Champion Golfer of the Year.
It is such an iconic crowning of a winner that Davis Love III once said, “I don’t think there’s any line in sports like that.”
With year-end point races, other majors and a litany of weekly events to test that designation, is winning the Claret Jug the ultimate accomplishment in golf? While the answer may be no, here are five reasons why this week’s major can be considered the best golf tournament of the year.
1. The Prestige
Tracing its roots to 1860 is one thing, but having the lasting power of still being a major championship in the modern era is the ultimate tip-of-the-cap to what the Open has meant to the game of golf. Other majors represent a segment of the game’s rich history, but no tournament can directly connect the dots to the beginning of the entire sport. For traditionalists of the game, how could there be any tournament better than that?
2. The Play
“Any Open Championship, it can be really mean or it can be a putting contest,” Jordan Spieth said.
Therein lies the beauty of the tournament. Mother Nature will determine, largely, how the tournament unfolds. The true beauty, however, is that nobody tries to stop it. There will be no drama about green speeds or unfair rough. Viewers will not be treated to vignettes about how the R&A tweaked certain things to test the players more. No, the ageless golf course will be allowed to be itself, and the golfers will have to adapt. The unexpected is what is expected.
3. The Winners
The unknown of how the course will play lends itself to incredible depth on leaderboards almost every year. Last year’s Open was supposed to be a bomber’s paradise, until Zach Johnson wedged his way to victory. There is always something to learn about the best players every year. More than any major, the Open tests its winner better than any tournament. And some of the best failures of that test creates incredible theatre.
While Ben Curtis and Todd Hamilton defied the odds in 2003 and 2004, respectively, the list of champions in the modern era is littered with Hall of Fame names and great legacy-saving performances (Darren Clarke, David Duval, Tom Lehman, Justin Leonard, Tom Weiskopf, etc.).
4. The Timing
This is an American-leaning advantage and completely counterintuitive to the modern trend of primetime television ratings, but there is something uniquely satisfying about being able to wake up and turn on golf while still in bed. You watch the Open at breakfast. The non-die-hard fans still get up early to see how the morning wave fared while asleep. On the weekend, the jug is handed out in time for Americans to make an afternoon tee time, get out on the lake or make dinner plans.
5. The (Non) Hype
Maybe it’s a domestic thing, but this major is promoted the least in the United States, and it could be the best thing about it. While the R&A could certainly use positive PR, does it need it in the U.S.? Not as much as the PGA of America or the USGA. It allows the tournament to breathe. It can simply be what it is: a golf tournament with the world’s best. Maybe that doesn’t help grow the game, but in a crowded marketplace of golf tournaments this summer, its simplicity and tradition is welcome.