The third major championship of the golf season kicks off Thursday morning, as Royal Liverpool Golf Club in England plays host to the 2014 British Open. Hoylake, as the course is known, hosts for the 12th time in its history.
Below is a combination of event and course history, as well as what we can expect to see this week at Hoylake in theScore's A-Z Guide to the 2014 British Open.
We haven't seen Scott in over a month, as the last time he teed it up was at Pinehurst, finishing tied for ninth and never really seeming to get it all rolling for more than a few holes. He still sits atop the Official World Golf Rankings, and enters the week listed as the number three or four betting favorite, depending on the book you use. You can also make the argument that he has some unfinished business at this tournament, considering he's had the lead on Sunday in each of the last two years, only to give it up to Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson respectively. When the Open was last held at Hoylake, Scott finished tied for eighth.
One of the first things people notice when the British Open comes on television every year is that the grass isn’t a vibrant shade of green, and that weeds appear to be growing out of every corner. In North America, a lot of courses are manipulated to make them seem perfect. It’s not uncommon for courses to put some extra color into the fairways or greens, and it makes for a much better look on television, but in Scotland, that doesn’t happen. Funny enough, we got a small preview of this last month when the U.S. Open was played at Pinehurst, which led to Donald Trump suggesting that televised golf shouldn't look like this. Last time the Open was held at Hoylake back in 2006, Northwest England dealt with some of the hottest weather in recent memory, drying out the course and adding even more brown than expected. It's shouldn't look so burnt this time around, but it certainly won't look like Augusta National either.
The Claret Jug, or the Golf Champion Trophy, is one of the more recognizable trophies in all of sports, having been first presented to the winner of the British Open back in 1873. The trophy was made by Mackay Cunningham & Company of Edinburgh at a cost of £30, split evenly between Prestwick, The Royal and Ancient Golf Club (R&A), and the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, the three clubs that were scheduled to host the Open.
As recognized as the Claret Jug is, it wasn’t the first prize given out to the winners of the Open. For the first 10 years of the tournament, the winner was presented with the Challenge Belt, which was made from Moroccan leather and lavishly decorated with emblems and a huge silver buckle. From the official Open site:
The party winning the belt shall always leave the belt with the treasurer of the club until he produces a guarantee to the satisfaction of the above committee that the belt shall be safely kept and laid on the table at the next meeting to compete for it until it becomes the property of the winner by being won three times in succession.
After Young Tom Morris won the event three straight years from 1868 to 1870, the belt was retired and given to Morris as per tournament rules. While waiting for a decision on what to do next, the tournament wasn’t played in 1871. The Claret Jug was decided on before the 1872 Open, but wasn’t ready in time, so Morris was presented with a medal when he came away victorious. This is why Morris’ name is the first inscribed on the trophy, despite Tom Kidd being the first to hoist the trophy in 1873. I’d suggest that more tournaments should go down the championship belt route, especially if they look like this:
There’s probably more luck involved with the British Open than any other major, so it’s no surprise that players have come out of nowhere to win this event so frequently in the past. When Phil Mickelson won last year, he was the first player from inside the top 10 in the Official World Golf Rankings to win the event since Padraig Harrington in 2007, and if you look back at the winners from more than seven years ago, names like Todd Hamilton, Ben Curtis, and Paul Lawrie are present as well. Everybody can play and win at this level, but don’t be surprised if another non name-brand player is lifting the Jug this weekend.
Before Justin Rose won the U.S. Open at Merion in 2013, the last Englishman to win a major championship was Nick Faldo at the 1996 Masters. Faldo was also the last Englishman to win the Open in 1992, and outside of him, you have to go back to Tony Jacklin in 1970 to find the last English major winner. If an Englishman could capture the Open, it would mean so much, and with 17 of them in the field, there’s certainly a chance. As usual, the top English contenders will be Rose, Ian Poulter, Luke Donald, and Lee Westwood.
Royal Liverpool has been around since 1869, and in that time has played host to a lot of inaugural events, mostly in the realm of amateur golf. In 1885, it hosted the first ever Amateur Championship, known today as the British Amateur, and followed that up in 1902 as the host course for the first ever international match between Scotland and England. Nineteen years later, Hoylake was called on once again to stage a match between the United States and Great Britain and Ireland, which is now known as the Walker Cup.
This also stands for the amount of quality players still seeking their first major championship victory. In the 24 majors played since Tiger Woods' last victory, there have been 15 first-time major winners, but there are still 10 players inside the top 20 in the Official World Golf Rankings without a major win.
As mentioned above, Royal Liverpool has been around for 145 years, and it was George Morris along with Robert Chambers who were commissioned to design the golf course on what was formerly the racecourse of the Liverpool Hunt Club. They only put down nine holes, and Morris, the younger brother of legendary golf figure Old Tom Morris, wasn't overly thrilled with what he saw, saying that it was terrible and telling family that he would probably come home after about a week. He ended up falling in love with the place though, staying for another 60 years as the head professional and laying out the final nine holes just two years later in 1871.
Most North American courses place hazards around their layouts in order to reach some kind of quota. This is why you’ll almost always see some kind of bunker around greens, or running up the side of a fairway. The problem is that most of these aren’t really hazardous, and in a lot of cases, the players would rather be in those “hazards” than in regular rough. At Hoylake, there aren't many bunkers in comparison to other courses. Muirfield last year had 150 bunkers on the course, while Hoylake has actually removed 13 of them since the Open was last held here back in 2006, dropping the total to 82 overall. Hazards were originally intended to penalize players for going in them, and that’s exactly what you’re going to see this week.
Even if you’ve watched a lot of golf, you might not know who Ivor Robson is, but you definitely know his voice. Robson has been an official starter for the European Tour for decades, and has worked the British Open every year since 1975. It’s a job he takes very seriously, as he doesn’t stray from his post for the day once he gets out there. No bathroom breaks. No food. No drinks. He doesn’t have anything to eat or drink after 7:00 p.m. the night before, and he’s always dressed for the occasion with his suit and tie and perfectly coiffed hair, as he gets ready to announce the players on the first tee. He’s the ultimate perfectionist, and claims that in the 37 years of announcing, he’s never had a single complaint that he mispronounced a player’s name.
This time last year, the 19-year old Spieth used a win at the John Deere to qualify for the British Open and his stock has continued to rise since. He has a boatload of top-10 finishes, including four runner-ups, with the most recent one coming at the Masters earlier this year. He opened with a 69 last year at Muirfield, but couldn't keep it together in the next three rounds, posting scores of 74-76-75. Spieth is positioned as the future of American golf, and even at 20 years old, he's expected to contend in every tournament he enters. Don't be surprised if he's lifting the Claret Jug on Sunday.
Martin Kaymer's run over the last few years has been interesting to say the least. When Tiger Woods first started having injury concerns, Kaymer was part of the group of players that took over as the number-one ranked player in the world thanks to a remarkable run of consistency and his first major win at the 2010 PGA Championship. Then, Kaymer started to struggle, mostly because he decided to tear down his swing and start fresh, leading to him barely qualifying for the 2012 Ryder Cup, where he sunk the winning putt to capture the trophy for Team Europe. 2013 was mostly a down year, but things started clicking again this year when he went wire-to-wire at the Players for his first win in nearly two years, and followed it up with a thoroughly dominant performance at Pinehurst to claim his second major at the U.S. Open.
One of the reasons people love the Open is the style of golf different is so different from what we see on the PGA Tour week in and week out. Often, the better approach into a green at the Open is to keep it low and run it up, as opposed to flying the ball close to the pin and have it land soft. Golf balls simply don't "check up" or landi soft on British Open courses, so don’t expect to see too many Mickelson-esque flops this week. This is the way golf was originally intended to be played.
Royal Liverpool has been tweaked constantly since the original Morris-Chambers design back in 1869, mostly because of the advances in technology. When the course held its first Open Championship back in 1897, won by the legendary Harold Hilton, it played at just over 6,000 yards. The R&A decided to come back to the course for the first time in almost 40 years back in 2006, stretching it to 7,258 yards. In the eight years since, the course has been lengthened by another 100 yards or so, plus five of the holes have new swales around the greens to punish shots that are even slightly wayward. Lastly, like in 2006, the players will actually start on the member's 17th and end off on the 16th.
At the Open, weather is usually a big difference maker, and there might not be a better indicator than the 2002 Open at Muirfield. Going into the third round, Tiger Woods was two shots back of the lead, and looking to win his third major of the year. He teed off as a bad section of weather came through, making an already difficult course almost impossible to navigate. He ended up shooting a 10-over par 81, which is still the highest round of his career to date, and further illustrates the idea that sometimes you simply get a little unlucky with the draw. The forecast for this week appears reasonably clear, but that can change in a heartbeat. If it does, the whole tournament changes with it.
Fans who don’t watch the European Tour on a regular basis, the idea of morning golf in North America is pretty much limited to their own early morning outings on the course, but not this week. The last tee time for the first two days of the event is 11:06 a.m. Eastern Time, and the TV coverage starts anywhere from 4:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. ET, so make sure to set those alarm clocks.
The British Open rotates the courses lucky enough to host the golf year's third major. Since 1860, only 14 courses have ever hosted the event, with the St. Andrews, Royal Troon, Royal Birkdale, and Carnoustie penciled in as next four sites. The R&A invited Northern Ireland's Royal Portrush back into the rotation and it is expected to get the 2019 Open before St. Andrews' traditional every five year turn in 2020. With the addition of Portrush to the active rotation, there's been some talk that one of the current courses will be getting the axe and while I don't expect that Royal Liverpool will be the one to get cut, it's worth noting that there's no future date set for a return. Remember it took them nearly 40 years to return after it last left the rotation.
As trivial as it seems, the proper way to refer to the tournament is a bit of a sore spot for some people. In North America, we commonly refer to it as the British Open, but in Europe, it is the Open Championship. It is a constant source of upset and confusion even though, surprisingly, ESPN began referring to it as the Open Championship.
North American golf coverage is in a pretty good place right now, and even though we can all find nits to pick, it’s in a much better place than just a few years ago. European golf fans are lucky enough to have Peter Alliss working for them since the 60s, becoming the lead analyst for the BBC in 1978. He’s honest and funny, and despite being 83, he still knows the current game as well as just about anyone. ESPN has been bringing him onto their coverage for a few hours here and there at the Open for a few years, and it should continue this week.
Upon his induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame two years ago, he gave this highly entertaining acceptance speech.
A collection of quotes about the British Open and Royal Liverpool:
- Tom Watson (when asked if he collected anything Scottish for luck)
"At 15 we put down my bag to hunt for a ball, found the ball, lost the bag."
- Lee Trevino (during the 1971 Open at Royal Birkdale)
"It doesn’t hurt much any more. These days I can go a full five minutes without thinking about it."
- Doug Sanders (in 2000, 30 years after missing a two-foot putt to win the Open at St. Andrews in 1970 – he went on to lose in a playoff to Jack Nicklaus)
"Hoylake, blown upon by mighty winds, breeder of mighty champions."
- Bernard Darwin
"Do I have to know rules and all that crap? Then forget it."
- John Daly (when asked whether he’d like to join the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, after winning the 1995 Open at St. Andrews)
"Wind is part of the British Open. It is an examination and it took me a long time to pass the examination. Eighty per cent of the fellows out there have not passed the test."
- Gary Player (after winning the 1974 Open at Royal Lytham and St. Annes)
"One good thing about rain in Scotland – most of it ends up as scotch. – Peter Alliss
"He may forthwith be treated with silent contempt, and his opinions may be ignored. He has effectually written himself down as an ass."
- Bernard Darwin, on people who don't understand the greatness of Hoylake
Where do we begin with Rory?
His 2013 swoon, where he looked like he could have played just as well left-handed, is over and he's been one of the best players in the world for the last nine months. It's not all smooth sailing as Rory has a new issue this year: the disastrous second round.
Rory's played in 13 stroke play tournaments so far in 2014, and he's been over par in the opening round just once, last month's Irish Open. In that time, he posted three 63s, a 64, and a boatload of other quality openers. As good as his first rounds look, his second rounds have been equally poor, with six rounds of 74 or higher. He's been able to get a lot those strokes back on the weekend to backdoor top 10s, those second rounds prevent him from winning and contending on a more frequent basis.
That said, he's only finished outside of the top 25 once in 2014, so he's not struggling and he should be in contention this week even though he's only managed one top-10 finish in six previous events.
The R&A has been around since 1754, and have never had a female member, but that could be changing this year. Back in March, the R&A wrote a letter to its 2,500 members letting them know that a vote would be held in September to allow female members. Often discussed in the past, this marks the first time that an actual vote will take place on the issue.
Why did the R&A, headed up by Peter Dawson, decide to have this vote now? There's two primary reasons:
It's hard to believe that the vote will go against the women, but you can guarantee that it won't be a unanimous vote with this many members.
We know the story with Tiger. He hasn't won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open when he beat Rocco Mediate in the 18-hole playoff at Torrey Pines, and while he won five times last season on the PGA Tour, he would have traded all of them for a major win. It was a great year, but 2014 has been the exact opposite with inconsistent play followed by back surgery that allowed Tiger to play in just one competitive tournament since March, when he missed the cut at Congressional.
He says his back is fine and that he doesn't have any restrictions on the course, but it's difficult to place a ton of faith in him with the lack of reps. Tiger won the Open here in 2006 with a truly remarkable display of ball striking and intelligence.
He's going to hit some great shots and you shouldn't be surprised if he contends at points, but expecting a win at this point is probably a little much.
Tom Watson may have been born in Missouri, but he's always received as an adopted son across the pond. With five wins in this tournament, and nearly a sixth at the age of 59 at the 2009 Open, Watson is second on the all-time wins list in this event. Watson isn't expected to win or even make the cut this week, he's going to be a big part of the tournament. His exemption for the event was extended by the R&A to next year so he can finish off his Open career at St. Andrews, but Watson also has the Ryder Cup in mind, where he will be captaining the American squad in Scotland at the end of the September.
At the Open, it’s often about what you avoid, as opposed to what you end up doing. Wild kicks and caroms from the undulations in both the fairways and on the green make it avoiding trouble paramount, especially when you consider that the course will be very dry when the players tee off Thursday. Many players in the field this week are yet to play a professional round at Royal Liverpool, so expect a lot of learning on the fly, especially if the wind picks up.
With a tournament that dates back to 1860, there are going to be many moments that stand out, but there are three from recent years that are especially vivid:
1999: Jean Van de Velde blows a five-shot lead on Sunday at Carnoustie, and a three-shot lead on 18, eventually losing to Paul Lawrie in a playoff after probably the worst course management in major championship history.
2005: Jack Nicklaus, playing in his final major championship with Luke Donald and Tom Watson at St. Andrews, makes birdie on 18 to finish with an emotional even-par 72. It was the last time Nicklaus played a competitive round.
2009: After a birdie on 17, 59-year old Tom Watson needs par on 18 at Turnberry to become the oldest player to win a major by 11 years. His approach takes an unfortunate kick and rolls off the green, where he was unable to get up and down for par. He would go on to lose to Stewart Cink in a playoff.
The list of British Open winners at Royal Liverpool offers a diverse group ofd players:
1897: Harold Hilton (won as an amateur)
1902: Sandy Herd
1907: Arnaud Massy (the first non-Brit to win the Open)
1913: J.H. Taylor
1924: Walter Hagen
1930: Bobby Jones (the second leg of his single season Grand Slam)
1936: Alf Padgham
1947: Fred Daly (Ireland's first major winner)
1956: Peter Thomson (third consecutive Open win)
1967: Roberto De Vicenzo
2006: Tiger Woods
If the wind stays down, the R&A is going to get creative with their pin positions. Players must be absolutely pinpoint from the tee to have any hope of scoring well. Drive it into the rough/fescue/bunkers and you’re going to be dead to rights, especially come Sunday.
One of the defining features of the Open is the sight of two gigantic, yellow, hand-operated scoreboards on either side of the 18th green.
More than just physically updating the scores, the two big scoreboards require a walking scorer with every group on the course. After each shot, data is sent electronically to the scoring headquarters at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, which relays info and ensures consistency between both iconic boards.
The list of players looking for their first major win is long, but the longer one is those who are looking for their first Open win. It’s often been said that all of the best players won the Open, from Jones to Hagen, Player to Nicklaus, and Watson to Woods. Guys like Rose, McIlroy, McDowell, Bubba Watson, and Scott may have a major or two already, but winning the Open really is something special.
David Howell, Robert Karlsson, and David Duval officially start the tournament Thursday morning at 1:25 a.m. ET. Enjoy the Open, everyone.