SAN FRANCISCO – The U.S. Open is known as the toughest test in golf, and it usually lives up to its reputation.
Some years more than others.
Oakmont proved to be downright painful to Phil Mickelson, and that was before the U.S. Open even started. A lasting image of the U.S. Open is players in the rough with grass covering the tops of their shoes, and sometimes the cuffs on their pants. The rock-hard greens. The narrow fairways. Geoff Ogilvy once said the hardest part of the U.S. Open was going over par early in the round and wondering if you'll ever get back to even.
And even tougher test is trying to narrow down the five toughest U.S. Opens held in the championship's 117-year history.
5. MYOPIA HUNT
Which year was the toughest U.S. Open at Myopia Hunt? All of them.
The course north of Boston hosted the U.S. Open in four of the first 14 years until it was deemed to be too difficult. That alone is enough for Myopia Hunt to be considered on any list of "toughest" U.S. Opens.
The U.S. Open switched to 72 holes in 1898 when it first went to Myopia Hunt, and Fred Herd won at 328. The next two Opens, at Baltimore Country Club and Chicago Golf Club, were won with scores of 315 and 313, respectively. Upon returning to Myopia Hunt, Willie Anderson and Alex Smith tied at 331, and Anderson shot 85 the next day for a one-shot win in the playoff.
The winning scores at the next three U.S. Opens were 307, 307 and 303 — followed by a return to Myopia Hunt, with Willie Anderson winning again, this time at 314. The final U.S. Open at Myopia Hunt was in 1908 and Fred McLeod won at 322 — 20 shots higher than the winning score a year earlier at Philadelphia Cricket Club.
4. 2007 AT OAKMONT
Oakmont renewed its reputation as among the toughest tracks in America with its combination of thick grass and the fastest greens around.
How severe was it? Phil Mickelson spent so much time chipping from the rough in the two weeks before the championship that he injured his left wrist and had to withdraw from the Memorial later that week. He wound up missing the cut in the U.S. Open for only the second time in his career. Tiger Woods said a person with a 10 handicap could not break 100. The average score Friday was 76.93, the highest before the cut in more than 10 years.
Aaron Baddeley had a two-shot lead going into the final round and made triple bogey on the first hole on his way to an 80. Angel Cabrera showed his mettle with two key drives on the back nine and a 69 to finish at 5-over 285.
3. 1951 AT OAKLAND HILLS
With due respect to Johnny Miller and his 63 at Oakmont, one can make an argument that the greatest closing round in U.S. Open history belongs to Ben Hogan at Oakland Hills. Hogan didn't mince words, and his comment upon winning his second straight U.S. Open gave the course its nickname.
"I'm glad I brought this course, this monster, to its knees," he said.
This was the first year the U.S. Open began the practice of converting par 5s into par 4s, and Hogan won at 7-over 287. He opened with rounds of 76-73, and at 9 over was still only five shots behind Bobby Locke. He shot 71-67 on the final day to win by two shots over Clayton Heafner.
Hogan considered that final round one of the best he ever played.
2. 1955 AT OLYMPIC CLUB
The Olympic Club gained a reputation as the "graveyard of champions" for the major champions who finish second. And the 1955 U.S. Open is best known for how unheralded Jack Fleck took down Ben Hogan in one of golf's great upsets.
What gets overlooked is how difficult Olympic played that year.
There were only seven rounds under par all week, and Fleck had three of them, including the playoff. Fleck had to birdie two of the last four holes to force a playoff with Hogan at 7-over 287. And they were five shots clear of Tommy Bolt and Sam Snead in third place.
Most telling about the difficulty of Olympic Club that year are images of Hogan chopping his way to double bogey on the final hole of the playoff. The grass was so thick that he could barely advance his ball, and it was so deep that the cuffs on his pants are covered. Combine that with narrow fairways and tiny, firm greens, and it became a test of Olympic proportions.
1. 1974 AT WINGED FOOT
This is known as the "Massacre at Winged Foot," though it could just as easily be called "Payback Time."
A year earlier, on an Oakmont course softened by overnight rain, Johnny Miller became the first player to shoot 63 in the U.S. Open, and he remains the only player with a 63 in the final round of golf's toughest test. The USGA made sure that didn't happen at Winged Foot.
It was so difficult that no one was under par after any of the four rounds. The low score of the tournament was 67 by Hubert Green, and that was after he opened with an 81.
Tom Watson gave a glimpse of the star he was to become by taking the 54-hole lead at 3-over 213. But he staggered home in 41 shots on the back nine, and Hale Irwin closed with a 73 to capture the first of his three U.S. Opens. Irwin won at 7-over 287. There has not been a higher winning score in relation to par at any major since.