Monday, June 20, 2011

Rory McIlroy, a 22-year-old from Belfast, won the U.S. Open in Bethesda, Md., on Sunday.
This was a rather popular victory as McIlroy is one of the most likeable players on the PGA Tour these days.
In honour of McIlroy’s victory, we present for your reading enjoyment Jim Murray's 1995 column on the dreaded US Open!


It's Open and Shut for Many

   SOUTHHAMPTON, N.Y. — U.S. Open is to a regular tour tournament what the Titanic is to a rowboat, the Mona Lisa to calendar art. The same thing, only different. B-i-i-g difference.
  Andy North goes into golf lore not because he won three tournaments but because two of them were U.S. Opens. To give you an idea what we're talking about, Byron Nelson won only one of them. Sam Snead won none. But between them, they won 133 tournaments to Andy's three.
  The moral? Win the Open and it's like you won 10 tournaments. In fact, Davis Love once put the price on its head. Winning a major, he said, is like winning 10 on the weekly tour.
  You win a tour event, you get exempt for two years. Win the Open, you get exempt for 10. It used to be a lifetime.
  The guys who tee it up at Shinnecock Hills here on Long Island this week know it's not the Quad Cities, the B.C.-En Joie or one of those endless Buick Classics that seem to come up every other week. It's the Big One, pards. Win this and life is a tap-in.
  One of the hoariest cliches of Open has it that "You don't win an Open, somebody loses it."
  Touché! You wouldn't have to tell that to:
   1. Sam Snead — He had the Open well won on the Philadelphia Country Club's Spring Mill course in 1939. Sam went into the final 18 tied for second behind Johnny Bulla's 211. He came up to the 70th hole — they played 36 in Saturday's final in those days — needing, as it happens, only a bogey and a par to win it all two bogeys to tie.
   Instead, he went bogey, triple-bogey. His eight on the final hole went into golf lore. He made it largely because he was gambling, thinking he had to make a birdie to win. If Sam had known he could win with a five on the last hole, he would not have taken the chances he did. Sam could make five with a hoe and a rake. But he thought he needed a four. He was never to win an Open after that blowup.
   2. Denis Watson — In 1985, Watson, of South Africa, finished in a three-way tie for second — to Andy North — by a shot in the Open.
  But on the eighth hole on the first round, Watson had a 10-foot putt for a par. He putted. The ball trickled to the edge of the hole — and hung there. Denis hesitated, waited, finally started toward the ball. As he did so, it dropped in.
  But wait a minute! Here comes charging out of the crowds, a USGA official, Montford Johnson. Like a basketball ref signaling no basket, he waves no putt. Watson, he rules, waited too long for it to drop.  He assessed him a two-stroke penalty.
  But the facts are, the putt did go in.
  Denis Watson lost the 1985 Open not on the course but in the gallery. He went on to shoot 280, just one stroke behind North's 279.
  That ruling conceivably cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars. Any storefront lawyer in the country would have taken his case. But golfers do not question the rules of their game nor the men who make them.
   3. T.C. Chen — Also in 1985, T.C. Chen, an ex-sailor in the Taiwanese navy, seemed to have a clear path to victory. He had a score of 203 after three rounds, two shots better than North. He had expanded it to four when the golfers hit the 457-yard par-four fifth hole in the final round.
   Chen's drive was in the middle of the fairway but his next shot went into the deep rough and into the trees. He chipped short of the green into tall grass. He chopped down on the ball and it rose straight up in the air where Chen's club, on the follow-through, hit the ball again.
   That's a no-no. Penalty stroke.
   Chen made an eight on the hole. It cost him the Open. He finished one shot back and was thenceforth known in all the better press rooms as "Two-Chip" Chen.
   4. Byron Nelson — Lord Byron, one of the premier players of all time — how does winning 11 tournaments in a row grab you? — won only one U.S. Open, partly because one wasn't played in his salad years, which were also the Second World War years.
  Nelson should have won the first postwar Open, after a four-year hiatus, in Cleveland in 1946. He was tied with Lloyd Mangrum and Vic Ghezzi after regulation and it took a 36-hole playoff to determine a winner, Mangrum, since they were still tied after 18 playoff holes.
  But there should have been no playoff. In that year, before galleries were roped off, fans trotted along the fairways with the players. In the third round, Byron was leading the tournament when they came to the 13th hole. He hit his second shot on the par-five and the crowd rushed ahead to surround the ball.
  Nelson's caddie, one Eddie Martin, struggled to lug the bag through the three-deep ranks and, as he burst through, kicked the ball. That's a one-shot penalty. That one shot would have won Lord Byron his second Open. He retired from golf after that tournament.
   5. Lloyd Mangrum — We are all familiar with the practice of marking and cleaning your ball on the putting surface. But in the 1950 Open at Merion near Philadelphia, this was not permitted. Mangrum, Ben Hogan and George Fazio tied for that Open with 287 after 72 holes and went into an 18-hole playoff.
  Mangrum was one shot behind Hogan when they came to the 16th green. As he was lining up an eight-foot putt for a par, he noticed a bug crawling across his ball. He reached down, marked and blew the bug off the ball and replaced it. He then made the putt.
  But as he was approaching the 17th tee, USGA official Ike Grainger regretfully informed him that he had just incurred a two-stoke penalty.
  Hogan won the playoff as Mangrum suddenly found himself three shots down, instead of one, with two holes to play.
   6. Porky Oliver — Everyone loved Porky Oliver, a chubby jovial striker of the ball who never took the game too seriously. But he made a big mistake.
  In 1940, at Canterbury in Cleveland, Porky shot a 287, good enough to tie him for the lead and a playoff with Gene Sarazen and Lawson Little. Trouble was, Porky had teed off half an hour earlier than his scheduled time. He and six other golfers rushed to the first tee after noticing the black clouds of the storm approaching.
  Even though the other participants in the title playoff, Sarazen and Little, pleaded with the USGA that Porky be allowed in the playoff — Porky was that well liked — the USGA was adamant. Porky was never to win a U.S. Open. Worse, he was disqualified one other time for showing up late on the tee!
  Life is not fair. But, mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the unfairest of them all? Why, golf, of course!  As the saying goes, somebody finds a way to lose it.

*Reprinted with permission by the Los Angeles Times

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