LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England – Mark Calcavecchia won the British Open in 1989 at Royal Troon and asked a question that surely was on everyone’s mind.
“How’s my name going to fit on that thing?” he said.
Here’s another question. How can the oldest trophy in golf – a silver claret jug – be missing some of golf’s greatest players?
Byron Nelson might have won if he had bothered going to Britain more than once, though Ben Hogan won on his only try in 1953 at Carnoustie. Phil Mickelson went more than 10 years without even cracking the top 10. Ben Curtis won the Open in his very first major championship.
Here are the five best players to never have won golf’s oldest championship:
Colin Montgomerie has to be considered among the best of all time to never win any major, much less the British Open. He won eight Order of Merits on the European Tour, reached as high as No. 2 in the world and won more than 30 times around the world. That alone qualifies him for the list.
The downside? He not only didn’t win the Open, he never seriously sniffed it.
Montgomerie seemed to play his best at Royal Troon, where his father was a secretary. He tied for 24th one year, and tied for 25th another. Amazingly, he had only a pair of top 10s, and despite his runner-up finish to Tiger Woods at St. Andrews in 2005, the engraver never had to worry about the proper spelling of his name.
He had a 36-hole lead at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, and was only one behind going into the Sunday, yet tied for 13th. He made a strong run at Woods on Saturday at St. Andrews, but not when it mattered on Sunday.
Vijay Singh, the man from Fiji, cut his teeth on the European Tour and desperately wanted to win a claret jug. He came over to America for good in 1993, and went on to a Hall of Fame career that featured a record 22 wins after turning pro (for a total of 39 PGA Tour wins), and three majors. He won the Masters in 2000, and the PGA Championship in 1998 and 2004.
And he played well on links golf – just never good enough.
Singh made his debut in the Open in 1989 at Royal Troon. He played 10 straight times before finally missing the cut, and he went 22 successive years at the Open until he wasn’t eligible in 2011. Nothing hurt more than 2003 at Royal St. George’s, when he was just starting to hit his stride. He was two shots behind Thomas Bjorn going into the last day, paired with Tiger Woods in the second-to-last group. Singh couldn’t get a putt to fall down the stretch, closed with a 70 and finished one shot behind Ben Curtis.
Only one player other than Raymond Floyd has won at least four majors without getting his name on the claret jug. That would be Phil Mickelson.
Floyd was the Masters champion in 1976 when he went into the final round at Royal Birkdale, trailing by five shots to 19-year-old Seve Ballesteros. Johnny Miller shot 66 to beat everyone. Two years later, he was runner-up to Jack Nicklaus at St. Andrews, though never really close. And in 1981 at Royal St. George’s, he started too far behind to catch Bill Rogers and tied for third. He never got any closer.
Floyd at least flirted with the idea of a claret jug in 1992 – the year he was runner-up to Fred Couples at Augusta National. He opened with a 64 for a two-shot lead over Nick Faldo at Muirfield, but that was that. Faldo had a 64 the next day to put Floyd five shots behind, and the American never broke par the rest of the week.
Of the six players in PGA Tour history with more than 50 wins and at least five majors, Byron Nelson is the only player without a British Open title.
There’s a reason for that. He hardly ever played.
The Open Championship didn’t pay much during the 1930s and 1940s, when Nelson was at his peak. And remember, Nelson was trying to stash away enough money from his golf career to buy a ranch in Texas. This wasn’t a good fit.
Nelson had won his first major in 1937, setting a tournament record with a 66 and beating Ralph Guldahl by two shots. After losing in the semifinals of the PGA Championship and finishing 20th in the U.S. Open, he came across the Atlantic for his only appearance in golf’s oldest championship.
Lord Byron never had a chance at Carnoustie. He opened with a 75 to fall five shots behind, trailed by nine shots going into the final day, and closed with respectable rounds of 71-74 to finish fifth, six shots behind Henry Cotton.
It didn’t make sense for him to go back the next two years before World War II suspended play in the Open.
“It took a week to get there and a week to get home,” Nelson later said. “I was low American. And what it came down to was I lost a good part of my summer, won $185 and spent $1,000 on boat fare alone.”Report Typo/Error