Oakmont’s US Open History
When it comes to old golf courses, the US doesn’t have much to say – heck, the Golf Club in Edinburgh was established 30 years before there even was a US.
Still, a 113-year legacy is nothing to take lightly, and when Oakmont hosts the US Open beginning Thursday, it will be the ninth time the tournament has taken place at the picturesque Pennsylvania venue, dating all the way back to 1927.
Here’s a look at the previous eight US Opens to have graced the links that Henry Fownes designed way back in 1903.
1927 – How different was the game 90 years ago? Well the cut was set at +19, Scotland’s Tommy Armour was the champion at 13-over, and his winning check was for $500, or about the amount of money Jordan Spieth made while you read this sentence. Adjusted for inflation, the winning prize was around $6,900. Armor’s 301 was the last time a winning score was over 300 strokes, as only one player had a single round under 70 – Al Espinosa’s 69 in the final round. Armour would be the last foreign-born player to win the US Open for 38 years, until Gary Player did it in 1965.
1935 – In a finish straight out a movie, Sam Parks Jr., a 25-year-old club pro with zero prior tournament wins took the tile by two strokes, finishing with an 11-over 299. Parks was the pro at a nearby course and every day for a month he went to Oakmont to play a practice round before the tournament. The field featured the first Japanese player to make the cut – Kanekich Nakamura – one of six Japanese men in the field. What might have been the start of a trend of Japanese players on the PGA Tour, but six years later the US and Japan were at war with each other, and international relations between the two were set back by decades.
1953 – After an 18-year hiatus, although several tournaments were cancelled by World War II, the US Open returned to Oakmont and Ben Hogan tied a record by winning the tournament for the fourth time, taking it by six strokes over Sam Snead. His lead was just one at the turn on Sunday, but he made three birdies on the back nine, including one from 25 feet away on No. 13. His 5-under 283 included one of just two sub-70 rounds of the tournament, a 5-under 67 on Thursday. A young man named Arnold Palmer, age 23, made his US Open debut at Oakmont, missing the cut by nine strokes.
1962 – The next time the tournament was at Oakmont, Palmer was two years removed from a win there, and was defeated in an 18-hole Sunday playoff by 22-year-old Jack Nicklaus. Nicklaus was tied for fifth at +1, two strokes off the lead entering Sunday. He was down four strokes after eight holes, but split the lead in two when he birdied No. 9 while Palmer bogeyed it. The pair were knotted at 1-under from No. 13 on to force the playoff. Ten thousand fans, most of them pro-Palmer, showed up for the playoff, but it was Nicklaus who made them believers that day, ahead by four strokes afters even holes and up the rest of the way, winning by three strokes. Palmer was a prophet after the match, declaring, “Now that the big guy is out of the cage, everybody better run for cover.”
1973 – Johnny Miller played in the era of Jack, Arnold, and Gary, so it took something special for him to win a Major. The 1973 US Open was as special as they come. Miller was not in the top 10 after three rounds, as a third-round 76 pushed him six strokes off the lead. On Sunday, he was the stuff of legends. He birdied his first four holes to go from 2-over to 1-under. He then birdied 11-13 to reach 4-under through 13, taking the lead by a stroke. He birdied 15 as well and parred the last three holes to complete the greatest round in US Open history, an 8-under 63.
1983 – After 40 holes, Larry Nelson was 7-over for the tournament, not even a blip on the radr of the leaderboard. He went 7-under over the next 14 holes to sit one stroke behind co-leaders Tom Watson and Seve Ballesteros entering Sunday. He finally caught Watson with a birdie on 14, only to have a thunderstorm postpone play until the following morning. The night’s rest did Nelson well as he buried a 62-foot birdie putt on 16, but bogeyed 18 to give Watson a chance. The defending champion needed a birdie on 18 to tie, but couldn’t deliver and Nelson won the first of his three Majors. It was Arnold Palmer’s last time making the cut at the US Open.
1994 – Twenty-four-year old Ernie Els emerged triumphant as the US Open said goodbye to Arnold Palmer, who played the event for the first time in 11 years on an exemption. Els was four stokes back at the midway point, but caught fire with a 5-under 66 to take a two-stroke lead unto Sunday. The South African received a favorable ruling on a camera truck affecting his line of sight early on and wound up in a three-man playoff with Colin Montgomerie and Loren Roberts. Els and Roberts each shot a 3-over 74 to go to sudden death. On the second sudden death hole, with both players having battled their way through 91 holes, Els parred while Roberts bogeyed for the winning margin.
2007 – In a photo finish of amazing talent, Angel Cabrera won his first Major by one stroke over Americans Jim Furyk and Tiger Woods. It was the first Major by a player from Argentina specifically and South America as a hole. The course was vicious on the field, with only Cabrera and Day 1 leader Nick Dougherty breaking par on Thursday. Ahead by a stroke after 36 holes, Cabera plunged into a tie for seventh at 6-over after a Saturday 76, with Aaron Baddeley of Australia taking the lead at 2-over, two shots ahead of Woods. With immense pressure on every player in the final few pairings, Cabrera fired a final-round 69 to finish at 5-under. He was in the club house watching the rest of the contenders finish. Both Furyk and Woods needed to birdie 18 to force a playoff but neither could make the shot. Baddeley had one of the worst final rounds in Major history, a 10-over 80 that saw him triple-bogey No. 1 and go downhill from there.