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Why it’s now ‘The Open’ rather than the British Open

Mark O'Meara tees off during the second practice day at

Mark O'Meara tees off during the second practice day at The Open Championship at Royal Birkdale in Southport, England, Monday, July 17, 2017. Credit: AP / Dave Thompson

Newsday calls it the British Open. The Associated Press calls it the British Open. Nearly every American golf fan calls it the British Open.

But on ESPN and NBC, it is never that. It is “The 146th Open Championship” or “The Open Championship” or simply “The Open.”

“The Open Championship is incorrect,” said three-time winner Nick Faldo, an analyst for NBC this week at Royal Birkdale. “It’s now The Open, you see? It’s gone from The British Open to The Open Championship. Now, it’s The Open. In another five years it will be just called ‘The.’”

Faldo is British, and like everyone there for the past century and a half he has thought of it as “The Open” – or variations thereof – because it is the original, as opposed to the U.S. version, a newcomer that came along in 1895. Fair enough.

Until recently, though, Americans almost exclusively have called it the British Open, just to keep the sides of the Atlantic straight.

Then in the mid-2000s, The R&A, which runs the event, successfully convinced its American TV partners to use the old-school term, presumably for branding purposes.

It was similar to NBC’s decision in 2006 that Turin, as Americans refer to it, would go by its Italian name, Torino, for the Winter Olympics, because then-NBC Sports boss Dick Ebersol thought it sounded better.

Mike Tirico, NBC’s host for the British Open, has been on the front lines of the shift, which occurred during his time at ESPN/ABC around 2005.

“It was the British Open when I started, and we kind of moved to The Open Championship and now it’s not really The Open Championship anymore. It’s The 146th Open Championship. I miss that. The Open Championship still sounds better to me.”

Tirico said using The R&A’s preferred name is simple courtesy.

“If he says, ‘Call me David, not Dave,’ it’s his name, I’m going to say it the way he wants me to say it,” Tirico said, pointing to his NBC colleague, David Feherty. “It’s their event. That’s the way they want it referred to. That’s OK. If you go over there, there is not one thing that you can buy that says ‘the British Open.’

“So just because we refer to it that way, in a shocking development as an American, we could be wrong . . . As a rights-holder they asked. That’s the way they’re branding their event . . . It’s their championship, for God’s sake.”

Feherty, who is from Northern Ireland, said, “It’s The Open Championship to me. Even when it was [called] the British Open, [players from the United Kingdom would say], ‘Are you going to go play in The Open?’ That’s how we would call it.”

NBC analyst Johnny Miller, an American who won the event in 1976, said he still struggles with the terminology.

“I have trouble with it,” he said. “I screwed up one time last year, if you call it a screw-up, which is pretty good in four days. But, yeah, it was always the British Open, because you had the U.S. Open and the British Open. It just made sense that you differentiated them as an American.

“When I talk to groups or corporate groups, I will still refer to the U.S. Open and British Open because they say The Open, but a lot of Americans, casual golf fans, they don’t know what you’re talking about.

“So I don’t know if the political correctness has gotten to Britain or not. But bottom line, you’ve got to do it right. We have a whole sheet of things you’re supposed to say or not say. So: The Open. That’s right.”

Tirico has read comments on Twitter from American viewers about how announcers refer to the event, which he said is a legitimate question. But he insisted, “It wasn’t a jackhammer from high on that said, ‘You have to call it this.’”

The R&A has history on its side, as always.

“The U.S. Open became much bigger to American golfers, so it superseded it in reference,” Tirico said, “but The Open Championship predates the U.S. Open, so they have first dibs on it.”

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