Ranking the 10 Greatest Stars in British Open Golf History
Considering the British Open, officially known as the Open Championship, is the oldest event in professional golf, the possibilities for the greatest stars to ever perform at the fabled tournament are almost endless.
There have been many great players to win the British Open, as well as relative unknowns who shocked the world to win. There have also been some wild and unpredictable finishes through the years.
The following is my personal list of the 10 greatest stars to have walked the fairways of the British Open.
10. Walter Hagen
Open Titles: 1922, 1924, 1928, 1929
Most Impressive Feat: Walter Hagen, the man regarded as golf’s first full-time professional, became the first American to win the Open Championship. It occurred in 1922 when he defeated Jim Barnes after trailing by a pair of shots following three rounds before rallying to win by a shot.
Legacy: Not only did Hagen win the Open four times, but he also set a standard for professional golfers. He was always well-dressed and traveled in first-class style all the time.
9. Jack Nicklaus
Open Titles: 1966, 1970, 1978
Most Impressive Feat: Jack Nicklaus did not get off to a good start in 1970, losing his father, Charlie, in February. Five months after that, he won his second British Open title.
With the wind howling over 50 miles per hour on the course, fellow American Doug Sanders missed a short putt on the final hole to force a playoff.
Nicklaus then drove the famous 18th green at St. Andrews, chipped back to eight feet and made his birdie putt to win.
Legacy: Of Nicklaus’ record 19 runner-up finishes, seven of those came in the Open Championship.
Nicklaus had a record six top-five finishes.
8. Tom Morris, Jr
Open Titles: 1868, 1869, 1870, 1872
Most Impressive Feat: The fact that Tom Morris Jr. won the Open Championship four straight times is impressive enough, so impressive that no one has repeated the feat.
The fact that Morris Jr. won the first of those titles at age 17, making him the youngest major title-holder in golf history, is even more impressive.
He entered his first Open Championship at age 14 and won at age 17, becoming one of professional golf's groundbreakers.
7. Seve Ballesteros
Open Titles: 1979, 1984, 1988
Most Impressive Feat: Flamboyant Spaniard Seve Ballesteros always brought a special flavor to any event he entered and he seemed to come up with extraordinary shots in the Open Championship.
In each of his three wins, he trailed by a pair of shots after 54 holes and came back to prevail in regulation.
In 1979, Ballesteros beat Jack Nicklaus and Ben Crenshaw. In 1984, he beat Bernhard Langer and Tom Watson. In 1988, Ballesteros beat Nick Price.
Legacy: Ballesteros' reputation as a swashbuckling, go-for-broke player will be associated with his name forever.
The old-time Open Championship rotation of courses provided him with plenty of opportunities to show off his tremendous creativity and skill.
6. Bobby Jones
Open titles: 1926, 1927, 1930
Most Impressive Feat: Bobby Jones' win at the 1930 Open Championship gave him both the British Amateur and Open titles before he went on to win both the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open as well, completing his grand slam.
In his three Open championships, he never posted a round higher than 75.
Legacy: From 1924 through 1930, Jones won five U.S. Amateurs and finished second in another.
He won three British Opens and three U.S. Opens, where he finished second three other times.
5. James Braid
Open Titles: 1901, 1905, 1906, 1908, 1910
Most Impressive Feat: James Braid overcame a two-shot deficit after three rounds to beat Sandy Herd by four shots at the 1910 British Open.
He put together rounds of 76-73-74-76 for a total of 299.
Braid's total was only nine shots more than Jack Nicklaus’ 290 total in the 1972 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
Legacy: After retiring from competitive golf in 1912, he became the golf professional at Walton Heath and concentrated on designing courses.
Most of his designs were parkland rather than links, and he was given credit for some of the first uses of dogleg holes.
4. J.H. Taylor
Open Titles: 1894, 1895, 1900, 1909, 1913
Most Impressive Feat: In 1895, a year before losing in a British Open playoff to Harry Vardon, J.H. Taylor overcame a three-shot deficit after three rounds to beat Sandy Herd by four shots at the British Open.
Legacy: Taylor was one of the pioneers of the game in Britain as a co-founder and the first chairman of the British PGA, which was the first association for pro golfers in the world.
He had a long and storied career, winning all five of his British Open titles before World War I and being a contender in the Open Championship from age 22 to 55.
3. Tom Watson
Open Titles: 1975, 1977, 1980, 1982, 1983
Most impressive Feat: The 1977 Open is on the very short list of the greatest major championships ever.
It was the "Duel in the Sun" at Turnberry as Tom Watson battled Jack Nicklaus down to the wire.
The two were tied after 54 holes, and the duel lasted until Watson, who had already beaten Nicklaus in the Masters earlier that spring, made his final shot.
Legacy: Watson joins four other British Open champions with five titles. No other American has won more often there than him.
2. Peter Thomson
Open Titles: 1954, 1955, 1956, 1958, 1965
Most Impressive Feat: Peter Thomson is the only golfer to ever win three consecutive Open Championships in the 20th century.
Legacy: In each of his Open Championships wins, Thomson either led or was tied going into the final round of the tourney.
In 1958, the Australian had a two-shot lead going into the final round where he shot a 73 and ended up beating Dave Thomas in a playoff.
1. Harry Vardon
Open Titles: 1896, 1898, 1899, 1903, 1911, 1914.
Most impressive Feat: In Harry Vardon's first British Open win in 1896, he started the Championship Open at Muirfield with an 83 and followed that with a pair of 78s.
He was four shots out of the lead after 54 holes, but posted a 77 in the final round to get into a playoff with J.H. Taylor, who was trying to win three straight Open Championships.
Vardon won the 36-hole playoff by four shots, 157-161.
Legacy: All told, Vardon, Taylor and James Braid won 16 Open Championships in 20 years and became known as the "Great Triumvirate" of their era, predecessors to Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player who were known as the "Big Three" of the modern era.