An Even Sixty
That's a lot of U.S. Opens and a lot of pressure—and I'm just talking about the typing
The U.S. Open at Merion will be my 60th, and in what you might consider an upset, these thoughts and memories from covering our national championship and dipping into its history will not concern themselves entirely with Ben Hogan. Well, almost.
In any case, I invite you to de-anchor yourself and your putter and come along with me now if for no other reason than the curiosity of it all as I de-anchor my mind.
BEST OPEN COURSE
All in all, Oakmont, over Pebble Beach. Oakmont has given us the best list of winners: Hogan (1953), Jack Nicklaus (1962), Tommy Armour (1927), Johnny Miller (1973), Ernie Els (1994), Larry Nelson (1983) and Angel Cabrera (2007), not to mention Bobby Jones (1925 U.S. Amateur), Gene Sarazen (1922 PGA) and Sam Snead (1951 PGA). All that makes up for Sam Parks Jr. winning the 1935 Open.
MY 10 FAVORITE COURSES THAT HAVE NEVER HAD THE OPEN (AND CAN'T, WON'T OR NEVER WILL)
Pine Valley, Cypress Point, Seminole, National Golf Links, Bel-Air, Brook Hollow, San Francisco Golf, Maidstone, Shady Oaks, Winged Foot East.
BEST FIRST-TEE ATMOSPHERE, BEST FLAGSTICKS, BEST QUARRY HOLES
Merion, Merion and Merion.
Nicklaus, to the USGA's P.J. Boatwright at the 1972 Open at Pebble Beach: "What did you do with all the grass?"
FIRST CROSS-HANDED PUTTER TO WIN
Orville Moody at Champions in 1969. Old Sarge also had the longest commute to win, from a motel on the highway an hour's drive from Champions.
At Oakmont in 1994, Ernie Els was halfway toward winning his first U.S. Open while the rest of us were watching the O.J. Bronco chase.
Lou Graham came from 11 back after 36 to win at Medinah in 1975, but the biggest comeback in Open history is me having to write Fleck over Hogan in '55.
BEST FATHER'S DAY PRESENT
The Open traditionally ends on Father's Day. My daughter, Sally, who also types for a living, gets me the best present a father could ever ask for: a cheeseburger.
During the second round at Oakland Hills in 1996, a spectator got hit in the head twice, by the approach shots of Steve Lowery and Payne Stewart. As Ken Burger of the Charleston Post and Courier said, "The odds of that happening are greater than they'd be on Lou Gehrig dying of Lou Gehrig's disease."
BEST FINISHING HOLE
The 18th at Winged Foot. Hardly a photo op, but this par 4 makes things happen: Bobby Jones' 12-foot putt to tie Al Espinosa in 1929, Billy Casper's clutch putts for pars in 1959, Hale Irwin's 2-iron in 1974, Fuzzy Zoeller's white-towel-waving at Greg Norman in 1984, and Phil Mickelson's bewildering gift to Geoff Ogilvy in 2006. One way or another, a finishing hole that has had something to say about the winner in every Open at Winged Foot.
WORST FINISHING HOLE
There's a reason no one has written a poem about Lucas Glover playing Bethpage's 72nd hole with a 6-iron and a 9-iron in 2009. It's not Hogan posing at Merion, is it?
THE TROUBLE WITH PEBBLE'S 17TH
The truth is, other than two shots--Nicklaus' 1-iron in 1972 and Tom Watson's holed chip in 1982—the 17th at Pebble has always been long, hard and dull.
BEST PRACTICE BUNKER
The one at Winged Foot's seventh hole, where Johnny Miller took four shots to escape in 1974.
BEST CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM
In the final round of the 1981 Open at Merion, George Burns ran a birdie putt eight feet past the hole, then made the comebacker. Someone at greenside remarked "Nice putt" to the USGA's Harry Easterly. "Yeah," Easterly replied, "but the first one was AW-ful." Burns, who tied for second, overheard the comment and replied, "Harry, you're a s---head, you always were a s----head, you'll always be a s---head!"
THE ONLY GUY WHO WAS NEVER SCARED TO HIT HIS DRIVER IN THE OPEN
Calvin Peete, because he hit it straighter than most people hit a cocktail glass with an ice cube.
Merion, Oakmont, Oakland Hills, Winged Foot, Shinnecock. There are members at Oakland Hills who say if they pick the pin positions and the starting point for your ball on the greens, you couldn't break 72--as in 72 putts. In 1974, Nicklaus said the experience at Winged Foot was like "playing miniature golf without sideboards." Added Homero Blancas: "I had some uphill putts—after each of my downhill putts."
BEST (OR WORST) ROUGH
Olympic in 1955. Damp, clinging and halfway up everyone's calves. Followed by Oakland Hills in 1951, when Sam Snead called the fairways so narrow "you have to walk sideways to keep from snagging your pants."
BEST REACTION WHEN NICKLAUS WON HIS FOURTH OPEN (AT AGE 40)
Lee Trevino, watching a locker-room TV as Jack finished at Baltusrol in 1980: "Get away and let the big dog eat!"
Lew Worsham interrupting Sam Snead on the 18th green of the 1947 Open playoff in St. Louis by saying, "Are you sure you're away?" Snead was indeed away—30 inches to 29—but missed a par putt. Worsham made his to win by a stroke.
BEST SHOT I WISH I'D SEEN
Byron Nelson's 1-iron from 210 yards for an eagle deuce at the fourth hole in his 1939 playoff with Craig Wood at Spring Mill.
MOST COLORFUL QUADRUPLE BOGEY
T.C. Chen was leading by four in the final round at Oakland Hills in 1985 before making a quadruple-bogey 8—the legendary "snowman"—at the fifth hole. Mr. Chen carried three wedges in his bag: one for sand, one for pitch shots, and now we know what the third one was for: hitting the ball twice in one swing. T.C.—forever known as Two Chips--finished only a stroke behind winner Andy North.