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The US Open : A Light-Hearted History
NEXT week’s US Open at Pebble Beach will be the sixth time the championship has been staged at the famous course on the Monterey Peninsula, a two-hour drive south of San Francisco.
Three South Africans have won the US Open – Gary Player in 1965 (to complete the Grand Slam), Ernie Els in 1994 and 1997, and Retief Goosen in 2001 and 2004. But none of these victories were achieved at Pebble, although Els was joint second there with Miguel Angel Jiménez behind winner Tiger Woods in the 2000 edition. No, Tiger didn’t win by just one or two, he won by a whopping 15 shots – 272 against the 287s of Els and Jiménez. It is by far the biggest winning margin in US Open history, and in fact in Major history.
Goose, of course, has always said that his victory in the 1995 South African Open right here at Randpark was what gave him the belief that he could go on and become a Major champion.
And it will be remembered that Els, at 24, announced his arrival on the world stage by beating Colin Montgomerie and Loren Roberts in play-off action following a three-way tie on 279 in the 1994 US Open at Oakmont CC. In the 18-hole play-off Monty shot 78 to fall away while Els and Roberts had 74s which meant extra holes. Els clinched the title at the 20th by sinking a nervy four-footer for par. “My biggest fear if I missed that putt wasn’t losing the US Open, but the fat klap I’d get from my old man (father Neels)!” he later exclaimed with a broad smile.
And talking of US Open smiles, with the help of “The Official US Open Almanac”, there have been not just a few light-hearted moments in the championship as we trawl back in time. For instance, many believe Johnny Miller’s closing 63 (for a 279 aggregate) to win, also at Oakmont 1n 1973, was the greatest round in Major golf history. He came from six back to win by one from John Schlee. But spare a thought for Schlee, an astrology buff, who said he was playing well because “Mars is in conjunction with my natal moon”. He must have thought the planets were out of sync at the start of the final round when he double-bogeyed the first hole after driving into a hedge. But he recovered well to shoot 70 and finish second just one back of Miller.
In 1980, when Jack Nicklaus won at Baltusrol, a notorious gate-crasher named Barry Bremen pulled off an audacious stunt in one of the practice rounds. Posing as Chuck Moran, who really was in the field, seven-handicap Bremen got into a courtesy car that took him through the front gate and directly to the range. After hitting balls, talking with the players and even having his picture taken with Nicklaus, Bremen went to the fourth tee and joined Bobby Nichols and Jim Thorpe and managed to play with them right through until the 18th before being caught.
In 1970 Tony Jacklin won at Hazeltine National GC, which came under plenty of criticism because more than half the holes had blind shots and 13 of the holes featured doglegs. When Dave Hill, who finished second, was asked what the Robert Trent Jones layout lacked, he replied: “Eighty acres of corn and a few cows. They ruined a good farm when they built this course.” Bob Rosburg said: “Jones has so many doglegs on this course he must have laid it out in a kennel.”
In 1940 Walter Hagen, one of the game’s greatest characters who won 11 Majors, closed out his US Open career as only he could. Red-eyed after a night of partying, he was late for his 10.35 third round starting time and roared up to the first tee in a taxi after his playing partners had already hit off. He stumbled out of the cab and fired a tee-shot down the fairway. As he walked away he said to the starter: “Hey, you forgot to check if I have any extra clubs. I have one!” He then pulled a bottle of Canadian Club whiskey out of his bag, a leftover from the party. At 47, Hagen was no longer the champion he once was. He shot 77 and was disqualified.
In 1934, at Merion CC, Pennsylvania, Olin Dutra (ever heard of him?) won on 293. In the final round Bobby Cruickshank’s poor second shot at the 11th was headed straight into Cobb’s Creek, only to hit a rock and rebound onto the green. “Thank you, Lord!” the golfer cried and tossed his club into the air. But as it came down it hit him fair and square on the head, knocking him to the ground. Fellow competitor Wiffy Cox rushed across to see if he was okay and when this was confirmed, proceeded to mimic a boxing referee and counted him out. Cruickshank and Cox tied for third on 295.
And way back in 1908: Fred McLeod, with only eight clubs in his bag, won at Myopia after a play-off with Willie Smith to collect $300. The greens were so fast that Mike Brady took nine putts on one green. On the fourth green Ernie Way lost his way by hitting a putt that rolled down a ridge, off the green, and into a swamp. He never found the ball.
Does that sound familiar, Randpark members?
By Grant Winter