The fairways ' narrow as the lanes of a bowling alley; check!
Elevation ' Lots of hills and valleys; check!
Condition of the course ' hard as granite; check!
Were either talking about the course at Westchester Country Club - or a U.S. Open course. Choose one and youre choosing the other. Almost all the Open courses are carbon copies of Westchester ' or vice versa, if you will. Westchester is either an excellent tune-up for the Open, as is the case this year; or the Open is a very good tune-up for Westchester, which happens when the two are flip-flopped.
Three times during the decade of the 90s, a player won both the U.S. Open and then the Buick Classic ' the name of the Westchester tournament. In 1990, Hale Irwin won the Open and then the Buick the following week. Lee Janzen pulled the trick in 93 and 94, winning the U.S. Open in 1993 and then Westchester in 94. And Ernie Els did it in 1997, winning both the Open and the Buick Classic. Els, in fact, finished second to Janzen in 94.
Irwin won the U.S. Open in a playoff with Mike Donald after holing a 60-foot putt of the 18th green in regulation in 90. Janzen won the Open at Baltrusol in 93 after a grueling final-day duel with Payne Stewart, then nabbed the 94 Westchester after a fourth-round duel with Els in which Janzen fired a 66 and Els a 68.
And in 97, Els won the U.S. Open, then the next week took Westchester. It was a successful defense for the South African, who had won the Buick for the first time the year before, in 96.
Incidentally, Irwin, Janzen and Els won U.S. Opens multiple times, but the U.S. Open was the only major that they won. Irwin claimed the Open championship three times, while Janzen and Els have won it twice.
Janzen and Els share the scoring record of 16-under-268 at Westchester along with Sergio Garcia, who won last year. In 97, Els became only the fourth player in history to win a tournament the week after the U.S. Open, following Irwin in 90, Billy Casper in 66 and Ralph Guldahl way back in 1938.
Janzen and Els hooked up in a thrilling duel in 1994, the week before Els won the U.S. Open. Another coincidence ' Janzen had nearly won at Westchester in 93 the week preceding his Open victory, tied for the lead after three rounds before shooting a 72 on Sunday and finishing in a tie for third. But in 94, it was all Janzen and Els in the final round.
The two were tied after Els birdied the second hole, and the battle was on. Janzen then birdied No. 3 to ease back in front, but Els took the lead after birdies on Nos. 5 and 6.
Janzen birdie the seventh with a beautiful wedge to two feet, but Els answered him with a 7-iron at the next hole to four feet. Advantage Els by a stroke. Then Janzen birdied the par-5 ninth and they were tied again at the midway point of the round.
Back and forth they continued, playing a string of exceptional golf holes ' until Els bogey at the par-3 16th. Janzen birdied that hole to make it a two-stroke advantage, and a birdie by Lee at the finale gave him a three-stroke win.
Els came back to win in 96 and 97, however, sandwiched around his U.S. Open win in 97. In 1997, he tangled with Jeff Maggert in a memorable duel.
Actually, it looked like an Els runaway deep into the third round. Els was leading Maggert by eight shots after his birdies at the 10th, 11th and 12th holes. However, Els would bogey two holes coming in while Maggert birdied three of his last five, and only three shots separated the pair as Round 4 began.
Maggert got to within a single stroke of Els after the fourth hole. Then came a suspension of play while a lightening storm passed over, and when it was finally through the area, Maggert couldnt regain his touch.
I just didnt hit enough shots close to the hole, said Maggert. It seemed coming down the stretch I was putting from 20 or 25 feet. I really needed to start flagging the ball close and give myself a lot of putts inside 10 feet, but it never happened.
Following the victory, Els was atop the World Rankings for a brief period, supplanting Tiger Woods. Of course, today Woods has a firm grasp on the No. 1 spot. But Els is always dangerous at the U.S. Open ' and at its cousin, Westchester Country Club.