Top 10 memorable moments in U.S. Open history

With the 113th U.S. Open upon us this week at Merion Golf Club in Pennsylvania this week, it’s hard to narrow down over a century’s worth of golf into the ten most memorable moments. Here’s my attempt.

10.) 1950 – Ben Hogan

Ben Hogan won his first U.S. Open in 1948, but in early 1949, Hogan and his wife Valerie were involved in a head-on collision with a Greyhound bus that nearly took both of their lives. After suffering two fractures to his pelvis, as well as a broken collar bone, ankle and broken ribs Hogan left the hospital after 59 days and returned to golf just seven months after the accident. In the 1950 U.S. Open at Merion, Hogan beat out both Lloyd Mangrum and George Fazio in an 18-hole playoff to win his second of his four U.S. Open trophies.

9.) 1964 – Ken Venteri

After coming close to winning a major numerous times, Ken Venteri broke through and won the 1964 U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club. It took an extraordinary effort on the final day of the tournament, as Venteri played 36 holes while suffering from severe dehydration in the near 100-degree heat. Doctors warned him against heat stroke, but Venturi trudged on, carding a 66, and a 70 on the final day, overcoming a six-stroke deficit to defeat Tommy Jacobs by two.


8.) 1929 – Bobby Jones

Bobby Jones waxed Al Espinosa in a 36-hole playoff by 23 strokes to win the 1929 U.S. Open at Winged Foot West.

After a relatively ho-hum four rounds at Winged Foot West, amateur Bobby Jones forced a playoff with a 12-foot putt on the 72nd hole, tying himself at six-over par with professional Al Espinosa. In the resulting 36-hole playoff, Jones pummeled Espinosa up and down the course, topping the pro by 12 strokes in the first 18 holes of the playoff and 11 strokes in the second half. Jones shot three-under in the playoffs, beating Espinosa by an impressive 23 strokes to win his third U.S. Open in seven years.

7.) 1960 – Arnold Palmer

Arnold Palmer began the final round at Cherry Hills Country Club seven shots back of the lead, but blazed a trail on the front nine, birdieing six of the first seven holes. He finished with a final-round 65, good for four-under par on the tournament and a two-stroke victory over a then-20-year old amateur Jack Nicklaus. The major win was the third of seven for Palmer, but would be the only U.S. Open that “The King” would win.

6.) 2011 – Rory McIlroy

Fresh off of his 80 in the final round of the 2011 Masters, Rory McIlroy responded in the very next major with one of the greatest performances of all time. McIlroy, at the young age of 22, dominated Congressional Country Club with four=straight rounds in the 60s. He began and finished the final round with an eight-stroke lead, establishing a tournament record with a 16-under par 268, as well as setting the record for the tournament’s youngest winner.

5.) 1999 – Payne Stewart

The play in and of itself was memorable, as Payne Stewart had to hold of Phil Mickelson on the 18th hole at Pinehurst No. 2 by sinking a 15-foot par putt on the 18th hole. That gave him a  one-stroke win, and his second U.S. Open title. It came a year after Stewart lost by one stroke to Lee Janzen at the Olympic Club in San Francisco after shooting a final round 74. Stewart’s celebration after winning in 1999 was memorable, but unfortunately, part of that legacy stems from the fact that it would be his last major victory, as he tragically died in a plane crash in October of 1999.

4.) 2000 – Tiger Woods

The first U.S. Open after Stewart’s death was filled with plenty of commemoration to a fallen champion, but the spotlight quickly shifted to Tiger Woods’ dominant play at Pebble Beach. He beat the fog on Thursday and shot a six-under 65, and proceeded to stretch his lead from one stroke after 18 holes to 15 after 72 with rounds of 69, 71 and 67. His 272 tied the U.S. Open record and he set a new standard for the tournament by finishing at 12-under par. The dominant victory also became the first leg of the “Tiger Slam.”

3.) 1982 – Tom Watson vs. Jack Nicklaus

Another memorable tournament played at Pebble Beach, the 1982 U.S. Open kicked into high hear after Jack Nicklaus rattled off five consecutive birdies on holes three through seven to take a one-stroke lead over Tom Watson. Watson had started the day with a three-stroke advantage and needed a brilliant par save on the 10th hole to maintain pace with Nicklaus. As Watson approached the final two holes, Nicklaus was already in as the clubhouse leader at four-under. Watson hit an errant tee shot with his 2-iron on the par-3 17th hole, but responded with one of the best shots in golf history. He chipped in for birdie to give himself a one-stroke lead over Nicklaus en route to a sixth major win. But the brilliant 1982 win was Watson’s only U.S. Open title.

2.) 1990 – Hale Irwin

There are a number of things that made Hale Irwin’s win at Medinah Country Club memorable. The first is that Irwin became the oldest person to win a U.S. Open at 45 years old, a record he still holds to this day. The second is that he carded a 74 in the third round and needed a hard-charging Sunday effort to force a playoff, which he capped with a remarkable 45-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole. The ensuing 18-hole playoff with Mike Donald teed off on the subsequent Monday, but with both players shooting a 74, 90 holes of golf wasn’t enough. Irwin needed a birdie on the 91st hole to defeat Donald and claim his third U.S. Open.

1.) 2008 – Tiger Woods vs. Rocco Mediate

At a difficult Torrey Pines setup in 2008, Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate engaged in the most memorable duel in U.S. Open history. Like some of the other best moments, this one could not be contained to 72, or even 90 holes. The tournament was prefaced by Woods’ knee surgery, which he had just two months prior, in April of 2011. Woods held a two-shot lead entering the final round, but shot three-over on the first two holes. He rebounded and was faced with a birdie putt on the 72nd hole, which he rattled in to force a playoff and celebrated with a memorable two-handed fist pump. Despite holding a three-stroke lead after 10 holes of the playoff round, Woods once again needed a birdie on No. 18 to extend the tournament. Tiger then parred the 91st hole of the tournament to claim his third U.S. Open.

Tiger Woods celebrates on the 18th green, his 72nd hole, at Torrey Pines after sinking a putt to force a playoff with Rocco Mediate at the 2008 U.S. Open.

About Chris Callaway

Chris lives and works in La Crosse, Wisconsin, working primarily on-air while doing some writing as well. He is a part-owner of the Green Bay Packers, a Milwaukee Brewers die-hard, learning hockey while supporting the Minnesota Wild, and is also a fan of the Wisconsin Badgers and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Follow him on twitter @ccallaway33.


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