The Open is Unique

Posted: July 17, 2012 in sports

Golf fans tend to love the British Open or ignore it.

The British Open is different from anything else on the PGA Tour, and not simply because it is played in a different hemisphere. The golf is different, oh, so different.

American golf is played on carpets of manicured grass. Targets are often clearly defined. Sand traps are called hazards, but they are often safe havens for the players. American sand traps, with few exceptions, are consistently consistent, filled with fluffy sand to certain specifications. PGA Tour golfers EXPECT to get up-and-down in two strokes from bunkers. They complain and whine if the bunkers aren’t the same, meaning the same type of sand and groomed edges. American golf is played in the air where distances can be controlled. Our best players hit the ball extremely high. That ability is one thing that set Jack Nicklaus apart from the crowd. Ditto for the two best players of this era, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.

British golf, indeed, involves more luck. Much of it is played on or near the ground. Bunkers are true hazards, to be avoided at nearly all costs. The putting surfaces are slower. British golf is about being able to handle adversity whether it is a bad bounce or the weather, which is often brutal. It is about imagination also as much as it is about execution. Power is not a major factor, which is why Tom Watson and Greg Norman can still contend at their advanced ages.

The Open Championship, as it is simply called around the world, claims to identify the worldwide Champion Golfer of the Year. And, indeed, nearly every great golfer of every generation has claimed the prize.

Yet, the roll call of Champion Golfers includes more than its share of one-shot wonders and one-time major champions, no doubt because of the luck factor and the weather. That’s especially true of Americans. Among the champions from the USA are such relatively unknowns as Todd Hamilton, Ben Curtis and Bill Rogers. Among the quality American golfers whose only major came in the Open are Jacksonville’s David Duval, Tom Lehman, Justin Leonard, Stewart Cink, Mark Calcavecchia and Tom Weiskopf.

Until Arnold Palmer started encouraging American golfers to make the overseas trek in the early 1960s, few USA players bothered going. Ben Hogan and Sam Snead won in their only Open appearances. Until the 1980s, the Open fields seldom included more than a dozen are so Americans.

This year’s Open, which starts Thursday at Royal Lytham and St. Annes in England, has 43 Americans among the 156 competitors. The number would have been 45 but reigning U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson (expectant father) and former Open champ Mark O’Meara (injury) withdrew.

Duval, now a mere shadow of his former golfing self, won the last time is Open was played at Royal Lytham (’01). That tournament is best remembered for then-leader Ian Woosnam being penalized two strokes for having too many clubs in his bag.The U.S. Open has its grueling course setup. The Masters has its tradition. The PGA Championship has its label as a major. The Players is the true championship of the PGA Tour.

The Open? Well, it is simply unique. And I love it.

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