Not a single American won the Open Championship from the first one in 1860 until Jock Hutchison at St Andrews in 1921 – and even he was born in Scotland before taking up American citizenship. The world was bigger back then. But for the next 88 years to Stewart Cink at Turnberry last year, 27 US invaders have made off with 41 championship victories. They include legends that provide a timeline of American dominance of not only The Open but also world golf. Please be upstanding and doff your caps to Walter Hagen, Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson and Tiger Woods. Please be seated and bow your heads. Since Nick Faldo won his third and last Open at Muirfield in 1992, only Paul Lawrie in 1999 has chalked up a British victory, with Padraig Harrington, in 2007 and 2008, pitching in for Europe.
So do Americans sip some secret links-unlocking elixir before flying across the Pond? Not even Harrington can figure out the conundrum. His first thought is “sheer numbers?” But, as you would expect from him, he thinks deeper. “It’s not as easy for them to qualify, so the Americans who do travel are the cream. Maybe they come with a little less focus on them, and their own expectations are a little lower. Certainly the Europeans might come in more stressed,” he says. Sounds plausible, but it doesn’t explain why, by the same principles, a European hasn’t won the US Open since Tony Jacklin in 1970.
“They’re capable of playing anywhere around the world,” Harrington says. “Most of the winners have played in The Open for a number of years, so they’ve learned the art.” Maybe he has a point here. Err, but maybe he doesn’t. Next witness, please. Tom Watson won five Opens and is thus the finest links player of the modern era. But even he came over all of a dither on the links – and that was after winning two Opens.
“Even though I won the Open in 1975 and 1977,” Watson says, “I still didn’t like the way the game had to be played because I was so conditioned to play the ball high in the air and not on the ground. I only started to realise I loved links golf in 1979 when I made the decision to stop fighting it and not get upset.” Which is just how he accepted defeat to Cink last year, with class.