For over a century, the U.S. Open has delivered indelible moments on two legs, and sometimes one. Maybe only the Masters has as many iconic images, moments and impressions that rival what happens over Father’s Day weekend.
It’s a tournament that is of particular sentimentality due to the significance of that final day, but that’s not what defines or enshrines a particular U.S. Open. No, it comes down to shear dominance or perseverance for four days (or more) toward the end of June enduring tight fairways and ball-devouring rough, where even-par earns you titles.
Read on for some of the most defining moments, in chronological order, from the United States Open.
Sandy Lyle’s hole in one, 1993
Sandy Lyle won The Open Championship and the Masters, but never came close in the US Open – his best finish being 16th at Hazeltine in 1991. Two years later, at Baltusrol, however, he holed his tee-shot at the 206-yard 12th in the final round. “Actually, I damn near had two holes in one within an hour of each other in the last round. I holed out with a five-iron at the 12th to my great joy, then hit the pin at the 16th.” It was an eventful tournament for Lyle, who also became the first man to reach the monster 630-yard 17th green in two.
Tom Kite wins at last, 1992
By 1992 the American Kite was 42, and after 16 victories on the American Tour made him its leading money-winner, was heartily sick of hearing that he was the best golfer never to have won a Major. That all changed at Pebble Beach, although for most of the tournament the likely winner was another Majorless American fortysomething, Gil Morgan, who led after each of the first three rounds. But the final day was a windy one, and Morgan was blown away by an 81. Kite holed a wedged chip on the 7th for a birdie – “the best shot of his career”, he would say later – and hung on for a 72.
Jack Nicklaus wins for the fourth time, 1980
Nicklaus had won at Baltusrol in 1967, and when the US Open returned there in 1980 he won again, starting with a record-equalling 63 and finishing eight under on 272, a new low for the tournament. He finished two clear of the tenacious Japanese golfer Isao Aoki, who followed three 68s with a 70, and was shaken off only when Nicklaus holed a 22-footer for birdie at the 17th. It was the fourth time Nicklaus had won the US Open, tying the record of Scottish-born Willie Anderson and the American’s Bobby Jones and Ben Hogan, although the 18-year gap between Nicklaus’s first and last wins is another record.
Bobby Jones’s birdy at the last to win, 1926
In winning the second of his four titles, the great American amateur Bobby Jones birdied the last at Scioto, in Columbus, Ohio, to win – the last time anyone has achieved this feat in US Open history. In a windswept final round Jones was four behind Joe Turnesa with only seven holes left, but Turnesa dropped three shots on the back nine, then birdied the 480-yard 18th to set up the possibility of a play-off. Jones needed a birdie to win, and got it, his second shot – a nerveless iron – coming to rest only about 10ft from the hole. In winning his fourth title at Interlachen, in Edina, Minnesota, four years later, Jones completed the third leg of what became known as his ‘Impregnable Quadrilateral’ – winning the ‘grand slam’ of US and British Amateur Championships and Opens in the same calendar year, 1930.
Tony Jacklin becomes the last British winner, 1970
Jacklin, the reigning Open champion, won at Hazeltine, in Chaska, Minnesota, leading from wire to wire (the fourth and last player to do this). Recent alterations, which featured many dog-leg holes and blind shots over hill-brows coupled with blustery winds made the course especially difficult to play. But Jacklin was remarkably serene, following a first-round 71 with three straight 70s to win by seven, increasing his lead after each round. Victory was all but assured at the ninth in the final round, when Jacklin got himself out of trouble, but then hit his 25ft putt far too hard. It hit the back of the hole, shot up in the air…and plopped back into the cup. No British – or even European – golfer has won since.
Tiger Woods wins by 15 strokes, 2000
The Tiger mauled the field in the 100th US Open, leading by 10 strokes after the third round at Pebble Beach, California, with the American eventually winning by 15 strokes – a record for any Major – beating the old mark of 13 achieved by Scotlan”s ‘Old’ Tom Morris in The Open Championship of 1862. Woods won with a 12-under-par score of 272 – both US Open records – with no one else finishing under par. This was the first leg of the ‘Tiger Slam’, with Woods adding The Open and the US PGA later in the year, and then lifting the US Masters early in 2001, to hold all four Major championships at the same time.
The Longest Playoff Ever, 1931
In 1928, the United States Golf Association or USGA, decided to make the 18-hole playoff a 36-hole playoff. Playoffs were played in 1928 and 1929 without a hitch as both were decided in 36 holes, but the playoff were in 1931 dragged on for so long that it equaled the amount of holes in the regular tournament. Billy Burke and George Von Elm played 36 holes and were still tied after Van Elm overcame a four-shot deficit after 23 holes and sink a birdie on the 36th hole to tie Burke again. The rules detected that a winner had still not be determined after 36 holes, another 36-hole playoff would be played which was held the following day. Finally after another 36 holes, a US Open champion was crowned as Burke finished one stroke ahead of Van Elm. Following the 72-hole playoff, the USGA went back to the 18-hole playoff which still exists to this day.