The 1926 Open Championship was the 61st Open Championship, held 23–25 June at the Royal Lytham & St Annes Golf Club in Lytham St Annes, England. Amateur Bobby Jones won the first of his three Claret Jugs, two strokes ahead of runner-up Al Watrous. Jones was the first amateur to win the title in 29 years, last by Harold Hilton in 1897. Americans finished in the top four spots and it was the fifth victory by an American in six years.
This was the first Open Championship in which there was both qualifying and a 36-hole cut. A 36-hole cut had been introduced in 1898 to reduce numbers on the final day. However with an ever increasing number of entries, in 1907 the cut was replaced with a qualification competition. This had continued until 1925, except in 1910–11 when there was again no qualification but a 36-hole cut. To make the cut players would need to be within 14 strokes of the leader after 36 holes. A new rule by the R&A was also put into place in the 1926 Open Championship; it stated that no competitors would be allowed more than two practice rounds prior to the event. In the past some players had spent weeks on the championship course practicing. This new rule allowed the American players to compete on more equal terms with the British entrants.
This was also the first time there was regional qualifying. A southern section played at Sunningdale, a central section at St Annes Old Links and a northern section at Western Gailes. Each section played 36 holes, although for the southern and central sections this took place on two days (16–17 June) while for the northern section it was on just one day (16 June). 49 places (and ties) were allocated to the southern section, 42 places (and ties) to the central section and 10 places (and ties) to the northern section. 55 players qualified from the southern section, 51 from the central section and 11 from the northern section giving a total of 117. Tom Wilson won the northern section with a score of 148. In the southern section Bobby Jones dominated, scoring 134 (66-68) and leading by seven clear strokes. During the two rounds on only one hole did he score more than four, a five at the 10th in his second round. After his first round of 66, The Times reported that "the crowd dispersed awe-stricken. They had watched the best round they had ever seen, or ever would see, and what the later players did they neither knew nor cared". Walter Hagen led the central section with a score of 143, one of nine Americans qualifying there.
Walter Hagen opened with a 68 to take the lead, but a 77 in the second round dropped him back. In his second Open and already the winner of two U.S. Amateur titles and one U.S. Open title, Jones played steady golf and carded rounds of 72-72-73, but trailed leader Watrous by two strokes after 54 holes. Jones was still two behind Watrous with five holes to play. After picking up two strokes to forge a tie, Jones hit a wayward drive on 17 which appeared to swing the tournament back to Watrous. However, Jones hit a remarkable recovery shot from the sand dunes onto the green, closer to the hole than Watrous' approach from the fairway. Jones wound up taking the decisive lead in the tournament on this hole after Watrous three-putted. Jones played the tough final 5 holes in 4-3-4-4-4 to post a 74 and 291 total, while Watrous struggled to a 78 and 293. Hagen, playing behind Jones and Watrous, had a chance to tie by holing his second shot on the 18th, but his shot rolled past the hole and into a bunker and he settled for third place.
Jones, age 24, won his first Open Championship in just his second appearance. His first was five years earlier and was less than pleasant: he walked off the Old Course at St Andrews in 1921 in frustration after taking several shots to get out of a bunker. He went on to win two more Opens; his successful defense in 1927 was back at the Old Course, and his third in 1930 at Royal Liverpool was the second leg of his celebrated grand slam. Its first leg was the 1930 British Amateur, won two weeks earlier.
For the first time, an admission fee was charged for spectators. Harry Vardon, aged 56, missed his first cut in the Open Championship; he had made the cut in every Open he played since 1893.