Should Martin Kaymer fail to win the U.S. Open, he will become the first 54-hole Open leader in almost a century to blow a lead of five or more strokes in the final round. The last one was Mike Brady, in the 1919 U.S. Open at Brae Burn Country Club in West Newton, Mass.
How Brady came to claim this dubious distinction is one of golf’s classic stories, and like so many other classic golf stories, it stars Walter Hagen.
In 1919 Hagen was 26. He already had one national championship to his credit – the 1914 U.S. Open. But he had come up short in the 1915 and ’16 Opens, and the championship was suspended in 1917-18 because of World War I, so he was eager to reclaim the trophy.
Brady, a well-known Massachusetts pro, had seized the lead after 36 holes and stretched his advantage to five shots over Hagen after 54. Brady slumped to an 80 in the fourth round, however.
On the 18th green, Hagen faced an 8-foot birdie putt to win. Before he stroked it, he called for Brady to come out of the clubhouse to watch. The only un-Hagen-like aspect of the scene was that he lipped out the putt, and the two men prepared for an 18-hole playoff the next day.
Brady spent the night at home, resting. Hagen stayed out partying with singer Al Jolson and Jolson’s troupe. A sleep-deprived but supremely confident Hagen won the playoff, 77-78.
Hagen, of course, became a golf immortal, on and off the course. And things didn’t turn out so badly for Brady. After Hagen won the 1919 Open, he resigned as head pro at Oakland Hills and recommended Brady as his replacement. Brady got the job, and subsequently won the 1922 Western Open, a major of the era, at Oakland Hills.