Golf's Worst Major Championship: The British Open

Benjamin HoganAnalyst IJuly 11, 2008

Let's get this straight from the get go: it's the British Open, not the Open Championship.

The British Open simply isn't good enough to be granted Madonna-like status and not be referred to by its proper name.

Sure, it's got 150 years of history.

Sure, it's played at the birthplace of golf.

Sure, it's unique from all other majors since it requires a different style of play than you'll see on weekly PGA Tour events.

That's all well and good. But history and tradition aren't enough to compensate for the lack of intrigue and personality in this ancient, slowly rotting tournament.

Bottom line: too often, the British Open is boring, lackluster, and overrated.

First off, British Open courses are extremely overrated. Besides a few gems like the Road Hole 17th at St. Andrews and the Postage Stamp at Royal Troon, can you describe one hole on a British Open course in detail? Probably not.

Unlike U.S. Open and PGA courses which each have their own distinct character, British Open courses are all basically duplicates of one another: brown fairways, randomly placed pot bunkers, and long native grasses.

Quite simply, British Open courses are glorified cow pastures-- big open fields with 18 greens stuck inside.

And even worse, British Open venues rarely provide a challenge worthy of a major championship. While the winning U.S. Open score routinely hovers around even par, the British Open winner is usually under par by double digits.

Other majors force players to negotiate deep rough, challenging bunkers, and water hazards. Players in the Masters, PGA, and U.S. Open have to earn birdies by consistently executing precise shots.

Meanwhile, the British Open's idea of a challenge is having players chip over hills and valleys. You'll rarely see a water hazard or a deep patch of rough on a British Open course. In essence, the course's only real defense is terrain.

Sure, rough terrain might have been quite a challenge-- back in 1875. But nowadays, when golfers have Sasquatch Drivers, 60 degree Cleveland wedges, and constant coaching from Dave Pelz, that harsh difficulty just isn't there.

And, that lack of punishment makes the British Open the worst test of golf out of all four majors.

Look at the quality of champions over the past few years:

Paul Lawrie? He kissed Jean Van de Velde and was never heard from again.

David Duval? Dropped right off the face of the earth.

Ben Curtis? Wait, Ben who?

Todd Hamilton? Hey, isn't he that figure skater guy?

John Daly? If John Daly wins your major, may I suggest the tournament committee take a good look at the way your championship is run.

Remember why John Daly won the coveted Claret Jug in 1995? St. Andrews (the most overrated course in the world, in my opinion) had no rough whatsoever. As a result, Daly could pound the ball as hard as he wanted with no real care where it ended up.

Routinely hitting wedges and short irons into the green, Daly took St. Andrews' only defense, its deep bunkers, out of play. He sure wasn't perfect, but hung on long enough to force a playoff with Constantino Rocca. After Rocca found the roadhole bunker on 17, Daly emerged victorious.

Think about it: at a U.S. Open, Daly might have been +10 considering the way he sprayed the ball all over the track.

At the Masters, he would never have the stamina or finesse to negotiate the tricky back nine.

At the PGA-- well, he won a PGA in 1991-- but considering that the PGA made its tournament a bit more difficult after Daly's longshot win, he surely wouldn't have been in contention to win in 1995.

Instead, the British Open created yet another undeserving major champion.

So, Daly is just a one-year case study in British Open mediocrity. But, looking at the full rundown of winners in each major, no other tournament has produced as many fluke winners in the past 10 years.

The Masters had Zach Johnson in 2007, but history may vindicate that one if he can win another major down the road.

The U.S. Open had Michael Campbell in 2005, and a sort-of-fluke with Angel Cabrera in 2007, although he did have many international wins.

The PGA has a long history of mediocrity. But, before you rush to judgments, consider that the PGA has recently surged to become quite a good tournament. Yes, there was no-name Rich Beem in 2002, and even worse, Shaun Micheel in 2003. But, remember the last four winners: Vijay, Phil, Tiger, Tiger. The PGA has vindicated itself as a very deserving major championship.

Only the British Open has produced more no-name winners that we'd never heard from then, and probably never will again.

Sure, I'll be watching this Thursday through Sunday. Although, I certainly won't be glued to every second of the action like I am with the Masters and U.S. Open.

I won't be able to take all the boring knock-down shots, ugly yellow scoreboards, smarmy British accents, amorphous holes, not to mention the god-awful TV coverage from TNT and ABC (I hear that Curtis Strange is back in the announcer's booth. Lord help us all...)

So, this Sunday afternoon, while I'm watching the winner hole out to win the Claret Jug, I'll also be on my laptop starting a petition to make The Players' Championship the official fourth major.

And, just for good measure, let me say it one final time: it's not the Open Championship. It's the British Open.


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