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US Open

‘I played the best golf of my life and couldn’t shoot par’: Six times the US Open got out of hand

Protecting par is something of an obsession for the USGA. Sometimes it goes too far
 

Faces creased in agony, heads in hands, title dreams snatched away at the death – it can only be the US Open.

Of all the major tests, the year’s second is always the most brutal. Expect narrow fairways, juicy rough and – almost inevitably – high scores.

Cue players thrashing out of wrist-breaking rough and losing their sanity as well as their balls. The only sound on the course, and in the media for days afterwards, will likely be the whine of the world’s best.

They will complain about yet another unfair course as they are foxed by super-slick greens and devilish pin positions. Even the great Bobby Jones, who won the US Open on four occasions, would admit: “Nobody ever wins the National Open. Somebody else just loses it.”

So here are six US Opens that have a place in ignominy…

1970 – Hazeltine

“If I had to play this course every day for fun, I’d find me another game”. So said Dave Hill of the test at Hazeltine in 1970 – and he finished second. The American claimed “they ruined a good farm” when building the Minnesota course.

The US Open was Hazeltine’s coming out parade, the course having been opened eight years earlier.

But some of golf’s biggest stars suffered a torrid first day as 35 mile-an-hour winds – gusting past 40 – swept away their chances.

A grim-faced Jack Nicklaus, his blonde locks swept back in the swirl, shot an 81. Arnold Palmer and Gary Player didn’t fare much better, signing for scores of 79 and 80 respectively.

It’s said after an opening 79 that Sam Snead tried to leave without signing his scorecard only to be called back by Lee Trevino, who’d himself endured a 77.

While all around him struggled, Tony Jacklin serenely added to the Open title he had bagged the previous year. Under par rounds of 71 and a trio of 70s saw him beat Hill by seven shots.

1974 – Winged Foot

US Open

Nicknamed the Massacre of Winged Foot, there are many who think 1974 was the hardest US Open ever. A year earlier, Johnny Miller had streaked round Oakmont, shooting a final round 63.

Winged Foot was the USGA’s revenge. Hale Irwin, who won with a score of 7-over, would say it was the toughest course he had ever seen.

The rough was penal – almost ankle length and impossible to negotiate. The undulatin greens were lightning quick, and rolled everyday, making them even faster as the tournament progressed. There’s never been a higher winning total since.

1994 – Oakmont

US Open

To call the heat stifling would be an understatement. Look at the face of Colin Montgomerie, his features scorched by the soaring temperatures, and you’ll understand why it’s believed there has never been a hotter US Open.

Monty hung on for a Monday play-off after Ernie Els bogeyed both the 16th and 18th in the fourth round to end in a three-way tie that also included Loren Roberts.

A further 18 holes in the oppressive swelter was the last thing the Scotsman needed. As the dial cranked up towards 100 degrees, Monty folded to a 7-over 78. Roberts and Els tied on 74 and Els got his hands on the trophy after the second hole of sudden death.

2004 – Shinnecock Hills

Retief Goosen

Was this the year the USGA went too far? Tiger Woods claimed the organisation had “lost it”, while Phil Mickelson branded the conditions unacceptable.

The narrow fairways and wrist-breaking rough were wholly expected but the greens on the final day were so fast that, for many, they were impossible to putt on.

The stroke average in the final round was a shade under 79. With greens double cut and rolled, fewer than 20 per cent of the field managed to hit the par-3 7th. After the first two groups went through, organisers watered the surfaces.

In all of this carnage, Retief Goosen put together one of the rounds of his life to shoot a brilliant 71 and beat Mickelson to the honours.

The latter said: “I played some of the best golf of my life, I hit some of my best shots, I putted better than I probably have ever putted and I still couldn’t shoot par.”

2006 – Winged Foot

Phil Mickelson

Ask Colin Montgomerie and Phil Mickelson about Winged Foot in 2006 and they will still wince with pain. This was the year the duo lost their minds. The tough setup produced high scores – winner Geoff Ogilvy came home in 5-over-par – and an 18th hole where disaster awaited anyone who failed to find fairway or green.

That said, it produced one of the most memorable finishes in tournament history. After Ogilvy chipped in on 17 and produced an equally impressive par at the last, it still seemed inevitable the Australian would be picked off at the finish.

Monty holed a monster putt on the 17th and striped a drive down the final hole only to let the occasion get the better of him. When his 7-iron found the deep rough, a double bogey finished his challenge.

Mickelson needed only a par to win but he was also bitten by the notorious course – clattering the hospitality tents with his drive, before striking a tree and finding a bunker on his way to a calamitous six.

2007 – Oakmont

US Open

Five-over was enough for Angel Cabrera the last time the tournament visited Pennsylvania and Oakmont in 2007.

Conditions were so penal that Tiger Woods said a 10 handicapper would be unable to break 100. The average score in the second round weighed in at just short of 77.

The cut fell at 10-over-par. In fact, the Oakmont greens were normally so quick, they were actually slowed down for the US Open that year and it was Cabrera who held it together best on the back nine.

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Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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