The four golf major championships have a lot in common. The events are often played on the most-storied courses and under brutally challenging conditions. The fields are the best of the year and a win in any of the four events can be a career-defining moment for a player. While the British Open stands side-by-side with the other majors in those ways, it is not like every other major.
The British Open is a completely different animal from the U.S. Open, Masters or PGA Championship and not just because it's the only major played across the pond. From unique course setups to a different style of play to the unpredictability of the weather, The Open Championship is the most-unique and possibly most-interesting major of the year.
Modern golf is built around the ability to shape shots and put the ball in the air. Long and high are often a winning combination with players flying and spinning the ball as close to the pin as possible. The British Open, however, is not played on a modern golf course. This week, the field will head to Royal Liverpool where they will be challenged by a links style setup. Bombing the ball with a driver isn't necessarily the way to success. Tiger Woods hit his driver just once when he won at Royal Liverpool in 2006. Instead of putting the ball in the air and flying at every pin, players will be challenged to judge the wind correctly, play the roll and use the ground as an advantage to bounce the ball into the greens.
Although they are uncommon, links style courses aren't unheard of in the United States. Hitting unique shots and taking advantage of what the course gives isn't unique to the British Open either. What sets the British Open apart from the other three majors is the weather. Weather can be a factor in any event in any place in the world. If it rains at the Masters, it will have an impact on the final result. The difference is the temperamental nature of the weather in The Open. The weather can not only change dramatically from day-to-day, but from hole-to-hole. If the wind blows, the course will play completely different and challenge every facet of a player's game. Depending on how much the weather shifts, it can almost be like playing four different golf courses (Tiger said he had three different wind directions in three days practicing). A player can play a hole perfectly one day, then have to make completely different club selections and play it an entirely different way the next. The weather can and does shift that dramatically. With a number of holes running along the sea, the wind at Royal Liverpool should be very unpredictable.
The modern trend of "Tiger proofing" golf courses has led to designers artificially inflating the difficulty in whatever way possible. Courses have been lengthened significantly and being long is often an easy way to success. The British Open hasn't followed along with that trend. Courses have undergone change, but aren't long for the sake of being long. Success requires creativity, shotmaking and decision making. Club selection is a much bigger factor with players having to judge distance and wind instead of bombing a driver off every tee. If the wind blows, the course will be just as hard as one you'd find in the U.S. Open. If not, players could have their way and post some red numbers and a winning score that inches towards 15-under to 18-under.
There is no island green or azaleas lining the fairway. At the Open, players may bounce the ball up to a green instead of launching high, pin-seeking bombs. Some players may not even carry a driver. The British open isn't like the other majors or most of the events on the PGA Tour. It's different and in this case, different is good.