My Favorite Major

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The U.S. Open is my favorite major because par is protected, militantly, by the USGA.
 
It is my favorite major because par, at times, becomes an endangered species. Like at Winged Foot 32 years ago when Hale Irwins winning total for 72 holes was seven over.
 
They called it a massacre back then. Today we are more politically correct. But I can give you the names of 156 players'Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson included'who would take even par 280 for 72 holes right now and walk tiptoe delightedly to the clubhouse.
 
Next Thursday it will be dj vu all over again when balls go in the air at the 2006 U.S. Open. It will be survival of the fittest'physically and mentally. Short hitters will be penalized by attrition. Bombers will be penalized for hubris. The best putters will be forced to do so defensively. The best iron players will display their skills consistently only from the fairway.
 
Players are another reason the U.S. Open is my favorite major. Approximately half the field will arrive at Winged Foot having qualified through stern 36-hole Sectional tests staged all over the world earlier this week.
 
Jay Haas, 52, made it out of a Monday Ohio Sectional after winning three straight weeks on the Champions Tour, and playing all four days at The Memorial.
 
Haas was a wide-eyed 20-year-old amateur at Winged Foot in 1974 when he made the cut. He barely broke 300 for the week. Asked what he learned, he said, I learned that low score wins.
 
This is another reason the U.S. Open is my favorite major. The PGA TOUR is home to the best players in the world. These guys ARE good. But for one week out of the year they will not make birdies with impunity.
 
In Hawaii a 15-year-old boy named Tadd Fujikawa advanced from a Sectional where only one spot was available. Fujikawa needed a three-hole playoff to do so. He is listed at 5-1 and 110 pounds.
 
Michelle Wie, who is closer to six feet tall, is also Hawaiian but has never played golf with Tadd Fujikawa. She is also a girl and only 16 years old. She failed to survive the field of 153 players at Canoe Brook in New Jersey where 18 spots were available.
 
But she drew unprecedented crowds in Jersey, commanded live updates from both ESPN and The Golf Channel, and wound up with her picture on the front page of the New York Times.
 
The names of the players who didnt survive Sectional play are almost as fascinating as the list of the players who did:
 
Jason Gore, who captured our hearts at Pinehurst in last years Open. Brad Faxon. Aaron Baddeley. Jesper Parnevik. Peter Lonard.
 
At Canoe Brook, Buddy Marucci, the car dealer who gave Woods all that trouble in the finals of the 1995 U.S. Amateur, didnt advance.
 
If you pay close attention to golf, you will know these names: Spencer Levin, Gary Wolstenholme, Paul Lawrie, Joel Kribel, Trip Kuehne, Mitch Voges, Clay Ogden and George Zahringer. None of them made it to Winged Foot.
 
These players did: Michael Derminio, Dustin White, Oliver Wilson, Stephen Woodard, Benjamin Hayes, Chad Collins and Andy Bare. If you know a little about each of them, you have been paying too much attention.
 
Mickelson will be looking to win his third straight major at Winged Foot. Woods will be playing competitively for the first time since the passing of his father. And a lot of guys will just be happy to break 80 in any round.
 
The U.S. Open, bless its diabolical and egalitarian heart, is my favorite major.
 
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