With Donald Ross as its course architect and 11-time major champion Walter Hagen as its first head professional, Oakland Hills was destined for greatness. During the past 90 years, the course has hosted eight major championships including two PGA Championships, two U.S. Senior Opens, a U.S. Amateur and the 2004 Ryder Cup.
On the doorsteps of the 90th PGA Championship, lets reflect on the courses past, one filled with some greatest moments in golf history.
1922 Western Open
Back in the 1920s, the Western Open was one of the most prestigious tournaments in golf, attracting the worlds best. For the first time in its four year history, Oakland Hills gained recognition as the host of the 1922 Western Open. Oakland Hills head professional Mike Brady won the tournament by defeating two-time major champion Jock Hutchinson by 10 strokes for one of the largest margins of victory in PGA TOUR history. Brady succeeded Hagen as the clubs head professional after he lost the 1919 U.S. Open in a playoff to Hagen. When Hagen won he opted to leave position at Oakland Hills to focus solely on competitive golf.
1924 U.S. Open
Two years after the Western Open, Oakland Hills hosted its first major championship. Englishman Cyril Walker defeated defending champion Bobby Jones by three strokes. Jones was the best golfer in the world and ultimately won 12 more major championships, including three more U.S. Opens, Walker would not win another major championship. In fact, he would only have one more top-10 finish in a major championship for the remainder of his career. This Open will be remembered primarily as one of several great finishes that Bobby Jones had in the U.S. Open from 1922 to 1930.
1937 U.S. Open
Thirteen years later, Oakland Hills hosted its second U.S. Open as 24-year-old Ralph Guldahl won his first of consecutive U.S. Opens. Guldahl is one of six golfers to successfully defend the U.S. Open championship. Since Guldahls 1938 U.S. Open victory, only Ben Hogan and Curtis Strange have won back-to-back U.S. Opens. In the 1937 U.S. Open, he defeated hard-luck Sam Snead by two shots. Guldahl played steady golf all week by shooting 71-69-72-69 for a total of 7-under-par 281. Upon winning the 1937 and 1938 U.S. Opens, Guldahl would also add the 1939 Masters to his resume.
1951 U.S. Open
During the prime of his career, Ben Hogan won the 1951 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills for his second consecutive U.S. Open victory. Hogan fired a final round of 67 for a 7-over par finish of 287. The course played its toughest after course architect Robert Trent Jones modifications. Par was also changed from 72 to 70 for the week. Hogans 67 was one of only two under-par scores shot during the entire week. Four-time Tour winner Clayton Heafner shot the other under-par score and finished two strokes behind Hogan for second place. After winning his third Open, Hogan said: I am glad I brought this course, this monster, to its knees. Hogan also viewed Oakland Hills as the greatest test of golf he had ever played. Oakland Hills still is known as The Monster.
1961 U.S. Open
Gene Littler won his only major championship at the fourth U.S. Open contested at Oakland Hills. When Littler arrived at Oakland Hills he had already won 16 Tourtitles, including the 1954 San Diego Open as an amateur. However, it was his U.S. Open victory that placed him among the games elite. In the final round, Littler shot a courageous 68 for a one-over total of 281. He defeated 20-time Tour winner Doug Sanders and 1968 Masters champion Bob Goalby by one shot. Littler would eventually win 12 more times on the PGA TOUR for a total of 29 victories.
1972 PGA Championship
Gary Player etched his name on the Wannamaker Trophy for the second time in his career during the first PGA Championship held at Oakland Hills. The tournament will always be remembered for Gary Players miraculous second shot on the par-four 16th hole, which is one of the toughest holes on the course. After bogeying the 14th and 15th holes to lose his lead to Jim Jamieson, Player sliced his tee shot into the rough. After standing on a gallery members chair to see the green, Player hit a 9 iron over water and trees. His ball landed only four feet from the hole. The unlikely birdie led to a two-stroke victory over Jamieson and 1973 Masters champion Tommy Aaron. Famous golf writer Herbert Warren Wind once called Players shot one of the most spectacular recovery shots in championship history. The victory was Players sixth major championship. It would also be Players last PGA Championship victory.
1979 PGA Championship
For the second time during the decade, Oakland Hills hosted the PGA Championship. The championship was extremely popular and drew large galleries. Australian David Graham was hoping to shoot a final-round 63 but double-bogeyed the renowned par four 18th hole. He would finish the championship with a final-round 65 for a total of 272. Ben Crenshaw eventually matched this score, forcing a playoff. Graham holed spectacular putts on the first and second holes to remain in the playoff and then won with a birdie on the third hole. At the time, Crenshaw was still searching for his first major championship and had become a star on the PGA TOUR. Graham had won various international titles before his PGA Championship victory, including three Tour events. He used his PGA Championship victory for further successes as he won his second major championship at the 1981 U.S. Open. Crenshaw eventually found his own major championship glory, however, with wins at the 1984 and 1995 Masters.
1981 U.S. Senior Open
Oakland Hills hosted the second U.S. Senior Open with 1967 British Open champion Roberto De Vicenzo as the defending champion. Arnold Palmer revenged his 1966 U.S. Open playoff loss to three-time major champion Billy Casper with an 18-hole playoff victory over Casper and Bob Stone, after all three players shot a 289, nine-over par for the week. Palmer shot an even-par 70 during the playoff to beat Stone by four shots and Casper by seven.
1985 U.S. Open
In 1985, Oakland Hills became the third course to host the U.S. Open five times. Little-known T.C. Chen held a four stoke lead during the final round of the championship, but blew it with a quadruple bogey on the fifth hole after hitting his ball twice on an approach shot for a two-stroke penalty. Andy North eventually claimed his second major championship after shooting a final round 74. He defeated three-time Tour winner Dennis Watson, Chen and two-time Tour winner Dave Barr by one shot. One of the most memorable shots of Norths round was his sand save on the difficult par-three 17th. North hit his second shot within inches of the hole to save par and win the championship. The 1985 U.S. Open was the last win of Norths Tour career.
1991 U.S. Senior Open
During the second U.S. Senior Open contested at Oakland Hills, Jack Nicklaus joined Arnold Palmer as one of only two golfers to have ever won the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open and U.S. Senior Open. Nicklaus finished regulation play at 282 and was joined by Chi-Chi Rodriguez. Nicklaus won the 18-hole playoff by shooting 65 to defeat Rodriguez by four shots. Afterwards, Nicklaus said, It was one of the best ball-striking rounds Ive played in a long time.
1996 U.S. Open
After entering the 1996 U.S. Open as a sectional qualifier, Steve Jones was not expected to contend. However, he followed an opening-round 74 with a 66 and shot a pair of 69s during the weekend to finish the tournament at 278, two-under par. Davis Love III was one of the best golfers in the world at the time and was searching for his major championship breakthrough. Playing in the second to last group, he three-putted for a costly bogey on the par-4 18th after missing a three-foot putt for par. Tom Lehman was playing in the final group with Jones and also bogeyed the 18th. Jones made par on the final hole for a one-stroke victory over Lehman and Love. After his U.S. Open victory, Jones won three more times, Lehman won the 1996 British Open and Love won the 1997 PGA Championship.
2002 U.S. Amateur
Oakland Hills hosted the 102nd U.S. Amateur as Ricky Barnes defeated Hunter Mahan 2 and 1. Barnes was low amateur at te Masters the following year, but is now competing on the Nationwide Tour. Meanwhile, Mahan won the 2007 Travelers Championship on the PGA Tour and was a captains pick for the 2007 Presidents Cup.
2004 Ryder Cup
In 2004, Oakland Hills hosted its very first Ryder Cup, which will be remembered as the largest defeat for the U.S. on home soil in the history of the competition. Europe won 18 to 9 in dominating fashion. European Colin Montgomerie holed the winning putt for Europe to maintain his record of never losing a singles matches. U.S. captain Hal Sutton was also criticized for his pairing of the top two golfers in the world, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.