Americans: It's okay to call this major "The British Open," and don't let anyone tell you otherwise

July 19, 2017

Paul Severn

Editor's Note: A recent Wall Street Journal article reported that, to win broadcast rights for the British Open, NBC Sports had to agree as part of the contract that it would refer to the tournament strictly as "the Open" or "the Open Championship." NBC, in turn, had to instruct announcers not to use the phrase “British Open” on the air. Our man Shane Ryan tackled this subject two years ago at St. Andrews. Enjoy.

My fellow Americans, raise your hands if you've had the following experience:

While discussing the third major of the year, you use the words "The British Open." Someone -- usually one of her majesty's citizens or an overzealous American -- informs you in a pedantic tone that it's actually called "The Open Championship," and that using the word "British" is inaccurate, boorish, and a decorum violation somewhere on the spectrum between 'vulgar' and 'barbaric.'

Maybe you capitulated, or maybe you grumbled and changed the subject. What you should have done -- and I don't mean to sound nationalistic here -- is to wrap yourself in an American flag and attack them viciously until the police arrive.

Why? Because they're wrong, in every way that it's possible to be wrong. If they want to call it "The Open," fine. I don't care -- that's their business, and I'm very laissez-faire about what terms people want use for golf tournaments. They could call it "The Only Golf Tournament in the Universe," and I'd tip my cap and go about my day. But even if I supported the aggressive foisting of my culture on other nations, as the British have done for centuries, I still wouldn't get behind this particular movement -- it's simply irrational.

146th Open Championship Media Day - Royal Birkdale

David Cannon/R&A

Consider the main argument employed by the opposition, which is that the tournament has always been called The Open Championship, and that it predates the U.S. Open. In other words: We were there first! We choose the name!

Now, I'll concede the chronology. The British Open started in 1860 when seven Scots and one Englishman played three rounds on a 12-hole course and Willie Park Sr. (or "Old Willie Park," as I like to call him) won by two strokes over Old Tom Morris (or "Tom Morris Sr."). It wasn't until 1895 that America got its act in gear, because we had to fight a Civil War and have a Haymarket Riot before we could even think about golf. So, sure, they beat us to the punch.

HOWEVER, whether they noticed it overseas or not, our national open championship became pretty huge. Like, major championship huge. Huge to the point that if you asked 100 American professional golfers which tournament they'd rather win, at least 95 would choose the U.S. Open -- just as 95 Europeans would choose the British. In fact, the most desired major title, the Masters, is the youngest of them all. All of which proves that age is meaningless in terms of prestige.

Where does that leave Americans? In a situation where we need an easy way to distinguish between the two tournaments. There was one obvious answer, and since we're a pretty obvious country, we called one the U.S. Open, and one the British Open. There's nothing insulting about this, either toward Great Britain or its historic golfing tradition; we're simply trying to be less confused.

Can you imagine the chaos if we did call it "The Open"?

American 1: Will you come with me to The Open this year?

American 2: Sure. Which one?

(American 1 is too busy texting to pay attention, and forgets to reply.)

(American 2 wrongly assumes he means the U.S. Open, flies to Chambers Bay in June and dies by falling in one of the potholes on the greens.)

There you have it: An avoidable tragedy.


It should be noted, by the way, that we're being very generous as a nation by adding "U.S." to the front of our national open, and not asking the same of our former colonial overlords. I'd also like to point out that America had the PGA Championship first, and we don't get mad when Brits call it the "U.S. PGA" to distinguish it from the BMW PGA. Nor have I seen anyone rage at Australians who use the term "U.S. Masters," even though, frankly, that's bullshit and they know it.

There's an even closer parallel: The U.S. Open of tennis traces its origins back to 1881, while the French Open started in 1891 and the Australian Open began in 1905. We could easily adopt the righteous indignation of the Brits and insist that everyone call the two-week tournament at Flushing Meadows "The Open Championship of Tennis." But we're not pretentious like that—it's not in our blood. (There's no room, what with all the sugar.)

Everything here is far more permissive and democratic. Maybe it's because we don't have a monarchy in our past. In fact, we've only had two people called "The King." One of them brought the sport of golf to the people, and the other died on a toilet.

On a serious note: It's not nice to be dismissive of other cultures, and it happens too often in America. However, this is not an example. We're just being practical, and it's the Brits who are being dismissive of us. So if you hate double standards and love logic, draw a line in the sand. It doesn't matter if they call it the Open Championship, or that they were there first, or that Ben Hogan won the damn thing the only time he could be bothered to play, planting a metaphorical flag so deep into the British golf psyche that we should actually just call it the U.S. Open Number Two.

Ben Hogan in Ticker Tape Parade


None of that matters, my fellow Americans. What matters is that we're trying to do the right thing, and the "Open Championship" snobs are behaving like that annoying kid from college who knew how to pronounce the words acai and quinoa before you. Sure, maybe he was technically right, but sometimes you just want to have some of that weird berry juice and the foreign rice stuff.

And now I'd like to turn to our British friends for a quick word.

First of all, do you all realize that by insisting on "The Open," when we politely call our own tournament "The U.S. Open," that you're somehow displaying a worse case of exceptionalism than AMERICA?! That's not something to be proud of, believe me. We practically invented exceptionalism. We even have our own Wikipedia page, which we all believe is the best exceptionalism Wikipedia page in the world.

(Okay, fine, you invented national exceptionalism with the whole "the sun never sets on the British Empire" era, but we learned from you and took it to the next level. It's just like how Aristotle learned from Plato, except with blind arrogance instead of comprehensive knowledge.)

Seriously, though, recent surveys show that 85 percent of Americans aren't even aware that other countries exist, so you really don't want to be caught looking more egotistical than us. It's a little like having a worse sex scandal than Tiger Woods -- it's definitely possible, but you'll be really embarrassed and it will probably ruin your life.

Also, since when do any of you advocate for brevity in names? I saw a side street this week called "The Honourable Lord Crispin Atterberry Bloodsworth 'Steward of the Livery Mews' Alley Passage of the Bishopric of St. Andrew the Bold." Even your houses have names, like "Barrister's Bungalow," and most of them are pretty small. And you're telling me you want to shorten the name of your foremost golf event? It's against the national character!

So let's agree to disagree here: You call it the Open Championship, we'll call it the British Open, and we can turn our attention to a more worthy problem, like reparations for that time you burned down the White House.