THE 20th edition of the US Open, switched from its usual spot in July to September because of the pandemic, begins this Thursday at Winged Foot’s West Course in the state of New York. There are six South Africans in the field – Louis Oosthuizen, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Erik van Rooyen, Justin Harding, Shaun Norris and JC Ritchie, and hopefully one of them will create history by emerging as champion, and thereby emulating compatriots Gary Player (winner in 1965), Ernie Els (champion in 1994 and 1997) and Retief Goosen (who took the honours in 2001 and 2004). And talking of history, there have been some fascinating and indeed curious moments in times past in the US Open, and here are some of these (information sourced from the official US Open Almanac).
In 1908: Fred McLeod, with only eight clubs in his bag, won at the Myopia Hunt Club following a playoff with Willie Smith after the pair had tied on 72-hole returns of 322. 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.
1920: England’s Ted Ray took the honours by one shot at the Inverness Club in Ohio on a score of 295, pretty good going in those days. And who says players back then couldn’t hit the ball a long way? At the 320-yard, par-4 seventh Ray drove the green in all four rounds, two-putting for birdie each time. On the 72nd green big, strong Ray needed two putts to win. He scanned the putt then walked away. His pipe – a constant companion of his – had gone out. He calmly stepped back, pulled out his old black pouch, refilled the pipe, lit it, took several puffs and stepped up to seal victory with two putts.
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.
1965: Gary Player defeated Australia’s Kel Nagle in an 18-hole play-off at Bellerive Country Club to become only the third player at the time (after Gene Sarazen and Ben Hogan) to complete the coveted Grand Slam of winning all four Majors. Jack Nicklaus would join this elite club by winning the British Open the following year and Tiger Woods is of course now part of the select group. Player earned $26 000 for victory and, as he had promised if he was to emerge champion, he gave back $5 000 of his prize-money to cancer research and $20 000 to the USGA to help develop junior golf.
1967: On Monday’s practice day at Baltusrol an unidentified man rolled up at the club’s entrance with a golf bag slung over his shoulder. When an official asked who he was, he said he’d been given a ticket for the practice day so he figured he’d come and have a practice round. When told practice days were limited to competitors, he turned and walked away. Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer were tied at the top through 54 holes but in the last day duel Jack shot a brilliant 65 for 275 while Palmer was home in 69 to take second on 279.
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.”
1973: Many believe Johnny Miller’s closing 63 (for a 279 aggregate) was, and still is, the greatest round in Major golf history. He came from six shots 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.
1994: Ernie 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 18-hole playoff 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 said with a chuckle.
Written by Randpark member Grant Winter