Ernie Els British Open: Putting Sunday's Win into Historical Context

Brian Leigh@@BLeighDATFeatured ColumnistJuly 23, 2012

LYTHAM ST ANNES, ENGLAND - JULY 22:  New Open Champion Ernie Els of South Africa speaks after receiving the Claret Jug after winning the 141st Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club on July 22, 2012 in Lytham St Annes, England.  (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

In winning the 2012 Open Championship on Sunday, Ernie Els made a serious impact on golf history––a feat that is far more momentous than people give it credit for.

Baseball is lauded for its lush, seemingly-primordial history. Its records are considered sacrosanct because they've withstood the test of time.

Golf should be viewed the exact same way.

Here's a stat for you: The MLB was founded in 1869; the first golf major was played in 1860. So when I say Ernie Els made history on Sunday, I promise you I understand the gravity of what I'm saying.

Let's look at exactly what he did:


Length of Time Between Major Championships

Els becomes the sixth player in golf history to win a major championship a decade after his last victory. Here's how the entire list shakes out:

Name Previous Major Next Major Gap
Julius Boros 1952 U.S. Open 1963 U.S. Open 11 Years
Henry Cotton 1937 British Open 1948 British Open 11 Years
Ben Crenshaw 1984 Masters 1995 Masters 11 Years
Hale Irwin 1979 U.S. Open 1990 U.S. Open 11 Years
Ernie Els 2002 British Open 2012 British Open 10 Years
Lee Trevino 1974 PGA Championship 1984 PGA Championship 10 Years


A couple additional things to note:

(1) Els ended his decade-long major drought 17 years after Ben Crenshaw did the same. That 17-year gap is longest difference of all-time, two years longer than the span between Henry Cotton and Julius Boros.

(2) It can't be a coincidence that all six players ended decade-long droughts at the same tournament they won their previous major at, can it? Perhaps it is: Other than Ben Crenshaw, nobody on the list won their two majors on the same course.


The Four-Plus Major Club

The difference between the "Three-Plus Major Club" and the "Four-Plus Major Club" cannot be overstated.

The list of golfers shrinks from 43 to 27, which means Els can now make a specious claim as one of the 30 best golfers of all-time. It would take some serious gerrymandering of the data, sure, but the case could still be made.

Here's some more fun for people who like to misleading statistics: It's been 162 years since the first major, and only 27 guys have been talented enough to win four of them––which means, ostensibly, a golfer of Els' caliber only comes around once every 5.6 years.

That is, he should be considered one of the one-or-two most dominant players of at least one decade.