The exploits of these Open winners on America’s biggest golf stage should stand the test of time, yet they often seem to be overlooked
It’s easy to compile a list of the best U.S. Opens ever, subjective as it might be. Tiger Woods’ playoff victory against Rocco Mediate at Torrey Pines in 2008, Francis Ouimet’s unlikely amateur win at The Country Club in 1913 and Payne Stewart’s triumph at Pinehurst in 1999 come to mind.
Let’s take a walk down memory lane for a few significant U.S. Opens during the past century that golf fans might overlook.
1926 – Bobby Jones, Scioto Country Club: Bobby Jones famously won four U.S. Opens during his illustrious career. This victory in Columbus, Ohio, was his second and maybe one of his greatest tournament comebacks. It was the only U.S. Open victory in which he had to make up a 54-hole deficit. Entering the final round, Jones was trailing Joe Turnesa by three strokes. Jones recently had returned to the U.S. after six weeks of golf in the U.K., where he competed in the British Amateur, Walker Cup, and won his first British Open. To top it off, the final round at Scioto was played in adverse conditions that included heavy rain and gusting wind. Nevertheless, Jones reached the 18thhole needing only a par on the par-5 closing hole to get into a playoff against Turnesa. Jones stepped to the tee, hit a 300-yard drive and then reached the green in two with a long iron to 15 feet for a look at eagle. He two-putted for birdie and won by a stroke.
1938 – Ralph Guldahl, Cherry Hills Country Club: Unless you’re of a certain age or a serious golf-history nerd, you might not have heard of Ralph Guldahl or know that he was a three-time major champion (two U.S. Opens plus one Masters). Guldahl briefly retired in 1935 to sell cars, but he returned to pro golf and rose to the top of the game. After winning three times in 1936 and twice in 1937, including his first U.S. Open title, Guldahl came to the Denver area for the ’38 Open as the defending champion. It was the first U.S. Open in the western U.S. and the first Open at which the new rule limited players to 14 clubs. Guldahl entered the final round in third place, trailing Dick Metz by four strokes. But in the afternoon round – the USGA used to require 36 holes on Saturday in a true test of stamina – Guldahl shot a blistering 69, which easily topped Metz’s 79 for a six-stroke victory.
1963 – Julius Boros, The Country Club: Boros is part of the answer to an obscure bit of U.S. Open trivia: Who holds the record for most years between Open victories? Boros and Hale Irwin went 11 years between winning titles in their national championship. Boros, the 1952 champion, prevailed again in 1963 at age 43 in the Boston area. The Open returned to The Country Club for the first time in 50 years in celebration of Francis Ouimet’s 1913 upset victory. Boros and the rest of the field were dealing with extremely windy conditions throughout the tournament. Boros entered the final round tied for fifth and trailing Jacky Cupit by three shots. On a day when the scoring average ballooned to 77.4, Boros shot 1-over 72 and earned a spot in an 18-hole playoff with Cupit and Arnold Palmer. Boros stormed to a three-stroke lead at the turn and never looked back. He beat Cupit by three and Palmer by six strokes. The 72-hole score of 293, which was 9 over, remains the highest winning total in the post-World War II era.
2007 – Angel Cabrera, Oakmont Country Club: Some might contend that this result is too recent to be regarded as obscure or forgotten, but it featured some exceptional drama on the back nine in the final round. Round 4 began with 54-hole leader Aaron Baddeley recording a triple bogey on his first hole en route to a 10-over 80. Cabrera, who started the day four strokes back, quickly found his deficit erased. Tiger Woods led until making a double bogey at the third hole. Cabrera shot one of only two sub-par final rounds (the other was by Anthony Kim) and had to sit in the clubhouse waiting to see whether hard-charging Jim Furyk or Woods would catch him. Furyk looked as if he might do it as he made three straight birdies on holes 13-15 before a bogey on 17 halted his momentum. Par at the 18th left him a stroke off the lead, tied with Woods for second place. Cabrera, an Argentine, is the only South American to win the U.S. Open.
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