The Links effect: 20-year Open Championship stats that might just land you the winner

What this week's victor at Royal Troon will need in his DNA

The Links Effect 1900x840


The Open Championship is special. We don’t mean special in a ‘Jose Mourinho’ kind of way, but more the glassy greens, the rough that rivals S&M for punishment, the fact a moderate gale counts as ‘decent conditions’.

To win it, you need the right combination of skills, experience and as Adam Scott now knows, mental strength. And if you can time your rounds to coincide with the calmer spells of weather, well that doesn’t hurt either.

But are there any characteristics to look out for in an Open winner? Are there certain clues to look out for in a player’s profile that hint he could be about to get his hands on the Claret Jug? The Paddy Power Blog have rifled through the history of the last 20 tournaments and comeback with a definite, maybe.

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No country for Old Men?

42, 42, 39. While that sounds like former winner Darren Clarke’s average score on the front nine this season, it happens to be the age of three of the last four winners – excluding Rory McIlroy’s 2014 triumph at just 25. While those numbers suggest it’s becoming an event for the elder statesmen of the tour, it does represent the high end of the scale. In the last 20 years, they are among the three oldest winners, along with Mark O’Meara’s 1998 win at 41.

Even when we take out a few of those outliers, the trends, like many dating websites, points to the more ‘ mature’ player. The average age of an Open winner is 33.4 and that number is condensed by about a year due the brilliance of Tiger Woods winning all three of his Opens before the age of 31. Yeah, we don’t know where’s he’s at either.

The lesson to consider, is that while the temptation may be to side with the admittedly talented youngsters, (an X-box inspired Jordan Spieth (21) was fourth last year at St Andrews) it’s rare for players so young to get their hands on the Claret Jug.

Are You Experienced?

Related, but not completely welded to age is experience. While in the majority of cases, an older player is likely to have had a few nibbles at the Open, it’s not always the case. For example, a 37-year-old Tom Lehmann took the 1996 title on just his third appearance. On the other side of that coin, when Tiger his first Open at the age of 24, he already had five previous Open appearances.

So much of links golf relies on knowing that conditions are going to be more volatile than Kerry Katona and that four over par on day one, might be a great score at the end. Knowing how to limit the damage at a seemingly innocuous point early doors, could be the difference come Sunday afternoon.

The average number of previous Open appearances of the eventual winner is 9.5. Reigning champ Zach Johnson was on his 12th visit to the Open before winning last year – eight seasons after his US Masters‘ triumph.

Sometimes it’s been a good bit lower than that (John Daly [3], Justin Leonard [3], Todd Hamilton [3], Louis Oosthuizen [3]), but others such as Phil Mickelson [19] and Padraig Harrington [17] needed several more bites of the cherry.


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Ben Curtis rocking for the first time of asking in 2003 and Darren Clarke’s fairytale victory at the 23rd attempt in 2011 are the bookends of the range, with the stats suggesting that most winners need to have substantial Open experience before winning it.

Up to 70 per cent of the last 20 winners had played at the Open five or more times prior to their victory. That number doesn’t make absolutely iron-clad link between experience and victory, but it clearly doesn’t hurt if you’ve been around the links a few times.

Class and form

Despite the often difficult conditions, the Open has been the maiden Major win of several recent winners. The comfort and ego-boost of knowing you’ve got a Major in the bag can give you that edge in a close finish.

But while 50 per cent of Open winners had previously won a Major, (yes, Dustin Johnson, we can finally include you), it obviously means that 50 per cent hadn’t. Yeah, we should be traders.

Current form is more important. As 14 of the last 20 winners had won at least one event on tour prior to the Open that season (DJ’s got two already), it helped to a) hone that winning mentality, and b) get some practice in on how to hold a trophy without looking like a smug dickhead.

When you overlay the various categories (below) to see what elements matter for an Open winner, there’s a clear if unhelpfully vague trend that emerges.


Experience matters, but isn’t crucial. Young guns can win, but being in your 30’s rather than 20’s helps. Having recent form on your side is no harm, but there are ways around it.

Someone will tee off on Thursday and about 280 shots later, they’ll get their hands on the Claret Jug.

Whether it’s last weekend’s winner Alex Noren, wannabe first-time Major winner Rickie Fowler, or even perennial Major contender Lee Westwood, we have no idea who that will be.

But that’s the beauty of the Open Championship.


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