1994 us open oakmont

Exclusive: Rewinding to the 1994 US Open with Ernie, Monty and Loren Roberts

It is 30 years since Oakmont hosted a US Open that culminated in a memorable play-off between Ernie Els, Colin Montgomerie and Loren Roberts. Matt Chivers asks all three protagonists to turn the clock back…


The year is 1994. The cinemas are showing Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption. Nelson Mandela has just become the President of South Africa, and Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley are newlyweds. The Channel Tunnel is now open, connecting England with France.

O. J Simpson is chased down the 405 freeway in South California in a white Ford Bronco after a warrant is signed for his arrest following the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman in Los Angeles.

Nirvana icon Kurt Cobain is also found dead in Seattle, and Yahoo, Amazon and the PlayStation are presented before our eyes.

Cultural change is occurring on both sides of the Atlantic. And 1994 is also the year one man almost causes golf’s biggest earthquake.

At the Shark Shootout at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, Greg Norman unveils his plans for a World Golf Tour at a time when the top six players in the world rankings are all born outside of the USA.

Norman is a regular feature on major leaderboards at this stage in his career. Wins at the 1986 and the 1993 Open Championships don’t do his stellar record in golf’s biggest events justice.

But if we rewind to a sweltering week at Oakmont in June where the Aussie is the World No.1 arriving at the US Open, only three international players have won America’s championship since World War Two.

A 64-year-old Arnold Palmer is playing in his final US Open at the venue where he first played as an amateur in 1953, at a tournament that Ben Hogan won in his home state of Pennsylvania.

Loren Roberts arrives at Oakmont having recently won the Nestle Invitational at Arnie’s place in Bay Hill and the man himself asks Roberts if he wants to play a practice round with him.

The answer is obviously a ‘Yes,’ but his caddie ‘Dirty’ Dan Stojak is nowhere to be found.

“I won Bay Hill earlier in the year and I was there on Tuesday and Arnold was there in the morning and he asked me if I wanted to play a practice round with him,” Roberts told NCG.

“My caddie was not there yet and so I couldn’t go play with him because my caddie wasn’t there, and that’s one of the most disappointing things of my whole golf career.”

Thursday June 16, 1994: Day One

Roberts’ week is off to a bad start in more ways than one at a golf course he doesn’t know at all. A first-round 76 puts him on the back foot, eight shots behind Tom Watson.

Meanwhile, a 24-year-old South African named Theodore Ernest Els is looking to break the aforementioned international hoodoo at the US Open.

He arrives in Plum with four top-10s in majors and pedigree in Europe and South Africa’s Sunshine Tour. “It was an important time,” Els said to NCG. “I was on a bit of a run; I’d just won the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan and that definitely felt like a breakthrough win in my career.

“And then, we won in Dubai. Both weeks there were some great players in the field. As a young guy, that gives you confidence and the feeling that you can start to achieve some things. It really opened some doors for me.”

His two-under-par 69 is solid, as is Colin Montgomerie’s round of level-par. Perhaps this week, the biggest barrier to Montgomerie’s first major title is the heat which is exemplified by his use of a straw hat.

“All I remember was the heat,” he told NCG. “It was a complete heatwave, 108 degrees (Fahrenheit) with humidity like you wouldn’t believe. I was a little bit too heavy at the time, to be honest, I was probably at my heaviest, so that didn’t help.

“I had to wear a hat because I was so sweaty and with the hat. However, these big hats weren’t right for me because I had a very upright swing, and I used to hit it, especially in the follow-through. So, I got rid of the hat, which didn’t help. It was so, so warm.”

Watson leads in pursuit of his second US Open title and his ninth major victory, but a leaderboard piled high with stars lingers behind him.

Round One Leaderboard

-3 T Watson

-2 E Els, H Irwin, J Nicklaus, F Nobilo

-1 M Ozaki, C Strange, K Triplett, S Verplank

E C Montgomerie, G Norman, M Calcavecchia, B Crenshaw + others

+5 L Roberts

1994 us open oakmont

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Friday June 17, 1994: Day Two

The second round is where Montgomerie comes to the fore. The 30-year-old from Scotland cards an outstanding 65 on what is a devilish Henry C Fownes-architected golf course with lightning greens.

“I will never forget Oakmont,” he added. “It was the first time, and that is why I was doing so well, it was the first time that I had led the putting stats in a major.

“I always felt that if I could lead the putting stats, with the way I could find the fairways and I could find the greens, if I led the putting stats, I was going to win. Or at least, I had a great opportunity.”

This is enough to lead by two at the halfway stage. Montgomerie is looking to become just the second Scot to win the US Open since 1925.

Roberts begins the comeback trail with a two-under-par 69, but a mark of three-over-par after 36 holes is hardly troubling Montgomerie on six-under-par.

Meanwhile, Els is sitting tight on two-under-par with a second-round scorecard of 71. It is yet another impressive display by the man from Johannesburg on the biggest stage.

But as one player looks to prove himself, another etched in golf folklore is still attempting to write it. 54-year-old Jack Nicklaus trails by just three shots after 36 holes with rounds of 69 and 70.

Hale Irwin, John Cook and David Edwards are just two behind, while two-time US Open champion Curtis Strange sits beside Els in contention.

After one more glance at the Church Pews, Palmer bows out before the weekend with tears in his eyes and struggling to speak in his final US Open press conference. He leaves the room to loud applause from the media.

1994 us open oakmont

ALSO: Pinehurst No 2 uncovered: What will the US Open players face?

Round Two Leaderboard

-6 C Montgomerie

-4 J Cook, D Edwards, H Irwin

-3 J Maggert, J Nicklaus

-2 E Els, F Nobilo, S Pate, C Strange

+3 L Roberts

Saturday June 18, 1994: Day Three

If Roberts started a trail on Friday, he forms a freeway on Saturday. His 64 helps him up the leaderboard and earns him a catchy nickname. Monty is not the only master of the Pennsylvania putting surfaces it seems.

“My nickname is Boss of the Moss and after the 64 on Saturday, I was sitting in the locker room talking to a bunch of reporters about it and a buddy of mine who played the tour years ago by the name David Ogrin walked by and heard I’d made every putt I looked at, especially on the back nine, and yelled out, ‘Hey, Boss of the Moss!” Roberts said.

“He yelled it out and one of the reporters just put in an article and it stuck. It was pretty good because that’s a good name because you can get some bad nicknames in the locker room out there.”

Roberts goes two better than Els and joins Montgomerie, Watson and Irwin on four-under-par and well in the hunt in a stacked, mouth-watering leaderboard.

But the golden-haired South African‘s masterful 66 gives him a two-shot lead into the final round on seven-under-par over New Zealander Frank Nobilo.

Oakmont is catching Els’ eye at a time when he feels another prestigious major venue is better suited to his game.

“I didn’t really believe I was going to win a US Open so soon in my career. Of course, I always had dreams of winning majors, but honestly, I thought my best chance was at Augusta.”

“It’s a magnificent golf course, definitely in my all-time top three in the world,” Els said. “But it’s incredibly tough; it’s the ultimate examination of your game.”

Round Three Leaderboard

-7 E Els

-5 F Nobilo

-4 H Irwin, C Montgomerie, L Roberts, T Watson

-3 S Lowery, C Strange

-2 J Cook, G Norman, S Pate

Sunday June 19, 1994: Day Four

The final round starts in controversial fashion for the leader Els. After his tall swing pulls his first tee shot left, his ball settles in deep rough but not for long as USGA rules chairman Trey Holland intervenes.

Holland allows Els to take a drop with a favourable line to the green, less affected by the camera crane in front, but Holland later admits this was a wrong ruling as the crane is a moveable object. Els struggles to a bogey and his long game remains erratic this week.

Dripping in his pink shirt, unprotected from the sweltering heat, Montgomerie birdies the 9th hole to continue his charge and take the outright lead as he enters the back nine, having trailed Els and Strange by one shot after five holes.

Roberts makes birdie on 13 but he gives it back with a bogey on 15. Els makes no such mistake with his birdie on the 15th which grants him a one-shot lead. Having lost ground, Montgomerie must recover in the closing stretch. A birdie putt falls on 17 to reach five-under-par, the score he finishes on.

Els and Roberts both sit on six-under-par with one of 72 holes left. Roberts has the first attempt to win the championship, but uncharacteristically misses a four-footer for par.  

Els has the tournament at his mercy, but much like on the 17th tee, he is wayward on 18. His recovery shot finishes in a divot in the fairway, but he valiantly scrambles for a bogey. We have the first three-way playoff at the US Open since 1963.

“That’s the one thing I’m really disappointed about because I bogeyed 18, the 72nd hole on Sunday and I hit the best drive of the week,” Roberts said.

“I hit an 8 iron in there for my second shot and I hit a good iron. I hit it right at the pin, front right and it just hit a little downslope and ran through the back of the green into the rough and I hit a good chip down there to four feet and I missed that putt.”

1994 us open oakmont

ALSO: US Open: Everything you need to know

Ernie Els: US Open 1994 was his breakthrough moment

Final leaderboard

-5 E Els, L Roberts, C Montgomerie

-4 C Strange

-2 J Cook

-1 C Dennis, G Norman, T Watson

E J Maggert, F Nobilo, J Sluman, D Waldorf

Monday June 20, 1994: The play-off

The playoff takes place over 18 holes the following day, which isn’t the ideal outcome for fans holding tickets for what is always assumed to be a Sunday showdown.

“The crowds weren’t there, they were taking down the stands, all the catering had moved out, people were milling around, the toilets were on their way out,” Montgomerie said.

“You’re there playing, arguably, the most important round of my life at that stage. There were 156 that started and no there’s only 3 of us, the odds are getting better.”

Having never been involved in an 18-hole playoff before, Montgomerie is also not used to golf in such heat, let alone the pressure that is required to win a maiden major title.

“The playoff comes around, and I was with Pringle at the time, I supported them,” he continued. “I hate to say it now, I should have gone to the pro shop. The salt marks were coming out in all my shirts, I had thrown them all away because they were wrecked. You could almost wring them out because I was soaking when I finished each round.”

Standing on the tee with a towel around his neck, Montgomerie gets things underway. Els hits his ball down by the crane again, but this time it is lowered. Els and the USGA’s Holland become quite the double act when on the 2nd hole, Els takes an unplayable behind the green after a wayward approach.

This results in a triple-bogey, but Montgomerie makes a double-bogey too, and another one on hole 3. Roberts, a former club professional with a background in the game alien from his competitors, holds a one-shot lead over Els on three-over with six holes remaining. It is simply not Montgomerie’s day as he is cut adrift on eight-over.

Colin Montgomerie’s major near-misses:

Tournament Finishing place
1994 US OpenTied 2nd
1995 PGA Championship2nd
1997 US Open2nd
2005 Open Championship2nd
2006 US OpenTied 2nd

“It started off okay, they both bogeyed the first and I parred it. I was thinking, ‘this is great, I’m one up’,” Montgomerie said. “Then I made a mistake at the 2nd, and I doubled it, chipped and three-putted I think.

“Then the 3rd hole, the Church Pews that they call it at Oakmont, I went into one of those and got buried in it. Doubled that one so I started par-double-double and I was on the back foot for the whole day from then on.”

Although he disappointingly bogeys the 16th, the Boss of the Moss earns one back on hole 17, landing a crucial blow before Els drops a birdie too.

He nails another crucial putt, this time for par, on the 90th hole of the week to force Els to make his own par putt to extend the playoff. Els does exactly that.

“I don’t know if we were just all worn out or not,” Roberts said, “because they had one of the hottest weeks they’d ever had up there in Pittsburgh and I mean it was over 100 heat all week long.

“I don’t know if we were just tired or what, none of us started out any good, making bogeys and double bogeys. Ernie had a triple bogey on the second hole. Neither one of us played good because Ernie and I went to sudden death and we both shot 74s.”

After trading pars on the first sudden-death hole, Roberts cries “No” three times as he slices his tee shot into the right rough on the second hole. He muscles his ball into the front greenside bunker after that. From the fairway, Els arrows a 2-iron to the heart of the green and emerges the favourite.

Splashing out of the sand, Roberts rattles his putt at the back of the hole from long range. It doesn’t drop and violently lips out. This leaves Els with a two-putt to become just the second player to win the US Open at his second attempt since Jerry Pate in 1976.

“I managed to stay steady, stay in the moment. That’s the key in majors, in any tournament, although you don’t always manage it,” Els said to NCG. “The start of the playoff was a bit of a debacle, but I played pretty well after that to shoot three-over on what I thought at the time was the toughest course I’d ever played. Monty obviously struggled.

“It was a very tough day. My putting was the key. I don’t think I’ve ever putted better from inside eight to 10 feet than I did that week at Oakmont.”

“It’s funny, you know, people say this, but it does take a while for it to sink in. Then for about three months afterwards you feel like you’re floating about three feet off the ground!

“It’s an incredible time. You’re young, full of confidence, and obviously winning your first major gives you a lot of belief. Just knowing you can do it, that’s a huge obstacle to overcome, and it really kick-started my career in a big way.”

After only hitting six fairways on Monday on his way to victory, Els is embraced by his girlfriend Leizl Wehmeyer who he met 18 months before in a Cape Town restaurant.

It takes 361 shots in searing heat for Els to win his first major title.

As for Roberts, he earns a friend in Els if nothing else, and an incredible experience that makes him a better all-round player.

“We’ve talked a little bit about it,” Roberts said. “It was so great, he’s such a good guy and he let my wife and I stay at his house when we played the Senior British at Sunningdale and he lived right next door at Wentworth, and he let us stay at his house all week and he didn’t even lock up the door to the wine cellar for heaven’s sake! I’m not going to admit to anything alright!

“It definitely made me a better player,” he added. “It made me work a little harder, but it also gave me the belief that hey, I can do this, you know. Unfortunately, I never won a major on the regular tour, but it helped me overall thinking about hey, I’ve got a chance.”

NOW READ: 2024 US Open Round 1 tee times: Thursday’s groupings

NOW READ: 2024 US Open Round 2 tee times: Friday’s groupings

How much of the 1994 US Open Oakmont week do you remember? How would you rate the 1994 US Open Oakmont tournament in the history of the event? Tell us on X!

Matt Chivers

Matt Chivers

Now on the wrong side of 25, Matt has been playing golf since the age of 13 and was largely inspired to take up the game by countless family members who played golf during his childhood.

Matt is a member at Royal Cinque Ports in Deal playing off a 5 handicap, just a pitching wedge away from his hometown of Dover where he went to school and grew up. He has previously been a member at Etchinghill and Walmer and Kingsdown in Kent.

Having studied history at the University of Liverpool, Matt went on to pass his NCTJ Exams in Manchester a year later to fulfil his lifelong ambition of becoming a journalist. He picked up work experience along the way at places such as the Racing Post, the Independent, Sportsbeat and the Lancashire Evening Post.

Matt joined NCG in February 2023 and is the website’s main source of tour news, features and opinion. He has reported live from events such as The Open, the Ryder Cup and The Players Championship, having also interviewed and spoken to the likes of Rory McIlroy, Tommy Fleetwood, Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell, Henrik Stenson, to name just a few.

Consuming tour golf on what is a 24/7 basis, you can come to Matt for informed views on the game and the latest updates on the PGA Tour, DP World Tour, LPGA Tour, Ladies European Tour and LIV Golf.

What’s in Matt’s bag: Cobra LTDx LS driver, Cobra LTDx 3-wood, TaylorMade P7MC irons, Ping Glide 4.0 wedges, Odyssey putter.

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