The US Open: Fast Greens, Thick Rough

Tee and Sandwedges June 2015

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CHAMBERS Bay, only opened in 2007 and with characteristics of a British-style links, is the venue this month for the 2015 US Open. The course sits on the west coast of the United States meaning plenty of late nights for TV viewers here in South Africa. The US Open has a reputation for being the toughest of the four Majors in terms of scoring because of the way the USGA sets up the courses. Tee and Sandwedges did some research on the iconic championship in terms of anecdotes and memories by different players, and we also chronicle what happened 50 years ago, 75 years ago and 100 years ago.

THE QUOTES

ERNIE ELS (who won the 1994 and 1997 US Opens, describing what went through his mind at Oakmont in ’94 when he faced a three-footer for victory over American Loren Roberts in sudden-death play): “I tried to blank everything out of my mind and making a good stroke. In a situation like this if you let you mind run wild you’re in trouble. You don’t want to dwell on the money. You don’t want to think about the partisan crowd pulling for the American guy. And you don’t want to think of all the millions of people around the world watching you on TV, and that included my Dad. I didn’t want to miss that putt because I knew he’d klap me if I did!”

RETIEF GOOSEN (champion in 2001 and 2004): “The US Open comes down to three things: long holes, deep rough and fast greens. And for me, the faster the greens the better. I make a much better stroke – soft and smooth – on fast greens.

JACK NICKLAUS (a four-time US Open champion): “If I ran into a genie and he granted me one wish to have one back, it would be ’82 at Pebble Beach. That would have made five US Opens. Nobody’s done that. I really thought that was mine. Jack Whitaker was by the 18th green, congratulating me on TV. There was a monitor behind us, and then we heard this big roar. Oops. Tom Watson (who would go on to win) had chipped in for birdie at No 17.”

JOHN DALY (who is no fan of the tournament and who took an 11 on one hole at Pinehurst in 1999): “The US Open? Nah, I’m not sorry for that. I hit a moving ball, my third putt, after my first two rolled up and back. That was the eighth hole. Ninth hole, Tom Kite, who I’m playing with, didn’t say a word. On the 10th fairway, he said, ‘I might have done the same thing.’ I got a two-shot penalty. No fine. I said after that, I didn’t consider the US Open a Major. Not because Pinehurst isn’t a great golf course. It is. But because of the way the USGA set up the tournament is so unfair.”

TOMMY BOLT: “When I won the US Open at Southern Hills in 1958, we still had a 36-hole finish on Saturday. We didn’t play on Sunday because that was the Lord’s day, you see. But seven years later, the USGA and television discovered there was a lot of money to be made on the Lord’s day, and that was the end of the 36-hole finish.”

CURTIS STRANGE (champion in 1988 and 1989): “Nick Faldo stared a lot of guys down. He never choked. He had a way of folding his arms and looking at you as though he knew you were going to make a mistake. And guys would screw up against him. But in our play-off at Brookline in 1988 I was in a good frame of mind to handle Nick. My feeling was, I’ll wait for you to hiccup. And he did hiccup – he bogeyed No 11, which gave me a two-shot lead and I beat him. Faldo got the better of me a couple of times, at the Ryder Cup especially, but I got him at the big one when he was in his prime. I’m proud of that.”

HALE IRWIN (a three-time US Open champion): “Many players have knocked on the door of a Major championship and watched it open. But they can’t get their feet across the threshold. They peek inside, and it’s kind of dark, and they think, Wow, I don’t know if it’s comfortable in there. The fear of success gets the better of them. Then there are individuals who don’t care if it’s dark in there. By God, they are going to barge in and find the light. Those are the champions.”

SEVE BALLESTEROS: “The US Open has never been exciting to watch. It has always been a sad tournament. There is no excitement, no enjoyment. It is all defensive golf, from the first tee to the last putt.”

HUBERT GREEN (champion in 1977, on Jack Nicklaus putting off the first green on the first hole of the 1974 US  Open, “The Massacre at Winged Foot”): “Jim Colbert and I were trying to decide who’d putt next after Jack. When Jack hit his putt, at impact we both said, ‘Jack is.’ ” Added Colbert: “He putted across the green, toward the hole, and as it started going down the hill it rolled right over my coin. He lost ground. . . . He was still away, maybe 35 feet. Now this is the greatest  player of all time, right? When that thing quit rolling, he was stark white, the colour of my shirt. I’ll never forget that. ‘Never seen a green that fast,’ he says. ‘Never seen a green that fast.’ “

US OPEN TIMELINE

(sourced from the official US Open Almanac by Salvatore Johnson)

100 YEARS AGO

1915 Baltusrol GC: American amateur Jerome Travers wins on a score of 297. That same year he announces his retirement from the game, declaring it not possible to earn a living and play championship golf as well. He didn’t defend his title the following year, and he never again played in the US Open. He subsequently became a cotton baron, only to lose everything in the Great Depression.

75 YEARS AGO

1940 Canterbury Golf Club: Lawson Little and Gene Sarazen tie on 287 with Little winning the 18-hole play-off 70 to 73. This was the year the flamboyant Walter Hagen closed out his US Open career as only he could. Johnson writes: “He was late for his third-round starting time of 10.35 and roared up to the first tee after Ray Mangrum and Jim Foulis had already hit. Red-eyed after a night of partying, Hagen stumbled out 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 forth from his bag a bottle of Canadian Club whiskey, a leftover from the previous evening. At 47 years of age, the Haig no longer soared with the eagles in the morning after hooting with the owls at night. He was disqualified after shooting 77 and never played the US Open again.”

50 YEARS AGO

1965  Bellrive CC: Gary Player and Australia’s Kel Nagle tie on 282 with Player winning the ensuing play-off 71 to 74. Player’s victory makes him only the third man, and the first non-American, to complete the Grand Slam, following Gene Sarazen and Ben Hogan. Jack Nicklaus would join the exclusive club the following year and today Tiger Woods is the only new member.

Player said before the tournament that if he won, he would donate all the money. He was as good as his word. Of the $26 000 prize, he gave $5000 to cancer research, $20 000 to the USGA to help develop junior golf, and the other $1000 presumably went to his caddie.

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