Rise of Americans At The British Open
Four years ago, Americans overtook the Scotts as the winningest nation at the British Open. It all began 92 years earlier with a steamship voyage across the ocean.
The oldest of the four golf majors, the Open goes back to 1860 but it wasn't until after WWI that Americans made their mark on the British isles.
Prior to the “roaring 20’s”, Americans had never hoisted the tournament's famed Claret Jug. European talent was deep and the prohibitive costs of traveling overseas kept even the best of the pros at home.
Philadelphia native John McDermott, top player of his day and the first domestic-born golfer to claim the U.S. Open in 1911, came closest when he tied 5th at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club in 1913.
But in 1921, "Golf Illustrated" magazine helped finance the steamship transportation of 11 American professionals to try and crack the competition at St Andrews in Scotland.
Ahead of the actual Open, a friendly match between the Americans and their British hosts turned into what became the forerunner of the Ryder Cup, officially launched six years later.
The Open itself was won by Jock Hutchison, a Scottish-born American who took the title and a £75 cash prize. Hutchinson shot 296, tying English amateur Roger Wethered but then sealed his victory in a 36-hole playoff.
But it was Walter Hagen (photo above) who became the first American-born player to raise the coveted Trophy. In 1922 at the Royal St George’s Golf Club, Hagen fired 300 to defeat Scotland’s George Duncan and England’s Jim Barnes who were both tied 1 stroke behind.
For the rest of the decade, Hagen and amateur prodigy Bobby Jones would dominate the Scotsmen and Englishmen in their own game and at their own links courses.
Prior to the Americans' arrival, the average winning score at the Open hovered around 300 and Bobby Jones was the first to drop it below 291 when he carded 285 to win at the Old Course in 1927.
Hagen ended his career with 4 Opens and Jones with 3.
The Great Depression in the early 1930's coincided with the end of the American onslaught and the beginning of an impressive stretch of victories by English golfers.
The Scotts, having last won in 1920, remained absent from the championship until 1985 when Sandy Lyle swung 282 to win at the Royal St George.
The tournament’s catalogue of winners internationalized in the 1950’s, as South Africa’s Bobby Locke and Australia’s Peter Thomson took first place finishes, multiple times.
Notwithstanding Arnold Palmer's back-to-back wins in 1961 and 1962, the next wave of victories from across the Atlantic came in the 1970's and early 1980's with Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino.
That period in turn was followed by the mid-1990's to mid-2000's with a parade of American newcomers, including the star-powered Tiger Woods who set a record at St. Andrews in 2000 with a score of 269.
By the time Phil Mickelson claimed the event in 2013, the U.S. surpassed Scotland as the tournament's leader.
Americans currently hold 43 British Open titles, ahead of the Scotts who rank second at 41 and the English third at 20.
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