Published January 13, 2015
The U.S. Open returns to Pennsylvania for the 16th time, the second-most among states behind New York. And while it has gone to only four courses dating to 1907, there is no shortage of great moments.
Ben Hogan won two of his four U.S. Opens in Pennsylvania, a heroic one at Merion in 1950 and a dominant one at Oakmont three years later. Byron Nelson won his only U.S. Open in Philadelphia. Jack Nicklaus and Ernie Els won their first U.S. Open titles outside Pittsburgh.
The first 63 in U.S. Open history was at Oakmont by Johnny Miller, if he hasn't already mentioned it.
Two of the great 1-irons in U.S. Open history took place in Philadelphia — Nelson holed out from 210 yards in 1939 in a playoff, while a plaque in the middle of the 18th fairway at Merion commemorates the 1-iron Hogan hit into the 72nd hole that led to a closing par and got him into a playoff.
Here are the top five U.S. Opens in Pennsylvania:
5. THE MERRY MEX AND HIS RUBBER SNAKE
Lee Trevino began to emerge as the latest rival to Jack Nicklaus when he matched the Golden Bear's U.S. Open scoring record of 275 at Oak Hill in 1968 in beating Nicklaus by four shots. Three years later at Merion, Trevino got him again.
Nicklaus trailed amateur Jim Simons by two shots going into the final round in 1971, with Trevino four shots out of the lead. The Merry Mex closed with a 69, missing a 6-foot par putt on the last hole. Nicklaus missed a 15-foot birdie attempt on the last hole for the win, setting up an 18-hole playoff.
Always the jokester, Trevino lightened the mood on the first tee by pulling a rubber snake from the bag. Nicklaus laughed along and asked Trevino to throw it his way. Once the laughter subsided, Trevino was all business. He fell behind briefly, but then Nicklaus twice failed to escape a bunker. He never caught up. Trevino made two big birdie putts on the back nine from about 25 feet on his way to a 68 to win by three shots.
It was the only playoff Nicklaus lost in a major. Trevino would get him again the following year in the British Open, denying Nicklaus' bid for the Grand Slam. Trevino won six majors in his career. Nicklaus was the runner-up in four of them.
4. HERE'S JOHNNY
What appeared to be a shot at redemption for Arnold Palmer in the 1973 U.S. Open at Oakmont turned into one many consider the best final round in championship history by Johnny Miller.
Oakmont is regarded the toughest track for the U.S. Open, though it was softer than usual because sprinklers presumably were left longer than usual before Friday's round, and rain saturated the course on Saturday. More critical to Miller was finding a swing key on the practice range Saturday night, which involved opening his stance. He went into the final round six shots behind John Schlee, Julius Boros, Jerry Heard and Palmer, who had lost in a playoff to Nicklaus at the previous Open at Oakmont.
They all became footnotes in history.
Miller teed off an hour before the leaders and made nine birdies on his way to a 63. He even had a putt for 62 until his birdie attempt on the 18th spun out of the cup. Miller wound up with a one-shot win over Schlee with a round that is still talked about today.
3. LORD BYRON AND HEARTACHE FOR SNEAD
Byron Nelson won his only U.S. Open in 1939 at Philadelphia Country Club, and he hit one of the most dramatic shots by holing a 1-iron for eagle in the second 18-hole playoff. Even so, this U.S. Open is equally known for failure.
Sam Snead lacked only a U.S. Open trophy to complete the career Grand Slam. He never had a better chance than in 1939. Snead stood on the 17th hole of the final round with a two-shot lead over Nelson, who had already finished, and Craig Wood and Denny Shute, both of whom were still on the course. Snead took bogey and, not knowing where he stood, mistakenly thought he needed a birdie to win.
He was in a bunker in two on the par-5 closing hole. He left that shot in the sand, sent the next over the green and into the gallery, chipped in and took three putts for a triple-bogey 8. He missed the playoff by two shots.
Nelson and Wood each shot 68 in the playoff, while Shute was eliminated with a 76. In a second 18-hole playoff, Nelson hit an 8-iron to 2 feet for birdie on the third hole, and then holed his 1-iron from 210 yards for eagle on the next hole. That sent him to a 70 for a three-shot win.
2. THE FIRST OF 18 FOR JACK NICKLAUS
Jack Nicklaus was a 22-year-old rookie, golf's next big star still without a win as a pro. Arnold Palmer, the Masters champion and first golfer to transcend his sport, was at the peak of his popularity and playing before a home crowd at Oakmont for the 1962 U.S. Open.
It became a pivotal moment in one of golf's most celebrated rivalries between the King and the Bear.
Nicklaus nearly won the U.S. Open two years earlier as an amateur. Two shots behind going into the final round, he closed with a 69, making a 4-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole that set up an 18-hole playoff.
Nicklaus built a four-shot lead through six holes, and then had to withstand a vintage Palmer charge that pulled him within one shot of the lead. Palmer three-putted the 13th to stay two shots behind, and he never made up any more ground. Nicklaus shot 71 in the playoff to win by three, the first of his record 18 professional majors.
1. THE GREAT COMEBACK OF BEN HOGAN
Of the four U.S. Opens that Ben Hogan won, his 1950 victory at Merion meant the most "because it proved I could still win."
There was doubt that Hogan would ever walk again, much less play golf, when he was driving home through Texas and had a head-on collision in early 1949 with a bus near Van Horn, Texas, that was trying to pass a slow-moving vehicle.
He returned to golf a year later and lost in a playoff at the Los Angeles Open, a return so remarkable that it led to a movie, "Follow the Sun." The best was yet to come.
Hogan was tied for the lead playing the 72nd hole. His legs were so weary that Hogan couldn't get his tee shot over the hill on final hole at Merion, leaving him 214 yards to the green and in need of a par to force a playoff. He chose a 1-iron, and the photograph of his swing from behind became one of the most iconic golf pictures. Hogan got his par to join a three-way playoff with Mangrum and Tom Fazio.
The end was anticlimactic. Hogan had a one-shot lead over Mangrum on the 16th hole of the playoff when Mangrum marked his ball so Fazio could finish, and then marked it again to blow a bug off his ball. That was against the rules at the time — for the U.S. Open, players only were allowed to mark the ball if it were in a competitor's line — and Fazio was assessed a two-shot penalty. Hogan closed with a 69 to win by four.
Hogan was back. And despite a reduced schedule because of his legs, he won five more majors.