British Open Loses Two More Major Winners to COVID-19

The British Open is the oldest golf tournament in the world, one of the four PGA major tournaments, and its trophy, the Claret Jug, is one of the most iconic in sports. Unfortunately for fans, the 2021 British Open, the 149th in its history, is losing top players due to COVID-19. 

In the week leading up to the tournament, two more golfers, both major champions, added their names to the list of players staying home from Royal St. Georges this year. 

Hideki Matsuyama and Zach Johnson withdraw from the 2021 British Open due to positive COVID-19 tests

(L-R) Zach Johnson of the United States celebrates with the Claret Jug after winning during the play off of the 144th Open Championship at The Old Course on July 20, 2015 in St Andrews, Scotland; Hideki Matsuyama of Japan poses with the Masters Trophy during the Green Jacket Ceremony after winning the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 11, 2021 in Augusta, Georgia. Both have opted-out of the 2021 British Open.
(L-R) Zach Johnson, Hideki Matsuyama | Photo by Warren Little/R&A/R&A via Getty Images; Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

The current Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama and 2015 British Open winner Zach Johnson both withdrew from the 2021 British Open a few days before the event, per Yahoo! Sports

On Monday, July 12, Johnson tweeted

I am disappointed to announce I have tested positive for covid-19and will have to withdraw from the 2021 Open Championship. I look forward to returning to St. Andrews next year, a place where I have such wonderful memories. Good luck to all the competitors.  

Matsuyama withdrew from the Rocket Mortgage Classic two weeks ago after testing positive as well. He is symptom-free but is still producing positive tests. He said in a statement: 

Combining that with the difficult travel to the UK, my team and I have decided it’s best to withdraw to ensure everyone’s safety. I feel badly missing The Open and look forward to playing again at St Andrews next year. I’d like to thank the many golf fans for their continued concern and support as I strive to return to the game I love as soon as possible.

The two former major champions are just the latest top PGA golfers to withdraw from the 2021 British Open for health and safety reasons. 

Several other top PGA players are also skipping the British Open 

The biggest name to opt-out of the British Open, aside from Johnson and Matsuyama, is two-time Masters Champion Bubba Watson. The Florida native came in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

He tweeted an explanation on July 11, in part writing: 

While I am vaccinated and have passed the required pre-travel Covid-test, not enough time has passed for me to comfortably join the charter flight and risk exposure to the other players and personnel on board. I appreciate the R&A’s guidance and help navigating the UK policy for such situations.

While the list may still grow, at least 12 players qualified for The Open and opted out, not all for reported health and safety concerns. According to CBS Sports, other top 100 OWGR players to skip the major include Sungjae Im, Kevin Na, Matthew Wolff, Si Woo Kim, and K.H. Lee. 

Royal St. George’s is hosting the 149th Open Championship

As any diehard golf fan will tell you, it’s not really the British Open. It’s The Open Championship. In 2021, the 149th Open Championship is at the historic Royal St George’s in Sandwich, Kent, England. It is the fifteenth Open Championship contested at the golf course since its inception in 1887. 

Course founder Dr. William Laidlaw Purves founded the club as a rival to the iconic St. Andrews and, in 1894, Royal St. Georges hosted the first-ever Open Championship outside of Scotland, according to RoyalStGeorges.com

The course did not hold an Open Championship between 1949 and 1981. However, it has hosted the event five times in the last 40 years. 

In 1981, Texan Bill Rogers won the event but quit the sport two years later. In 1985, Tom Kite blew up on the back nine on Sunday, and Scotsman Sandy Lyle took home the Claret Jug. Aussie Greg Norman won his second British Open in 1993, and, in 2003, Ben Curtis fended off Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh to win his only major. 

At the last Open Championship held at Royal St. Georges, Darren Clarke became the second Northern Irishman to win the Open. His countryman Fred Daly did it in 1947, and a third joined the group in 2014 when Rory McIlory won at Royal Liverpool in 2014. 

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