Irwin, 57, has played in 33 Opens, the last 32 of them consecutively, dating back to 1971. He has the longest active streak for Opens played. His first U.S. Open was the 1966 championship at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, Calif., in which he completed 72 holes at 305 (25 over par) as an amateur. Only Jack Nicklaus and Gene Sarazen played in more or as many Opens, with 44 and 33, respectively.
Irwin won his Open titles in 1974, 1979 and 1990. His victory in 1990, at age 45, made him the oldest U.S. Open champion. In addition to his three Open titles, Irwin has won two U.S. Senior Opens, in 1998 and 2000. Irwin also received special exemptions in 1990 and 2002. He is the only player to win an Open on a special exemption, in 1990.
Kite, 53, has played in 31 Opens, including the last 29 consecutively, dating back to 1974. He was fully exempt the past 10 years as a result of his 1992 win. Additionally, he was fully exempt in 2002 as a result of finishing tied for fifth in 2001. Kite's active string of consecutive Opens trails only Irwin's.
Kite's first two U.S. Opens were as an amateur, at Hazeltine (Minn.) National Golf Club (1970) and at Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links (1972), where he finished tied for 19th.
Kite won his Open title at Pebble Beach, where a dramatic chip-in at the par-3 seventh hole on the final day propelled him to a two-stroke win over Jeff Sluman. He tied for fifth in 2001 at Southern Hills (Okla.) Country Club, where he closed with a final round of 64.
Watson, 53, has played in 29 Opens, all consecutively. His last Open came in 2000 at Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links, the site of his historic 1982 Open victory, punctuated by his spectacular chip-in at the par-3 17th hole on the final day that gave him a two-stroke cushion over Nicklaus (282 to 284). He finished tied for 27th in 2000, but did not play in either 2001 or 2002.
Watson played in his first professional tournament in 1968, making the cut as an amateur in the Western Open at Olympia Fields CC. He played his first Open in 1972, also at Pebble Beach. He won eight major championships and a total of 39 tournaments on the PGA Tour from 1974 through 1998. Watson also received special exemptions in 1993, 1996 and 2000.
The U.S. Open will be played from June 12-15 at Olympia Fields Country Club in Olympia Fields, Ill. The offer of special exemptions was taken by a vote of the USGA Executive Committee.