Which Golfer Won the Most British Open Championships?

British Open FAQs: Most-frequent winner

6-time British Open winner Harry Vardon pictured in 1920
Harry Vardon (pictured in 1920) won the most British Open titles with six. Bettmann/Getty Images

Only one golfer has more than five British Open victories, and that golfer is Harry Vardon. Vardon won the Open Championship a record-setting six times.

Vardon's first British Open win was in 1896. He won again in 1898, 1899 and 1903. In 1903 Vardon was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and his golf game deteriorated. But he made a remarkable comeback by winning the British Open again in 1911, No. 5, and then winning his sixth Open Championship in 1914.

The only other golfer to win one of the professional majors more than five times is Jack Nicklaus, a six-time Masters champion.

Vardon's 6 Wins in the Open Championship

This is how Vardon won each of his British Open titles:

  • 1896: Vardon won a playoff against J.H. Taylor. In the 36-hole playoff, Vardon scored 157 to Taylor's 161.
  • 1898: One-stroke victory by Vardon over Willie Park Jr.
  • 1899: Vardon won by five strokes over runner-up Jack White.
  • 1903: Vardon's second wire-to-wire win, he beat his brother Tom, the runner-up, by six shots. (This is not the only time brothers have finished 1-2 in a major, however.)
  • 1911: Another playoff win for Vardon, this time over Arnaud Massy. Vardon won the 36-hole playoff by 10 strokes, 138 to 148.
  • 1914: Vardon's final Open win was, just as his first, over runner-up J.H. Taylor. Vardon was two behind Taylor at the beginning of the final round, but finished three strokes in front.

With the exception of Tom Vardon, the runners-up in Harry Vardon's Open wins were themselves past or future Open champions.

Vardon's 2nd-Place and Top 10 Finishes in the Open

In addition to the six victories, Vardon had multiple near-misses in the Open Championship. These are the four times Vardon finished as runner-up:

  • 1900: Vardon was second to J.H. Taylor, but a whopping eight strokes back.
  • 1901: Finished three strokes behind winner James Braid.
  • 1902: Tied with Braid, one behind winner Sandy Herd.
  • 1912: Lost by four shots to winner Ted Ray.

Note that one year after Vardon fell short of Ted Ray's winning score in 1912, Vardon and Ray were the other playoff participants who lost to Francis Ouimet in the 1913 U.S. Open. And then Vardon, at age 50, finished second to Ray at the 1920 U.S. Open. Vardon played the U.S. Open only three times; the other time, in 1900, he won it.

But back to the British Open: Vardon had a total of 20 Top 10 finishes in the Open Championship. That included 15 years in a row from 1894-1908, and 19 out of 21 years from 1894-1914.

Other Big British Open Winners

While Vardon is the only golfer with six Open victories, there are four 5-time champions:

Along with Vardon's, the names of J.H. Taylor and James Braid come up most often in this article. Those three golfers are inextricably linked in golf history. In fact, they were linked in real life when, during their careers, writers began referring to them as "the Great Triumvirate." From 1894 through 1914, those three golfers won all but five of the Opens played.