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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Players Scarce at Open

TURNBERRY, Scotland -- When the wind is howling off the Firth of Clyde, when the rain is slapping at your face in horizontal sheets, when a perfectly struck drive hits a mound in the middle of the fairway and takes a cockeyed bounce into the high hay, it is not difficult to understand why the British Open at Turnberry may offend the sensibilities of many of the United States' pampered professional golfers, men used to the lovely locales they play in the paradise known as the PGA Tour.


Maybe that's why many stayed home this year for the 123rd Open that begins Thursday at the fearsome Ailsa course, once a landing field and training center for the Royal Air Force during World Wars I and II.


There are 41 Americans entered in the field of 156, down from 45 a year ago. Of the top 50 Americans on the PGA Tour's money list, 21 have chosen not to participate, even if this is the oldest and most prestigious of the four major championships of golf.


Tom Kite, for one, does not understand the reluctance of some of his countrymen to try to make it into the field any way they can.


"One of the prerequisites to win a major is to enter the damned thing," he said. "You are not going to win a British Open by correspondence. Winning is what it's all about, and winning major championships is what all the top players are trying to do. There's only a limited number you get to play in a lifetime of golf."


Though 45 of the top 50 players on the Sony world rankings are entered, among the best Americans not playing are Fred Couples (No. 5), Paul Azinger (6), Hale Irwin (29), Jay Haas (40) and Curtis Strange (50). Also among the missing are longtime favorites of these boisterous British galleries such as Lanny Wadkins and Raymond Floyd. All of them had their reasons. Couples, who has missed time this season with a bad back was concerned about a long flight and raw, rainy conditions that could make it worse. Azinger has missed the entire season battling cancer in his shoulder. Irwin, No. 5 on the U.S. money list, is suffering from tendinitis and needs a rest. Floyd has been concentrating his efforts on the Senior Tour and also missed the U.S. Open.


"I'm surprised Curtis Strange is not here," Kite said. Strange has taken his family to a beach in North Carolina for two weeks and was not available to comment.


There is another reason many of the American pros who are not exempt are not here. There are two tough days of qualifying competition at four different courses. This year, 22 Americans tried and only four -- Peter Jacobsen, Francis Quinn, Howard Twitty and Kirk Triplett -- made it into the field.


It has also become exceedingly difficult for Americans to win this event. Only one, Mark Calcavecchia in 1989 at Troon, has taken home the Claret Jug over the past 10 years.