’t a particular favourite of the modern-day American golfer. The courses are very different to the traditional layouts on the PGA Tour in the United States, and obviously it requires a different game plan, skills and mentality to succeed.
American golfers dominated this prestigious tournament in the late 90s and 2000s. But, while they make out of the bulk of the world’s top players in the world golf rankings, only three golfers from the States have won the Major since 2009.
The modern-day American golfer is all about overpowering a golf course. Brooks Koepka is a perfect of example of a guy hitting it a mile off the tee and then using his short irons and wedges to score. Not even the infamous Bethpage Black could put up a fight when the strong American got going at the PGA Championship earlier this year.
Koepka has managed two top-10 finishes at the Open, but he hasn’t put in the sort of jaw-dropping performances which he has showcased at all three Majors this year, after finishing in the top two at the Masters, the PGA and the US Open.
The wind and the terrain make links golf such a tough challenge and such a fantastic spectacle. You have to use more brain than brawn, as precision and placement often beat raw power off the tee.
Obviously, there are times when power does come into the equation, as we have seen people use the little mounds and rock-hard fairways to get plenty of roll and drive to the greens. But for the most part, you need to be accurate and leave yourself the best number coming to deal with all the crests and, most of all, the murderous pot bunkers, which have left even the best of players asking for a shovel to dig themselves out.
The last two Americans to win the Open, Jordan Speith and Zach Johnson, aren’t long hitters but guys who can play with imagination and putt well.
It’s also why the Open is probably the one Major where the guys in their 40s and 50s can still win.
In 2009, a 59-year-old Watson, with an artificial hip, was making a run for the title at Turnberry. He was gunning for his sixth Claret Jug to put him level with Harry Vardon. He couldn’t finish the job, but 40-year-old Darren Clarke could.
In 2012 a 42-year-old Ernie Els came from absolutely nowhere to win his fourth Major and his second Open crown.
So, this is why people look forward to the Open more than any tournament (besides the Masters). It’s still a true test of golf. A proper test of wit and precision.
Just ask 18-time Major winner Jack Nicklaus if you don’t believe me.