Top 10 US Opens Golf list compiler extraordinaire Mak Lok-lin selects the most memorable editions of America's national championship
t's hard to believe that almost a year has passed since Graeme McDowell's come-frombehind victory at the US Open – the first by a European for forty years. Rory McIlroy, McDowell's great mate, will be pleased to note how time has treated Dustin Johnson's implosion at Pebble Beach (which was in many ways worse than his own Masters fiasco) in the sense that no one seems to remember or care too much about it. We were also spared the blushes of the USGA had Frenchman Gregory Havret, who was languishing at 391 in the world rankings at the time, gone on to take the title. All in all, the second major of 2010 was a pretty exciting one for the neutrals, albeit one that featured the sight of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els all engaging reverse gear when the going got tough down the home straight. But it was certainly more entertaining than watching journeyman Lucas Glover's turgid – if ultimately successful – slog around a soggy Bethpage Black the year before. This leads one to pray for a US Open for the ages. Tommy Armour's old haunt, Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland, will host proceedings this time and it's a fabulous track, one with a great tradition. Whether it will be rewarded with an equally great champion remains to be seen, of course – I for one am not holding my breath. Needless to say, this all got me thinking about the truly magical US Opens of the past, and in time honoured fashion, I slipped all too easily into an internal debate as to which previous contests would make my top ten ...
Tiger's Fight Back (2008)
It’s easy to forget just how good Tiger Woods was before his personal life – and game – went into free fall. Going into the US Open at Torrey Pines, there was a chance he wouldn’t play at all having had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee after the Masters that year (where he finished second to Trevor Immelman). Even if he did play, could he compete having not played competitive golf for nearly two months? The answer lay in both Woods himself and the stats for his performances leading up to the event. In the eleven tournaments Woods played before that US Open, he won eight times, was runner-up twice and didn't finish out of the top five. What the public didn’t know before the tournament started was that doctors had discovered a double stress fracture in his left tibia, but he decided to play anyway. Woods clearly didn’t plan for what turned into a gruelling war of attrition against Rocco Mediate, a journeyman tour pro having his day in the sun. In the event, Woods had to hole the putt of his life to birdie the last for force an eighteen-hole play-off, then, unbelievably, birdie it again the following day to take the play-off into sudden death, by which time Mediate finally woke up. For many, the combination of health issues, near misses, stunning shots and sheer theatre made this perhaps the most dramatic major of all time. It took a huge toll on Woods as, after the battle, he could barely walk and immediately announced a break to have further surgery. He was off the tour for eight months. The win remains Woods’ last in a major.
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Hogan's Miracle (1950)
Old School (clockwise from top left): Hy Peskin's famous image of Hogan firing his fabulous oneiron to the final hole at Merion in 1950; Watson's decisive hole-out on the seventeenth at Pebble Beach; Miller in full flow at the 1973 US Open 60
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The story at Merion Golf Club centered on one man – the great Ben Hogan. Following his glorious 1948 season when he had won 10 times, including the US Open at Riviera, the dogged Hogan had finally reached the pinnacle of the sport, if not the top of the popularity charts. However, in February 1949, he barely survived a head-on collision with a Greyhound bus, in which he threw himself across his wife Valerie, almost certainly saving her life but resulting in massive injuries to himself. It was deemed unlikely that he would walk again, never mind play golf. And yet, here he was, five months after his return to the game, with both legs heavily bandaged and in constant pain coming down the eighteenth needing a par to force a play-off with Lloyd Mangrum and George Fazio. The home hole at Merion was a brute and despite a good drive, Hogan still required a one-iron to reach the green. The strike was pure and he found the centre of the putting surface, from where he two-putted his way into the play-off, which he won the following day in front of a rapturous crowd. This most miraculous of major victories helped Hogan win over a golfing public enthralled by his triumph over adversity.
lived up to that reputation – until this event. It seems there was a sprinkler malfunction and the course was actually relatively soft and receptive, which led to a record nineteen players breaking par on the Friday. The last two days saw the course toughen, and in fact the fallout continued the following year when the “Massacre at Winged Foot” was blamed on a reaction to the scores that Oakmont yielded. A sub-plot in 1973 was the seeming ret u rn to for m of A r nold Palmer, with the huge local crowds seeking revenge upon the upstart Jack Nicklaus. There was also the matter of perhaps the best player in the world at the time, Lee Trevino, reigning Open champion and seeking his third US Open title. In the event, this stellar threesome all tied for fourth behind eventual champion Johnny Miller. With such a field and such a tough course, Miller’s round on Sunday was perhaps the best in major championship history. This former US Amateur champion played flawless golf in scoring a record 63 to take the championship by one. He hit all eighteen greens in regulation and took just twenty-nine putts, even lipping out on the final two holes. A great player often seen as never quite living up to his abilities, Miller went on to win the Open Championship in 1976 and a total of twenty-five PGA titles. However, those who saw what he was capable of at Oakmont felt he should have achieved so much more.
Watson's Chip (1982)
The US Open was seen as the one major Tom Watson seemed destined not to win. A bit like Greg Norman and the Masters, Watson had come so close so often but it just wouldn't happen for him. In his previous eight efforts, he had six top 10 finishes. Nevertheless, after three rounds at Pebble Beach, Watson was tied for the lead with Bill Rogers, who had won the Open Championship the year before. Jack Nicklaus was hovering wit h intent. I n t he f i na l rou nd , b ot h Watson and Rogers struggled early on, while Nicklaus was unstoppable, birdying f ive consecutive holes on the front nine. Watson f inally got it going around t he turn by holing several lengthy putts to either save par or many birdie. After 16 holes he was tied with the Golden Bear. At the parthree seventeenth he pulled his tee shot badly into thick rough above the hole. When his caddie, Bruce Edwards, urged him to put it close, Watson snapped back: “Get in close? Hell, I'm going to sink it.” True to his word, Watson somehow managed to coax the ball into the hole before closing with another birdie for a memorable two-shot win. For high drama, this edition of the championship couldn't be beaten and it put Pebble Beach firmly on the US Open roster. It's hard to believe that 1982 was only the second US Open to be held there and it became – and remains – one of the most popular venues.
Palmer's Charge (1960)
At the time, this was seen as a superb Open, full of final round drama with the lead changing hands multiple times before Arnold Palmer emerged triumphant as a hugely popular if wholly unexpected winner. Time has not diminished the drama, but in retrospect has added an entire “clash of generations” sub-plot which adds a lot to the events of the day. Palmer started the final round trailing by seven shots, drove the first green at Cherry Hills Country Club and birdied six of the first seven holes. In the end he shot 65 to win by two shots.
Miller's Brilliance (1973)
Oakmont features in a number of the “greatest” US Opens as it’s seen as the archetypal Open course. In 1919, Grantland Rice called it “the hardest golf course in the country” and it had HKGOLFER.COM
On its own, that would make for a memorable Open. However, the lead changed hands several times and boiled down to a three-way battle between the old generation, Ben Hogan, the next generation, amateur Jack Nicklaus, and the current generation, Palmer. Hogan perhaps should have won, playing the seventeenth with a one shot lead before bogeying the hole from the middle of the fairway and triple-bogeying the last. It marked the end of the Hogan era and introduced the world to “Ohio Fats”, the plump kid with the crew cut who would become Palmer’s nemesis for years to come ...
Jack's Arrival (1962)
As ever, Oakmont threw up a brilliant Open, even if once more it was only with the passage of time that the true relevance became clear. This was scripted to be Arnold Palmer’s Open, being HK Golfer・JUN 2011
held barely forty miles from his hometown of Latrobe in Western Pennsylvania. He had won six tournaments already in 1962 including the Masters, and the Phoenix Open by t welve shot s – from Jack Nicklaus, who had recently turned pro. After three rounds Arnie was tied with Bobby Nichols and leading Nicklaus by two shots. After eight holes he was leading by three, but he began missing putts and by day’s end was tied with Nicklaus. This was despite perhaps the most partisan crowd in major history abusing Jack every step of the way. The crowd called him “Fat Jack”, and stood in the trees carrying signs saying, “Hit it here Jack”. Jack said later that he hadn’t noticed any of this, but his own fans did and his father’s friend Woody Hayes in particular had to be pulled away several times from confrontations. Arnie’s putting problems continued in the play-off and Jack pulled away to win a tremendous battle. There was a shambolic finish when Arnie “conceded” Jack’s putt on the eighteenth, only for officials to point out it was a stroke play contest and to insist the marker be replaced and to have Jack putt out. In the end, Palmer outplayed everyone tee to green, but had a torrid time with the flatstick. Overall, Arnie had thirteen three-putts and Jack had only one. Unbelievably, time showed this to be the classic changing of the guard. It was Nicklaus’ first professional win and the first of his eighteen majors, but it also marked the shifting of power. Arnie featured in two further play-offs for the US Open, but didn't win either. Actually, Jack’s win was foretold in very non-PC fashion by none other than Arnie himself. Asked on the eve of the tournament who he felt had a chance, he told his fans to, “watch out for the fat kid”!
Stewart's Last Hurrah (1999)
Payne Stewart had shaken off his “clown” reputation with his win in the USPGA in 1989 and his US Open win in 1991, where he beat Scott Simpson in a playoff. He was always hugely popular with golf fans for his unique outfits, featuring a flat cap and pants which were a cross between plus fours and knickerbockers, all in remarkably loud colours. By 1999, Stewart hadn’t won on tour for four years and was seen as a good player whose moment had perhaps come and gone. In
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1998, he had led the US Open by four shots going into the final round, only to shoot a 74 as Lee Janzen snatched victory by a shot with a 68. At the US Open at Pinehurst No 2, he was determined not to let another title slip away. Despite the usual Tiger charge and a great effort by Vijay Singh, it all came down to a head-to-head battle against a young Phil Mickelson. In the event, Phil was in the middle of the sixteenth fairway with a one-shot lead before missing the green and failing to get up and down for his only bogey of the day. When Stewart stuffed his approach on seventeenth to four feet for a birdie, Mickelson realized his grip on the trophy was all but gone. On the eighteenth, Stewart sank a fifteen foot par putt for a one-shot win which he celebrated in some style. Unbelievably, within a couple of months Stewart was gone, killed in a plane accident en route to the Tour Championship. The private jet had suffered a massive loss of cabin pressure, killing everyone on board and the world watched as the ghost plane flew until the fuel ran out and it crashed in South Dakota.
Ouimet's Amateur Hour (1913)
This was the Open which captured the US public’s imagination, the plucky young American Francis Ouimet against Britain’s best. The sad part was that three years previously, America had found her superstar, a prodigy called Johnny McDermott. He finished second in 1910, aged just eighteen, before winning a year later. He remains the youngest ever winner of the US Open, and was the first American to do so. However, he wasn’t an amateur and it seems that it was this which made Ouimet's 1913 Open victory so special. Ted Ray and Harry Vardon had been on an exhibition tour of the US beating all comers (although McDermott routed them in the final event before the Open) and it was felt that the championship was theirs for the taking. Ouimet was a twenty-year-old local champion when the US Open came to his local course at Brookline, having won the Massachusetts Amateur earlier in the year. What made the championship memorable wasn’t just that he matched the legendary pros over the four rounds, it was that despite being a massive underdog for the play-off, he played brilliantly to defeat them mano-a-mano. Also helping the narrative along was the extraordinary presence of ten-year-old Eddie Lowery, Ouimet’s caddie. Ouimet never turned pro and had a superb amateur career, albeit slightly interrupted by the outrageous decision to strip him of his amateur status in 1916 because he was working in a sporting goods store. This caused a huge uproar at the time, which the USGA chose to ignore. After the war his status was quietly reinstated.
In any era without Bobby Jones he would have been feted as the best amateur in the world. As it was, he went on to mentor players such as Gene Sarazen, and also became the first American to become Captain of the R&A.
Armour's Battling Win (1927)
Oakmont in 1927 was brutal; the first example of what we would today call a classic US Open course. It had it all: the slick greens, the 300 bunkers, and especially the nightmarish rough. The course gave up only a single round under par over the five days of play when Tommy Armour scored a stunning 71 in the second round. Only one man had seemingly held himself together consistently, Harry “Lighthorse” Cooper who had finished with a total of 301. Out on the course, coming off a double bogey at the longest hole in US Open history at the time, the interminable 621 yard twelfth (still the sixth longest ever), Armour
American Heroes (clockwise from top left): Nicklaus and Palmer, two of the greatest US Open champions in history; Ouimet is carried by the Brookline galleries following his win in 1913 (Ouimet's caddie, tenyear-old Eddie Lowery, is seen in the foreground); Stewart's fifteen foot putt at the final hole in 1999 denied Phil Mickelson HK Golfer・JUN 2011
Decades Apart: Tommy Armour (top right) shakes the hand of Harry "Lighthorse" Cooper (left) following his triumph in 1927; Woods in his prime (below), the 2000 US Open at Pebble Beach
stood on the thirteenth tee knowing he needed to play the last six holes in one under to match Cooper. He also knew that the previous day, reigning US Open champion Bobby Jones had stood on the same tee with a share of the lead and then played the next four holes in seven-over par to watch his title slip away. Armour started grinding, scoring par after par for the next five holes, until he stood on the eighteenth needing a birdie to tie. Unbelievably, he hit his drive 250 yards down the middle (which was enormous for the time), and then knocked in a three-iron to eleven feet. With the boisterous crowd willing him on, he stroked in the birdie to force an eighteen-hole play-off. For some reason the huge crowd had taken a dislike to Cooper. It was felt that the locals appreciated Armour’s humility, whereas Cooper was seen as brash and was nicknamed, “Cocksure Cooper” and “Chesty Harry”, whereas Armour was a deliberate player. In the event the Tortoise and Hare tale played out perfectly, with Cooper racing to a two-shot lead after eleven holes, only to take twenty-seven shots on the final six holes as Armour again played brilliantly to play the same stretch in twenty-two strokes and win by three, holing enormous putts along the way. Oakmont had served up another classic!
us open punting
Straight Shooters The key to US Open success has everything to do with patience and keeping it in the short grass, writes resident tipster Archie Albatross
he Blue Course at Congressional is a classic US Open track: hard and long it will be set up to wear down the field and punish the slightest mistake. The great and the good at the USGA like their courses heartbreakingly tough and are seemingly never happier when level par wins the national championship. Then
Tiger Woods Phil Mickelson Lee Westwood Luke Donald Martin Kaymer Nick Watney Matt Kuchar Adam Scott Bubba Watson Ben Crane
Tiger the Destroyer (2000)
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Take a piece of that: Luke Donald at 22/1
there's the weather. Played in the heart of the hot and humid Mid Atlantic summer, the expected steamy conditions alone could well be a factor in determining who comes out on top. The US Open is a notoriously difficult tournament in which to pick the winner, as is evidenced by the roll call of recent champions who come from right across the spectrum of player types. There are the power hitters, men like Angel Cabrera, Tiger Woods and Retief Goosen. Then there are the shorter, 'control' players, the plotters: Lucas Glover, Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell. Even Rocco Mediate, who averaged less than 270 yards off the tee, pushed Tiger all the way in their famous play-off in 2008.
6/1 10/1 16/1 22/1 22/1 33/1 40/1 50/1 50/1 125/1
The reasoning is straightforward. Kuchar and Crane are in the top echelons of the tour driving accuracy stats; Watson, Watney and Scott are leading the way in the greens in regulation category. In Westwood, Donald and Kaymer you have the three most reliable and in-form Europeans, their games well suited to the rigours of US Open-style golf. And yes, Tiger impressed me enough at Augusta to regain his automatic place in the staking plan – if he indeed plays. His withdrawal from the Players Championship through injury has the pundits questioning whether he'll be fit in time for Congressional. Let's see. As for Mickelson – he's not a natural fit for this particular major but nevertheless he's come close on numerous occasions and I for one can never rule him out. One final point well worth considering – something that separates a champion from the also-rans – is personality; patience is crucial at the US Open. On this, I believe the Europeans have the edge, with Donald (at an extremely attractive price of 22/1) in particular having the requisite demeanour to triumph. Top American? My admiration for Messrs Kuchar and Watson is well known, but I'm liking the value of the former at 40/1. For those romantics still teary-eyed at the news of dear Seve's demise, how about a Spanish win from either Sergio Garcia (80/1) or Miguel Angel Jimenez (150/1)? Both have stellar iron games and maybe just once more, swashbuckling Ballesteros can inspire a European victory. AFP
This will stand as a testament to the force majeur that was Tiger Woods at his best. He didn’t just win the US Open in record breaking fashion, he absolutely destroyed the finest field in golf. This, the one hundredth US Open, was played in an atmosphere of near mourning, given the death of the defending champion Payne Stewart. There were many ceremonies and individual tributes to Stewart that week, but frankly, there should also have been similar ceremonies to commemorate the murder of the entire field by Woods. Having got lucky with the weather on day one, Tiger scored a stunning 65 to lead by one. By the end of day two, he had added a 69 and was leading by six. Saturday was when the course got its own back, and howling winds made scoring extremely difficult. Ernie Els scored the only sub-par round of the day – an unbelievable 68 (the average score was almost ten shots higher). Woods overcame an early triple bogey to get back to level par for the round, an excellent score in the circumstances, which gave him a ten-shot lead and fifty-four hole scoring record. On Sunday, Woods went to town, his 67 being the low round of the day. He finished at twelve-under and won by fifteen shots, becoming the first player in US Open history to finish double-digits under par. His winning margin remains the highest ever in a major.
But there are a few undisputed factors which determine US Open success. First, a golfer must have already shown sustained form heading into the tournament. Those who are in the process of tinkering with their game will be found out; if you spot any players working on the range with their swing coach, keep your wallet trousered. Second: While length is always helpful at any course, accuracy reigns supreme at the US Open. Missing fairways and greens is so costly at the second major of the year because the chance of a successful recovery from the traditionally tall grass that borders the landing areas is so slim. You simply can't win without superior ball-striking. Through the filter of these two points, my '10 to follow' are as follows (best odds as of mid May):
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