• Alistair Tait

Major question: Why one and done?

Updated: Jul 16

There are 141 men who have only ever won one major championship, 41 who’ve made the Open Championship their only major victory.

Why one and done for so many?

Darren Clarke and Ben Curtis (above) are among that 141-player club. They are the last two winners of Open Championships held at Royal St George’s, where the Open Championship was to have been held this week before coronavirus wrecked our world.

They join St George’s champions in Bill Rogers (1981), Reg Whitcombe (1938) and Jack White (1904) to make the Open at Royal St George’s their only major victories. JH Taylor, Harry Vardon, Walter Hagen (twice), Henry Cotton, Bobby Locke, Sandy Lyle and Greg Norman also won Opens at St George’s.

Why did Taylor, Vardon and co win multiple majors when Clarke, Curtis et al only ever pulled off one major victory? Curtis is part of a neat golf trivia question: 2003 was the first year since all four majors were held in the same year that four men would win their one and only major championships. Mike Weir won the Masters, Jim Furyk the U.S. Open and Shaun Micheel the PGA Championship. The 2016 season saw four, so far, one-time major winners in Danny Willett, Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson and Jimmy Walker.

Curtis knew he was going to win before he played the fourth round. On the eve of the final day, wife Candace asked:

“How do you feel about tomorrow.”

Curtis came back with a four-word response:

"I'm going to win."
“I mean, it wasn't cocky or anything, just felt comfortable. I wasn't nervous or anything.”

When Clarke won he said:

“I can't put my finger on what's been different this week. I've just been very comfortable.”

Why were both comfortable that week and no other week in a major tournament?

The 1989 European Open featured a field that included Ian Woosnam, Sandy Lyle, Nick Faldo, Colin Montgomerie, Sam Torrance, Mark James, Vijay Singh, Howard Clark, Tony Johnstone, Ronan Rafferty, Ken Brown and Gordon Brand Jnr. England’s Andrew Murray won. It was his only European Tour win.

Murray had a second-place finish to David Gilford in the 1994 Turespana Open de Tenerife, which was ironic since Murray was Gilford’s manager at the time. Murray never came close to winning again.

One of the nicest guys you could ever meet, I now consider Andrew a good friend. I asked him years later what was different that week at Walton Heath. His response was probably similar to those 141 one-time major winners.

“I haven’t got the faintest idea,” Andrew replied.

As Betsy Rawls once said:

“Golf is a game in which perfection stays just out of touch.”

At least Rawls found perfection in eight major championships, unlike a fellow University of Texas graduate. Tom Kite won the 1991 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and that was it for his major trophy haul. He perhaps summed up this game perfectly when he said:

“This damn game makes cry babies out of all of us at some point or another.”

There have been lots of tears in major championships. Strange that so many only cried tears of celebration once.

A wee bonus for stat lovers:

  • As noted, 41 Open champions count winning the game’s oldest championship as their one and only major victory. That’s from 148 Opens.

  • Nineteen players have made the Masters their only major win from the 83 that have been held.

  • Forty-four players from 119 championships count the U.S. Open as their only major victory.

  • The figure is 37 out of 101 for the PGA Championship.

(I highly recommend Alun Evans book The Golf Majors for a treasure trove of great major championship stats.)

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