The British Open: The 10 best players from each era

Rory McIlroy, British Open,(Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Rory McIlroy, British Open,(Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images) /
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British Open, St. Andrews, R&A, The Open, 150th Open
Gary Player and Arnold Palmer in 1961. (Photo by Cowper/Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images) /

British Open: The Palmer era (1959-69)

It is no exaggeration to say that Arnold Palmer personally invigorated interest in the British Open when he took on its challenge in 1960.

Palmer was the reigning Masters and U.S. Open champion at the time, so the British Open amounted to the third step toward a modern grand slam.

Palmer missed out – barely – losing by a stroke to Kel Nagle. He would come back to win in 1961 and repeat in 1962.

Palmer’s subsequent Open experiences were not as rewarding. He never again finished top five, which is why he only stands fourth for the decade.

Top 10 Players Of The Palmer Era.

1.       Kel Nagle, -1.53

2.       Roberto DeVicenzo, -1.47

3.       Jack Nicklaus, -1.44

4.       Arnold Palmer, -1.34

5.       Gary Player, -1.24

6.       Bob Charles, -1.20

7.       Peter Thomson, -0.89

8.       Christy O’Connor, -0.86

9.       Bruce Devlin, -0.72

10.    Bernard Hunt, -0.64

The top seven names on this list combined to win nine of the 11 championships contested during this era, missing out only in 1964 (Tony Lema) and 1969 (Tony Jacklin).

A 1966 plane crash terminated Lema’s might-have-been brilliant career as well as his life; Jacklin just missed the top 10.

Nagle is the surprise here, but he had a steady run of Open successes capped by that 1960 title.

He followed that with a tie for sixth in 1961, second in 1962, fourth in 1963, and ties for fifth and fourth in 1964 and 1965. Nobody delivered more consistent results during the era.

DeVicenzo’s 1967 victory capped a career that had already seen a third-place finish in 1963 and a fourth in 1964. He would tie for third as defending champion in 1969.

Nicklaus, whose best Open appearances remained ahead of him, broke through in 1966 after finishing third in 1963 and second to Lema in1 964. He came home second to DeVicenzo in 1967 and to Player, also the 1959 champion, in 1968.

Charles made a bit of Trivial Pursuit golf history in 1963 when he became the first left-hander to win a major. He was runner-up in both 1968 and 1969.