A tale of two Opens

By Martin DavisJune 10, 2012, 4:29 am

The story of golf at Olympic is a tale of two Opens – two of the very best U.S. Opens ever played.

In 1955 Ben Hogan, with 53 Tour wins, was still the major force in the game and  Olympic’s Lakeside Course appeared to be an ideal fit for his game as it required shaping shots on virtually every hole, Hogan’s forte as the game’s ultimate shotmaker.  But despite his age – Hogan was almost 43 – and the aftereffects of a horrific head-long crash with a bus in 1949 – Hogan was still the finest, most feared player in the game.  His ability to analyze a course, determine how to attack it and then practice the shots required was legendary.

This combination of swing mechanics and cerebral approach produced an incredible record, the best ever for a professional to this point. 

Consider since 1940 Hogan never finished out of the top 10 in the 11 U.S. Opens he played, winning five – including the “unofficial” war-time Open in 1942 which Hogan and his partisans considered his fifth Open win.  Without doubt, in the years after World War II, he won two Masters, two PGAs, one British Open and four “official” U.S. Opens.  And all this despite serving in the Army Air Corps during WWII and later being severely injured in the car wreck.

At 6,700 yards, the par-70 Lakeside Course (as the Lake Course was then widely referred to) was toughened up by Robert Trent Jones for the Open, much as he had done at Oakland Hills for the 1951 event.  Quite simply, San Francisco’s Open course was a brute, replete with copious quantities of 60- to 100-foot eucalyptus, pine and cypress trees lining the fairways of the course that Jones had lengthened by some 300 yards.   The considerable rough of perennial ryegrass grew to 8 inches in spots and proved more demanding than anyone realized.  And, to top it off, the rough was allowed to grow to the edges of the greens, thus making recovery shots problematic and the greens appear unusually small from the narrow fairways. 

But this tough, supremely demanding U.S. Open setup was right in Hogan’s wheelhouse, as it required – no, demanded  – hitting fairways and greens time and time and time again. 

Through the first two rounds, Hogan stayed around the lead, finally assuming control after 54 holes at 217, 7 over par.  It was a wonderful leaderboard, with Sam Snead and his mellifluous swing one stroke behind and Tommy Bolt and his terrible temper two strokes behind.  Then there was Jack Fleck, a little-known municipal course pro from Davenport, Iowa, three behind the leader at 220.

With an even-par 35 by Hogan on the first nine of the final round, it looked like a triumphant processional as he marched home in metronomic, Hogan-like fashion and an even-par round.  TV commentator Gene Sarazen, the first man to win the career Grand Slam as a professional, pronounced Hogan the winner of the Open as NBC went off the air with a few still out on the course.

As Hogan finished up on 18, word reached Fleck on the 14th hole that all he needed was one birdie and three pars to tie Hogan. 

Fleck quickly bogeyed 14. 

Now he needed two birdies and two pars to tie, a tall order over this tough course. 

Making a bird on 15, he still had hope. 

Parring 16 and 17, he still needed a birdie on the home hole to force a playoff. 

With a good drive on the short par-4 final hole to the uphill green, Fleck hit a knockdown 7-iron to 8 feet and canned the birdie putt to tie Hogan.  Playoff.

No one gave Fleck a dime’s chance to defeat Hogan.

As Bobby Jones feared, anything could happen in an 18-hole match.  And so it did.

In the Sunday playoff, Hogan fell three behind after 10 holes.  Playing steady, consistent golf, he was one behind upon reaching the 18th tee, but slipped on his tee shot.  The result: a ball in the deep left rough.  Fleck split the fairway, then hit a high 7-iron from 130 yards to 8 feet right of the hole. Hogan, mired in the deep rough, took five strokes to reach the green, making a 30-foot putt for a double-bogey 6 and a 72.  Fleck made his par and a 69, only the fourth below-par round in the entire championship.

On the strength of a hot putter, accurate driving and superb iron play, Jack Fleck had defeated the mighty Ben Hogan.

Billy Casper and Arnold Palmer

Similarly, the 1966 Open at Olympic proved equally as thrilling as 1955. 

Arnold Palmer, then at the height of his powers, came to the Lake Course seeking the big one he wanted above all else – a second national championship – so as to reestablish his dominance in the game, especially over the young upstart Jack Nicklaus.

With 47 PGA Tour wins since he had turned pro in 1955, including seven majors – four Masters, two British Opens and one U.S. Open – Palmer wanted this one badly to assuage his playoff defeats in the 1962 Open at Oakmont to Nicklaus and in the 1963 Open to Julius Boros at The Country Club.  In less than five years Nicklaus had established himself as Palmer’s chief rival, winning five majors and 21 Tour events, including a playoff win over Palmer in the 1962 Open for his first win as a professional.

As the Open neared, Palmer made an adjustment in his swing, changing from his lifelong right-to-left draw off the tee to a slight fade to meet the predominant left-to-right requirement of the Lake Course. 

Palmer went out on Thursday with a loose 38 on the first nine and came back in 33, good for a 71, four behind the first-round leader.  On Friday, Palmer shot 32-34–66 on the strength of five birdies and one bogey.  Billy Casper, recently slimmed down on a somewhat exotic diet of buffalo and bear meat and still one of the game’s best putters, shot a 1-under 69 in the first round and a 2-under 68 in the second to fall into a tie with Palmer. Playing together on Saturday, Palmer shot an even-par 70 as Casper fell behind by three with a 73.

Still the low two finishers through three rounds, Palmer and Casper were paired in the final tilt.  And what pyrotechnics they produced.

With a 32 on the front – six below his first nine in the opening round – Palmer was seven up on Casper, in second place and nine up on his young rival Nicklaus.  Seven strokes up with nine to play, Palmer thought he had the Open won and decided to go after Hogan’s 1948 Open scoring record of 276.  Besides, all he had to do was shoot a 1 over par of 36 on the final nine.  Simple, or so it seemed.

Palmer bogeyed the 10th as Casper parred. He came back to even par on the back with a birdie on the 12th, but Casper birdied as well.  Now six up on Casper with six to play, Palmer still had Hogan’s record in sight.  With a bogey-4 on the par-3 13th to Casper’s par, Palmer felt he was still safe and merely needed to par in to tie Hogan’s record. 

Both made par at the 14th.  From Palmer’s perspective, so far so good.

The 15th proved pivotal, as Palmer hit into the front bunker going for the pin on the 150-yard par 3, making 4 as Casper made birdie to cut Palmer’s lead to three with three to play.

Palmer woke up and decided to forget about the Hogan record and play what was essentially match play against Casper.

On the 16th, a big sweeping right-to-left par 5 then played at a whopping 604 yards, Palmer decided to go back to his original draw swing to follow the direction of the fairway. With a mighty Palmer-esque swing at his tee shot, his drive, rather than move gently from right to left, became a quick duck hook ending in the deep left rough.  A 3-iron sent the ball running across the fairway into even deeper rough on the right.  Now some 300 yards from the green, all Palmer could do was to wedge it back to the fairway.  From there he hit a mighty 3-wood into the front greenside bunker.  Although he was fortunate to make a bogey, Casper, continuing his superlative putting, birdied.

Palmer’s seemingly insurmountable lead of seven strokes on the 10th hole was now only one with two to play. 

Hooking his drive off the 17th, the toughest hole on the course, Palmer once again bogeyed as Casper parred.  

Incredibly, Casper had made up seven strokes in eight holes to tie Palmer.  Both parred the 18th, but Palmer had to make a difficult 6-footer for his par, as Casper two-putted for his.

Lost in all the talk of Palmer’s historic collapse was Casper’s superlative play over the back nine as he shot 32, never missing a fairway and missing only one green in regulation, the 17th.  But it was his putting that stood out in stark relief, as he took only 117 putts over the four rounds – an amazing 27 putts under a “regulation” two putts per hole – and never three-putted over the fast, subtly undulating Olympic greens.

The 18-hole playoff mirrored the fourth round as Palmer jumped to a two-stroke lead over the first nine holes.  On the 11th, Casper pulled even as he birdied and Palmer bogeyed.  Casper picked up another stroke on the par-3 13th with a 50-foot birdie putt and one more on 14 to take the lead for the first time as Palmer bogeyed.  Casper expanded his lead with a par on 15 as Palmer bogeyed.  Casper played the next three holes in 1 over par as Palmer played them in 2 over.  Casper won his second Open by four as he shot a 1-under-par 69 to Pamer’s 3-over 73.

Meanwhile, Ben Hogan – a special invitee to the 1966 Open – finished in 12th place.  He was 54 years old.  And the young Jack Nicklaus, on 291, finished third. 

In retrospect, for Jack Fleck and and Billy Casper it was the best of times as they won the biggest prize in the game.

But ultimately, for Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer it was the worst of times as they lost the one they wanted most, our national championship.

(With apologies to Charles Dickens)

Martin Davis is Golf Channel’s historian and the author or editor of some 25 books on golf.


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Watch: Na punctuates caddie tiff with hole-out

Microphones captured a fascinating and testy exchange between Kevin Na and his caddie, Kenny Harms, on Na's final hole, No. 9.

Na was in the right rough, 185 yards from the green, which was guarded by water. He vacillated between a hybrid and an iron, but with either club he would have to hit "a 40-yard cut," as Harms termed it.

"Over the green's dead," Harms warned.

"It's not gonna go over the green, Kenny," Na replied.

Na finally settled on an iron and said to Harms, "As long as you're OK with this club."

"I'm not," harms replied. "I'm not OK with either one of them."

"I'm going with this," Na ended the discussion.

He missed the green with his approach shot, but avoided the water. After taking a free drop away from some TV cables, he had 92 feet 3 inches to the cup and of course, holed the pitch shot for a birdie-3, a 62 and a one-shot lead at the end of the first round.

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Na (62) leads Hoffman by one at Colonial

By Nick MentaMay 24, 2018, 10:38 pm

Kevin Na leads the Fort Worth Invitational by one over Charley Hoffman following a first-round 8-under 62. Here's where things stand through 18 holes at Colonial.

Leaderboard: Na (-8), Hoffman (-7), Emiliano Grillo (-6), Jhonattan Vegas (-6), Andrew Putnam (-6), Beau Hossler (-6)

What it means: The veteran Na is in search of just his second PGA Tour victory in 367 events played. The 34-year-old's lone victory came at the 2011 Shriners to go along with nine runner-ups, the most recent of which was a tie for second at this year's Genesis Open. Na missed three straight cuts in April but has rallied back with a weekend stay at The Players and a T-6 at last week's Byron Nelson. Ranked 75th in the world, he is not currently qualified for the U.S. Open or the Open Championship. 

Round of the day: Na turned in a clean card Thursday with six birdies and an eagle at the par-5 first, his 10th hole of the day. He closed with a chip-in birdie at No. 9 following a friendly disagreement with his caddie (more on that below). 

Best of the rest: Hoffman was likewise bogey-free, drawing seven circles. The four-time Tour winner and typically steady performer has yet to register a top-10 finish this season.

Biggest disappointment: Not that a round of 1 under is tragically disappointing, but Jordan Spieth has a pretty solid history of going low at this event and contending for the title. He's seven back through Round 1.

Shot of the day: Satoshi Kodaira recorded the second albatross in tournament history when he holed a 3-iron from 234 yards at the first.

Honorable mention: Na got into a pretty good back-and-forth with his caddie about whether to lay up or try to clear the water from the right rough at No. 9. Na went for it, avoided hazard, and holed this chip for birdie. 

Quote of the day: "I told you." - Na, after his chip-in

Golf Channel's NCAA Golf Coverage Continues Mon-Wed., May 28-30 With the NCAA Men's Golf Championships

By Golf Channel Public RelationsMay 24, 2018, 10:24 pm

Two National Championships to be Decided Over a Three-Day Span – Individual (Mon., May 28) and Team (Wed., May 30)

 Eight of the Top-10 Ranked Programs in the Country Set to Compete; Reigning NCAA Men’s National Champions Oklahoma and Current Top-Ranked Oklahoma State Paired Together Starting Friday

 Buick and Stifel Co-Presenting Sponsors of Golf Channel’s Coverage of the NCAA Women’s and Men’s Golf Championships

ORLANDO, Fla., May 24, 2018 – Coming on the heels of Wednesday’s dramatic championship match where Arizona defeated Alabama in a playoff to claim their third women’s golf team national championship, Golf Channel returns to Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla. next week for the 2018 NCAA Division I Men’s Golf National Championships. Taking place Monday-Wednesday, May 28-30, Golf Channel’s coverage will feature nearly 30 hours of live tournament and on-site wraparound news coverage, showcasing the top men’s college golf programs in the country.

NCAA Men’s Golf Championships Coverage: Coverage begins on Monday, May 28 to crown the individual national champion and to track the teams attempting to qualify for the eight-team match play championship. Golf Channel’s coverage on Tuesday and Wednesday, May 29-30 will include all three rounds of the team match play, ultimately crowning a team national champion.

In addition, Golf Central will surround live tournament action with pre-and post-event news coverage produced on-site at Karsten Creek Golf Club, as well as daily news updates on Morning Drive and online via Golf Channel Digital. News and tournament coverage also will be live streamed on Golf Channel Digital. College Central, Golf Channel’s online home for college golf, will provide comprehensive editorial coverage throughout the championships.

Golf Channel NCAA Men’s Golf Championships Coverage (all times ET)

Monday, May   28

Individual   National Championship

4-8 p.m.   (Live)

Tuesday, May   29

Quarterfinals,   Team Match Play

11   a.m.-1:30 p.m. (Live)

Tuesday,   May 29

Semifinals,   Team Match Play

4-8 p.m.   (Live)

Wednesday, May   30

Team Match   Play National Championship

4-8 p.m.   (Live)

Stifel and Buick Sign on as Co-Presenting Sponsors for Golf Channel’s NCAA Golf Championships Tournament Coverage: New for 2018, Stifel Financial Corp. and Buick have signed on as co-presenting sponsors for Golf Channel’s tournament coverage of the 2018 NCAA Women’s and Men’s Golf Championships. In addition, Stifel has extended its partnership with the Fred Haskins Commission, Golf Channel and Golfweek as presenting sponsor of the Fred Haskins Award, given annually to nation’s outstanding male collegiate golfer.Golf Channel will announce the Fred Haskins Award presented by Stifel following the conclusion of the NCAA Men’s Golf Championships, on a live edition of Golf Central, Wednesday, June 6 at 6 p.m. ET. The show will include profiles on the top candidates for the award and a live interview with the winner, who also will receive an exemption to compete in the 2018 Greenbrier Classic on the PGA TOUR. The Haskins Award honors the nation’s most outstanding male Division I collegiate golfer as selected by his peers, coaches and the golf media.

Semifinal Teams in Match Play to Receive Invitations to Compete in East Lake Cup: The East Lake Cup, taking place in late October at historic East Lake Golf Club, will feature the top-performing teams from the 2018 NCAA Women’s and Men’s Golf Championships. Invitations for the field have been extended to Arizona, Alabama, Southern California and Stanford – semifinalists in the NCAA Women’s Golf Championships, and also will be extended to the semifinalists in the Men’s Championships. Modeled after the NCAA Golf Championships, the format for the East Lake Cup consists of an opening round of stroke play to crown an individual male and female champion and determine seeding for the following two days of match play competition. Golf Channel will air live coverage of the East Lake Cup Monday-Wednesday, Oct. 29-31.

College Central – Golf Channel Digital Coverage: Golf Channel will provide comprehensive coverage via College Central,Golf Channel Digital’s home for college golf. Led by Jay Coffin, and Ryan Lavner, College Central will be the source for all things college golf, including tournament results and scores, features and columns, video highlights and breaking news.

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Country singer Owen shoots 86 in Web.com debut

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 7:51 pm

Country music star Jake Owen struggled in his Web.com Tour debut, shooting a 14-over 86 in the opening round of the Nashville Golf Open.

Owen, who played as a 1 handicap earlier this year while teaming with Jordan Spieth at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, put three balls out of bounds over his first nine holes, including two en route to a quadruple-bogey 9 on the par-5 18th hole. After making the turn in 46, Owen came home in 40 without making a single birdie.

Owen is playing as an amateur on an unrestricted sponsor exemption, the same type used by NBA superstar Steph Curry on the Web.com Tour last year and by former NFL quarterback Tony Romo this year on the PGA Tour. Curry missed the cut after rounds of 74-74 at the Ellie Mae Classic, while Romo shot 77-82 at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship.

Full-field scores from the Nashville Golf Open

Owen tallied nine pars, six bogeys, two doubles and a quad in his opener and was the only player from the morning wave who failed to break 80. The closest player to him in the standings was two-time major champ Angel Cabrera, who opened with a 79.

While Owen struggled against a field full of professionals, he took the setback in stride and even took to Twitter in the middle of his round to fire back at some of his online critics: