History of golf’s major tournaments

A journey down memory lane with a look at the history of golf's major tournamentsJoin us as we take a journey down memory lane with this history of golf’s major tournaments…

The Open Championship

On October 17, 1860 the inaugural Open Championship was played with eight professional golfers. For those handful of professionals, the format was a grueling one. The 36 hole tournament was played in a single day.

As the tournament grew from that first championship, winners in subsequent years were awarded with the Challenge Belt. This belt, with a silver buckle and red leather was retired when the iconic golfer Tom Morris won the Open three consecutive times. When Morris won for a fourth straight year, the prize for the winner moved from the Challenge Belt to what is still awarded to this day; the Claret Jug.

Over the next thirty years, the tournament was shared between the historic courses at Muirfield and St. Andrews. In addition to finding permanent homes for the tournament, the format expanded to 72 holes. And with field of golfers becoming increasingly larger, a cut was instituted in 1898.

Professional golfers dominated the Open championship through its’ early stages with few exceptions. Harry Vardon holds the record for most Open wins with six victories from 1896-1914. For amateur champions, few hold the luster of Bobby Jones’ accomplishment in 1930. Jones was the only golfer to win the pre-Masters Grand Slam by winning the U.S. Open, the U.S. Amateur, the Amateur, and finally the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool Golf Club.

After Peter Thomson won five Open titles from 1954-65, the most successful golfer of the last fifty years at the Open is Tom Watson. His five Open titles eclipsed three-time winners such as Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus. Watson’s win at Turnberry in 1977, facing down Nicklaus with a final round 65, is one of the most memorable tournament wins in recent memory.

The Masters

After Bobby Jones completed his magical Grand Slam in 1930, he returned to the United States with a dream of owning his own golf course. With the help of an investment banker named Clifford Roberts and the direction of course designer Alister MacKenzie, Jones set out to create a golf course that would draw the best golfers from around the world.

The reason the Masters has endured over the years is due to the traditions that carry the tournament to present day. In 1949, the first green jacket was awarded to the tournament’s winner Sam Snead. The green jacket soon became an icon of success in the professional golfing world. Other traditions such as the Par-3 contest and the Champions dinner have added to the allure and nostalgia of playing at Augusta.

The Masters has given a platform for legendary performances from the world’s most famous golfers. Arnold Palmer won four times at Augusta in seven years. Jack Nicklaus won six green jackets including his historic victorious run in 1986. At age 46, Nicklaus shot a six-under-par 30 on the back nine of his final round to win the tournament.

In 1997, Tiger Woods announced his arrival as an elite golfer with a dominating performance at Augusta, shooting a tournament record 18-under. His 12-stroke victory over runner-up Tom Kite was one of the most impressive athletic achievements of the last twenty-five years.

U.S. Open

In early October of 1895, the first U.S. Open was played at a nine-hole course in Rhode Island. Copying the early format of the Open championship, 36 holes were played in a single day. With a purse of $335, the $150 first-place prize went to the Englishman, Horace Rawlins.

In the early days of the tournament, professionals dominated the field. One of the great golf stories of the early 20th century took place in 1913 as the amateur Frances Ouimet defeated the legendary Harry Vardon at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts. The story of the underdog taking down professional is one of the primary reasons that golf grew in popularity even as the world passed through two World Wars. As the decades passed, the tournament continued to evolve into one of the most important destinations on the calendar.

The U.S. Open soon gained a reputation for hosting a difficult test for the professional golfer. The rotating host courses became known for their slick greens, thick rough and narrow fairways. To many, it is golf’s ultimate challenge.

After Ben Hogan won four U.S. Open titles in six years, with the final win coming in 1953, few have been able to even come close to that historic mark. Jack Nicklaus matched Hogan’s four titles with both Hale Irwin and Tiger Woods winning the title three times.

Woods’ victory in 2008 against Rocco Mediate is the most impressive U.S. Open win in recent memory. The title was decided with an 18-hole playoff on the Monday after the final round. The 45-year old Mediate played the best golf of his career pushing the injured Woods to the brink, with Tiger edging out Rocco on the 91st hole of the tournament in sudden death. Later, Woods revealed he had played the PGA with a double stress fracture in his left tibia and an ACL that needed reconstruction.

PGA Championship

Early in 1916, the Professional Golfers Association of America formed. Later in the same year, the first ever PGA Championship was played on a course in Bronxville, New York. The winner of that first tournament, Jim Barnes, received $500 and a diamond-laden gold medal.

Initially conceived as a match play tournament, the format lost steam in the mid-1950s when the quality of play suffered. It wasn’t unusual for the winner of the event to have played over 200 holes of golf at the end of the grueling seven-day tournament.

With television broadcasters pushing the PGA to change the event to the typical four-day, 72 hole stroke format, the Association relented and the typical format became the new normal for the championship. After the match-play format ended in 1958, only two golfers could be considered dominant at the PGA in the stroke-play era. Jack Nicklaus holds the crown as the golfer with the most PGA wins with five. Tiger Woods is the runner-up with four PGA titles.

In 2011, Rory McIlroy won his first major title, setting the record for winning margin at the U.S. Open with an eight-stroke victory. McIlroy validated his record-setting U.S. Open Championship the following year by setting another record at the 94th PGA Championship at The Ocean Course on Kiawah Island. McIlroy dominated the field, clinching the PGA record for largest victory with a 25-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole for a13-under-par 275 total.

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