Major Moments from Dan Jenkins

January 05, 2010

U.S. Open highlights from a man who has covered 52 U.S. Open championships through the years:

1985: Andy North survived, but the week belonged to T.C. Chen

The coldest Open ever, certainly the oddest, belonged to a little man named Tze-Chung Chen the whole week, and the only reason the championship isn't his today is because he played a single hole in the final round as if it were made in Taiwan.

Mr. Chen carried three wedges in his bag at Oakland Hills: one for sand, one for pitch shots, and now we know what the third one was for—hitting the ball twice in one swing.

1987: Olympic strikes again

Of all the enduring traditions in golf, the one at the Olympic Club in San Francisco is certainly becoming the hardest to reckon with. Hold a U.S. Open there and the wrong guy will win it every time. Olympic is three for three. Fleck over Hogan. Casper over Palmer. And now Scott Simpson takes Nob Hill and turns it into an urban-renewal project. Simpson over Watson. God over the press again.

1988: Strange defeats Faldo

Those who think an 18-hole playoff to decide the U.S. Open championship is anticlimactic have fallen prey to television. For some, their only reality is what they see on television. Happily the U.S. Golf Association has another view. It believes that its trophy is so important, so prestigious, that it would be a shame to have the Open decided at sudden death, purely for the sake of a network. May it ever be so.

1989: King Curtis and the four aces

Among other things, it was a championship in which holes-in-one for a while looked cheaper than junk food, a championship in which the casual water was deeper than Lake Ontario, and a championship in which Tom Kite demonstrated the proper way to take the wheels off a car and drive it into a ditch.

1994: Between Arnie's last hurrah and Ernie's first major, there wasn't a dry eye or dry shirt at Oakmont

Under the heat-lamp sky and amid dripping humidity, there was a wet golf-shirt contest called a U.S. Open held out at Oakmont in the middle of June, one that would mostly be remembered for the hilarious three-way playoff between a young South African who looks like a Boer farmer, a comparatively obscure American pro known as "the Reverend," and a hulk from Great Britain who more than one Scot eventually referred to as a "glaikit lummox," which, as some understood it, could be translated into something on the order of chip-chunking goose-brain. Were these people actually Ernie Els, Loren Roberts and Colin Montgomerie, or were they Larry, Moe and Curly?

On Friday, Arnold Palmer conducted the most memorable non-press conference after playing in his final Open. He uttered 20 difficult words in about five minutes but was so overcome with emotion he was forced to excuse himself.

There weren't many dry eyes in the audience either, and suddenly, for one of the few times in their cynical lives, the press inhabitants spontaneously gave this most cooperative athlete they would ever know a standing ovation.

Somewhere in that unique moment was a lesson for today's stars.

1995: Corey the Conqueror

Where to place Corey Pavin's 228-yard, crosswind, flag-eating 4-wood shot to the last green? It goes with Ben Hogan's 1-iron at Merion, Jerry Pate's 5-iron at Atlanta, Hale Irwin's 2-iron at Winged Foot, naturally, but wasn't it just about the most wonderful fairway wood any human being ever hit under the pressure of the U.S. Open, the pressure of trying to win his first major?

1996: Steve Jones overcomes a career-threatening injury and the ghosts of Oakland Hills

In a calcutta pool, Jones would have gone for a dollar in a field with Alex Cejka and Javier Sanchez.

1999: The Payne stops here

Payne Stewart has never been accused of being a superstar, but he could easily have won four U.S. Opens in the last nine years. Like grand old Pinehurst No. 2, obviously it's time to re-think him.

2004: The Shinnecock comedy

If Andy North and Lee Janzen could win two U.S. Opens, why couldn't Retief Goosen? More important are the bits of conversations that I happened to overhear with a secret device:

Conversation between Tiger Woods and Butch Harmon on Sunday before the final round:

TIGER: Butchie, I thought you were my friend.

BUTCH: You fired me, remember?

TIGER: Yeah, but I thought you understood. It's what I do for a hobby.

BUTCH: You're in denial, Tiger.

TIGER: I heard you'd said that. In denial about what?

__BUTCH:__Your golf game.

TIGER: I've won all these majors—how can I be in denial?

__BUTCH:__It's your swing plane.

TIGER: I lease a plane.

BUTCH: Your swing comes more from the inside. You have to use your hands a lot more to square the club at impact.

__TIGER:__That's what you told me when I fired you.

BUTCH: You have to go back to controlling your ball. You miss fairways with 2-irons and 3-woods now.

TIGER: It's the golf courses, like the stupid way they set up Shinnecock Hills this week.

__BUTCH:__You're talking to yourself. You never say you played a poor round.

TIGER: I don't have to listen to this. You're fired again.

Conversation between Tiger and the USGA's Tom Meeks:

__TIGER:__Meeksie, the USGA lost control of the course. One guy even six-putted. Was the USGA afraid it was going to get stuck with the water bill?

MEEKS: Tiger, that's actually the way we wanted it to play. The two best players were under par.

TIGER: Hey, wait a second, I wasn't under par.

MEEKS: You're in denial, Tiger.

TIGER: No, you're in denial.

MEEKS: No, you are.

Excerpted from The Dogged Victims of Dan Jenkins, privately published by The Golf Digest Companies to commemorate bestowing on Jenkins of the 2005 William D. Richardson Award, given annually by the Golf Writers Association of America to an individual who has consistently made an outstanding contribution to golf.