Meet the US Open nearly men – three players who came within a whisker of winning the US Open and how, years later, they look back on their close shave
Had things gone a little differently these three men might well have become US Open champions. England’s Kenny Ferrie was playing in the last group with Phil Mickelson in 2006, two years later Rocco Mediate pushed Tiger and his broken leg for 91 holes, and Gregory Havret took 2nd at Pebble Beach, this year’s venue, nine years ago among a star-studded leaderboard. We met the US Open nearly men…
US Open nearly men: Kenny Ferrie (Winged Foot, 2006)
“When I got to Winged Foot it just sat well with me as it was the first year they had done the graduated rough. My game is based around fairways and greens and my driver is the best club in the bag – I made my two double bogeys when I couldn’t hit it. I was in California at the start of the year and I met a member from Winged Foot and his advice was to stay short of every single flag and when I got there that really struck home.
“I had an idea that I was doing OK on the Friday and when I saw camera crews and media appearing from everywhere I could pretty safely assume that I was up there. I was nervous but I never really get too nervous if I am playing well, I relished it more than anything. I think I hit a pretty good drive on the 1st tee each day and that got me going.
“I don’t think you could play with Phil and not be impressed. It seemed like every time he missed a shot he was always on the right side. The only time he didn’t do that was on the 18th. I think he hit three or four fairways all day so it was phenomenal to score as he did.
“I started nicely but shot 76 with 12 pars and six bogeys and you’re only as good as your score. I parred the first six and then three-putted the next two and that set the tone. I don’t think anybody would have thought five over would have won, I would have said two or three, four at a push. Four should have been the winning score.
“Never ever did I think the whole week about winning. If I had I would have just panicked. It never really crossed my mind and I’m just glad it didn’t.
“What happened to Monty and Mickelson is just what happens in golf, nobody is immune from pressure. Phil was the best in the world at that time and it shows how hard it is to win a tournament. He needed a par on a relatively straightforward par 4 – he made a bad swing and followed it up with two mistakes. I parred it but I’m sure I wouldn’t have made such an easy par if I was still involved!”
US Open nearly men: Rocco Mediate (Torrey Pines, 2008)
“Everybody thought 10-under was going to win and I was kind of laughing. Par is always going to win out at a US Open, the course was set up beautifully and it gave everyone a chance. I think that experience is worth a lot and you just know how to handle it a little bit better.
“I just love the US Open so much and I felt good again. The only thing that ever hurt me was my back and that was fine so I entered qualifying. It was a slow start to the year (Mediate missed eight cuts in the first four months) but then I started to make a few putts and that’s basically what happened. At Memorial, two weeks before, I drove it real good and everything was coming around.
“I woke up on the Monday morning and thought I could beat him, I really had that in my mind. Here’s what I thought. He had worn red on Sunday, he probably wasn’t going to wear red on Monday. I wore red. It was quite a surprise to see him come out in the same colour.
“I tried to be the same every day though I think I actually talked more in the play-off. We all have our bad moments of course but I just tried to enjoy it. It was just the normal stuff, I wasn’t going to go out there and talk even more to try and rattle him and why would you even try?
“You can work out when a guy wants to talk and when he doesn’t so when we did it was really over nothing, about the course or whatever. I’ve always talked on the range and I remember talking to his father back in the old days. I’ve always liked how he’s played his golf and, of course, what he’s done for everybody. We have always been buddies.
“Don’t get me wrong I was definitely nervous but I was comfortable. It’s what you wait for so I wasn’t really surprised or thinking ‘I can’t do this’.
“At the prize-giving I asked him about his knee but he didn’t tell me anything. I’m not sure he even knew had bad it was – I had no idea how serious it was.”
US Open nearly men: Gregory Havret (Pebble Beach, 2010)
“I was thinking about missing qualifying as it is 36 holes in the middle of a big run of events. I made a 50-footer at Walton Heath to get into the play-off and then a 15-footer to qualify.
“There were six of us for five spots. I was in the second group and the first three all birdied the first hole so it was ‘OK then, the pressure is on!’ Simon Khan missed out but got in eventually.
“I arrived and it was magical to play my first US Open at Pebble Beach. I think, being a links, it suited the Europeans so I felt quite good. My focus was to avoid the bigger mistakes – the greens are so tiny it was easy to make a double or treble.
“I knew I needed to get up and down from the bunker on the Saturday to play with Tiger Woods and that was a dream. I really wanted to do it, those moments are special. I tried to qualify for the Open Championship the week before and I had eight three putts in 36 holes so I changed back to the belly putter the week before Pebble Beach. Because of the green sizes pace wasn’t that big a thing, I needed to hole more eight-footers.
“Before teeing off on the Sunday there was Phil, Ernie, Tiger and myself on the putting green! I slept beautifully the night before and I felt like I deserved to be there. Tiger started badly and I started well so that made the spectators watch my shots more which isn’t often the case. Normally they start running as soon as he has played. After six holes I had made two birdies and people were maybe wondering who this little Frenchman was.
“I think about the week quite often, in some ways it is the biggest miss of my career as I would love to win a major. I was so close and the last time a French guy had won one was in 1907, and to do it in America… But I don’t regret anything. On 18 I was in the bunker and there was the ocean behind and I gave myself a chance.
“Tiger and I chatted about our children who were roughly the same age and on 16 he asked me about the World Cup and the French team who were striking at the time. He couldn’t believe what was happening.
“When I had the birdie putt on 18 I felt like I wasn’t on earth but I heard Tiger say something along the lines of ‘Come on, knock it in now’.”