Golf: US Open ’24: Remembering champions

Published 7:52 am Monday, June 10, 2024


PINEHURST  — Brief summaries and stories from key anniversaries at the U.S. Open this year:

125 years ago (1899)Site: Baltimore Country Club

Summary: Scottish-born Willie Smith was the only player to post three rounds in the 70s, closing with a 77 for an 11-shot victory in the fifth playing of the U.S. Open. He won $150 for his four-round total of 315, which was 13 shots better than the winning score at Myopia Hunt the previous year. His 11-shot margin remained a U.S. Open record until Tiger Woods won by 15 shots at Pebble Beach in 2000.

The AP Story: “The open golf championship of the United States was won today by Willie Smith with a total for the 72 holes of 315 strokes after two days of the hardest kind of play. So superior was his work that he led his opponents Val Fitzjohn, George Low and W.H. Way, who were all tied for second place, by 11 strokes. The play during the two days was without doubt the best ever seen in this country and Smith’s 315 is a new mark for the event. No less than five men beat Fred Herd’s score of last year of 328. The Myopia course was longer than the Baltimore, which no doubt accounted for some of the difference, but it certainly did not apply to the champion.”

100 years ago (1924)Site: Oakland Hills

Summary: Cyril Walker of England won his only major in a big upset. Tied with defending champion Bobby Jones going into the final round, Walker closed with a 75 to beat Jones by three shots. Jones would add three more U.S. Open titles. Walker never had another top 10 in a U.S. Open. He left the game and was working as a dishwasher when he sought shelter in a jail in New Jersey and was found dead of pneumonia the next morning at age 55.

The AP Story: “The national open golf championship was wrested from Bobby Jones when he was defeated by Cyril Walker at Oakland Hills. Walker’s score was 297, three strokes better than the one returned by Jones. Walker’s victory was the first by a foreign-born professional since Jim Barnes captured the title four years ago. While the Englishman has always been a consistent player, he has never before won an important title. He has won the reputation of being the slowest player ever known to the American golf links.”

75 years ago (1949)Site: Medinah

Summary: Cary Middlecoff won the first of his two U.S. Open titles by closing with a 75 for a one-shot victory and delivering more U.S. Open heartache to Sam Snead. Middlecoff had posted at 2-over 286 when Snead was making a charge. Snead was tied with two holes to play when he three-putted from the fringe on the par-3 17th and missed the green on the 18th. Defending champion Ben Hogan did not play while recovering from life-threatening injuries from a car crash.

The AP Story: “Cary Middlecoff, the young golfing dentist from Memphis, Tenn., won the 49th National Open golf championship with a 72-hole score of 286 Saturday while an old familiar jinx rose up to haunt Samuel Jackson Snead. Snead, hard luck loser in three previous Open tournaments, faded on the 71st hole after a spectacular rally to finish in a second place tie with Clayton Heafner, one stroke back at 287. Snead needed only two pars in for the tie. One birdie and a par would have given him the championship to lay beside the Masters and PGA crowns he already holds. But on the 193-yard, lake-hole 17th, Snead ran into an old and despised chum. After laying his tee shot on the fringe, he took three costly taps at the ball and there was another championship gone out the window.”

50 years ago (1974)Site: Winged Foot

Summary: In what became known as the “Massacre at Winged Foot,” Hale Irwin never broke par any of the four rounds and closed with a 73 for a two-shot victory, the first of his three U.S. Open titles. Coming off two straight bogeys, Irwin holed a 12-foot par putt on the 17th that kept his lead at two shots. The course was so difficult that the score was the second-highest to par since 1935. This came one year after Johnny Miller shot 63 in the final round at Oakmont. Tom Watson had a one-shot lead going into the final round and shot 79.

The AP Story: “Hale Irwin, an outsider, had just made two consecutive bogeys. Then he stood over a 12-foot putt to save par and win golf’s greatest prize, the U.S. Open Championship, on the 17th hole at the Winged Foot Golf Club Sunday. He made that putt. It sent Irwin, who had quickstepped over the shattered dreams of the game’s Big Three — Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player — to the 18th with a two-shot advantage. He made a solid par there, finishing his scrambling, struggling, straining round with a 3-over 73 and took the title with the highest winning score in more than a decade.”

25 years ago (1999)Site: Pinehurst No. 2

Payne Stewart had lost a 54-hole lead the previous year and figured to join the “Graveyard of Champions” at Olympic Club for losing a lead and never winning another major. But he showed remarkable mettle in 1999 in a terrific battle involving Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. Woods fell back with a bogey on the 17th. Stewart closed with three tough pars, including his famous 15-footer on the 18th hole to beat Mickelson by one. Mickelson carried a pager with him and pledged to leave if his wife went into labor. She gave birth the next day. Stewart perished in a freak plane crash four months later.

The AP Story: “Gracious in a devastating defeat a year ago in the U.S. Open, Payne Stewart could not contain the raw emotion that overwhelmed him Sunday when his 15-foot par putt disappeared into the hole. He thrust his fist in the air. He turned to his caddie and screamed above the cheering throng around the 18th green at Pinehurst No. 2. Motivated by past failures, haunted by bizarre breaks that always seemed to go the other way, Stewart became the first player in the 99-year history of the U.S. Open to win on the 72nd hole with a substantial putt. In a stunning conclusion to the most dramatic U.S. Open of the decade, Stewart closed with an even-par 70 in a steady drizzle to defeat Phil Mickelson by one stroke.”

20 years ago (2004)Site: Shinnecock Hills

Summary: Retief Goosen won his second U.S. Open by one-putting the last six greens for a 1-over 71 and a two-shot victory. It was more U.S. Open disappointment for Phil Mickelson. Lefty briefly had the lead until three-putting from 5 feet for double bogey on the par-3 17th. Goosen made birdie on the 16th in the group behind him, saved par from a bunker on the 17th and closed with a par to finish at 4-under 276. USGA officials had another set-up disaster when the greens got away from them, particularly the par-3 seventh that had to be watered between groups. Twenty-eight players failed to break 80.

The AP Story: “Everyone was ready to crown the new king at the U.S Open. What they got was a familiar finish. First came Phil Mickelson, sending the New York gallery into hysteria with an improbable charge, only to muff a chance to win his second major with a three-putt from 5 feet to make double bogey on the 71st hole. Then came Retief Goosen, unflappable as ever, closing with six consecutive one-putt greens to validate himself as one tough customer no matter how tough the conditions. With steely nerves and great escapes, Goosen survived Shinnecock Hills on Sunday to capture his second U.S. Open in four years, closing with a 1-over 71 for a two-shot victory.”

10 years ago (2014)Site: Pinehurst No. 2

Summary: Martin Kaymer of Germany won his second major, and this one wasn’t really close. He took advantage of a good draw and rain-softened conditions to open with 65-65, set the 36-hole record in the U.S. Open and lead by six shots. No one came any closer than four shots of the lead over the final 48 holes. Kaymer closed with a 69 to win by eight shots. It was the first “doubleheader” for the USGA. Michelle Wie won the U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst No. 2 the following week.

The AP Story: “The U.S. Open trophy Martin Kaymer won Sunday was all he needed to prove he was anything but a one-hit wonder in the majors, and that the two years he spent trying to build a complete game were worth all the doubt that followed him. As he set it down on the table, Kaymer rubbed off a tiny smudge on the gleaming silver, which was only fitting. Over four days at Pinehurst No. 2, he dusted the field in a performance that ranks among the best.”