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Whiskey and fisticuffs at the US Open

by | Jun 15, 2022

This week’s US Open returns to The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts where in 1913 American 20-year-old amateur and local kid Francis Ouimet created golfing folklore by beating two of the giants of British and indeed world golf at the time, Harry Vardon and big-hitting Ted Ray, in an 18-hole play-off.

The trio tied on 304 and in extra time Ouimet shot 72 – a brilliant return back then, Vardon 77 and Ray 78. All this is well-known in the game’s history. But perhaps lesser-known is an incident after round one that year when Ray, who had a violent temper, and fellow Englishman Wilfred Reid, were tied for the lead. They had dinner together and got into a whiskey-fuelled, heated argument about British politics. Without warning, Ray stood up and punched Reid in the nose. As Reid struggled to his feet, Ray landed another blow and blood was streaming down Reid’s face when a waiter separated the two. Both men then left the scene and the next day neither made mention of the incident.

This is one of the curious happenings over the years in America’s national open-sourced from the official US Open Almanac.

Like in 1908 when Fred McLeod, with only eight clubs in his bag, won at the Myopia Hunt Club after a playoff with Willie Smith. 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.

In 1920 the aforementioned Ray took the honours 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.

In 1934 at Merion CC in 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 mimmick a boxing referee and counted him out. Cruickshank and Cox tied for third on 295.

In 1940 at Canterbury Golf Club in Cleveland, Ohio, a 47-year-old Walter Hagen closed out his US Open career as only he could. He was late for his third round starting time of 10:35 and roared up to the first tee in a taxi after his playing partners had already hit. Red-eyed after a night of partying, “The Haig” 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!” At that, he pulled a bottle of Canadian Club whiskey from his bag, a leftover from the prior evening.

In 1946, also at Canterbury GC, Lloyd Mangrum beat fellow Americans Vic Ghezzi and the great Byron Nelson in extra time. Nelson was only 34 and about to quit competitive golf and become a gentleman farmer. The radio broadcast of the tournament was sponsored by Gillette razor blades and after losing in the play-off announcer Bill Stern asked Nelson for his comments. “Bill,” said Nelson, “just give me one of those things you’re advertising and I’ll slit my throat!”

Fast forward to 1973 and 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 at Oakmont. 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 at Oakmont. 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),” Ernie later said with a chuckle.

South Africans, of course, have excelled in the US Open. Gary Player won in 1965 to complete the Grand Slam, Els also took the honours in 1997 while the Goose prevailed in 2001 and 2004.

There are five of our boys in the field this year – Louis Oosthuizen, Branden Grace, Shaun Norris, Erik van Rooyen and MJ Daffue. Let’s hope they do well, and – please guys – no fisticuffs, and no whiskey.

Written by Randpark Club member Grant Winter.

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16. A member is not entitled to a refund of golf fees in the event a competition or round is cancelled due to weather.

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