5 reasons why older players can thrive at the British Open

Tom Watson
USA Today Sports Images
When it comes to the British Open, it's not uncommon to see older players perform well. Why is that? Here are five reasons.
By T.J. Auclair
PGA.com
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Series: Golf Buzz

Published: Tuesday, July 10, 2018 | 7:48 a.m.

More so than any of the four majors, the Open Championship is your best chance to see an older player perform well or even win.

Look no further than five-time Open Champion Tom Watson, who -- at age 59 -- lost in a playoff to Stewart Cink in 2009 at Turnberry.

You can also look at the 2011-2013 Open Championships, won by Darren Clarke (45 at the time), Ernie Els (44) and Phil Mickelson (44), respectively.

Shoot -- in 2016 at Royal Troon a 46-year-old Mickelson and a 40-year-old Henrik Stenson traded blows throughout one of the best final rounds you'll ever see before Stenson claimed his first major victory. Third-place finisher J.B. Holmes? He finished 14 strokes behind Stenson and 11 strokes behind Mickelson. 

RELATED: Complete field list for 2018 Open Championship

Even last year, a 39-year-old Matt Kuchar pulled even to Jordan Spieth at the turn on the final round, before the 23-year-old played 14-17 at 5-under to win by three.

Oddly, while the Open is most susceptible to an older player performing well, its champion's average age of 31 is the youngest out of the four majors.

MORE: 6 golfers with the best Open Championship history at Carnoustie 

The oldest winner of the Open Championship is Old Tom Morris. He was was 46 years and 102 days old when he won in 1867 at Prestwick. His son, Tom Morris, Jr., is the youngest winner of the championship. He was 17 years and 156 days old when he won the very next year (also at Prestwick).

So, why is it, we wondered, that older (not "old") players seem to shine at the Open?

Here are five reasons...

5. Familiarity with the courses. Unlike the younger players in the field, older players have usually had multiple turns at the courses in the Open rotation. Given the subtleties of links courses -- and the venues themselves -- this can be a big advantage. Sure, there's a difference between knowing what you want your ball to do and getting your ball what to do what you want it to, but if an older player has both those things figured out like Watson did in 2009, look out.

4. They embrace the conditions. It's not all sunshine and double rainbows at an Open Championship. There's a good chance that over the course of four days, you're going to get caught up in some miserable weather. Shoot, the motto on that side of the pond is, "Nae wind, nae rain, it's nae golf." Older players get that. They're not going to complain about things like "water on the clubface" (like a certain top golfer did at a major in the last couple of years), wind, cold, or whatever else. They're going to suck it up and grind, realizing it's the same for everyone else as it is for them. An Open Championship is a battle of attrition. It is what it is. Deal with it. Get through it. Make the best of it. Never pack it in because anything can happen in links golf.

3. You don't have to be a bomber. That's not to say that guys like Clarke, Els and Mickelson don't hit the ball a long way. They do. But Watson and O'Meara aren't noted bombers. Open Championship courses might not be shorter yardage-wise on the scorecard than stateside major venues, but they play a heck of a lot shorter when you factor in the conditions and the style of game required to succeed -- low, running shots, as opposed to soaring high shots that land like a feather. Because of the equipment older players learned to play the game with, they're arguably more creative than younger generations. It's not bomb and gouge. It's about manufacturing shots and seeing shapes others don't.

2. Slower greens. There's just no way around this. The greens at an Open Championship are slower than the other three majors and that's just a fact. Are they slow? Not by any means. But they are slower. When you can be a little more aggressive with a putt and not have to worry about running it 10 feet past the hole, chances are you're going to shoot lower scores. For the older guys, the slower greens can be a great equalizer in links golf.

1. Older players know when to take their medicine. This could be the biggest reason you see older players perform well at the Open Championship. Deep, gnarly fescue. Gorse bushes. Pot bunkers. An older, wiser player isn't going to attempt a "hero shot" if the moment doesn't call for it. Instead, they're going to take their medicine, get back in play and in position for the next shot. You might think it's as simple as fundamental course management, but it's not. Need we remind you of Jean Van de Velde's 72nd hole at Carnoustie in 1999? 

T.J. Auclair is a Senior Interactive Producer for PGA.com and has covered professional golf since 1998, traveling to over 60 major championships. You can follow him on Twitter, @tjauclair.