Rees Jones, the course architect and “Open Doctor” who turned Torrey Pines into a major championship venue, was a little boy in 1950 during the U.S. Open at Merion. He spent most of that tournament following Ben Hogan, who returned from a horrific car accident to win the championship and grow his legend.
Fifty-eight years later, Jones was walking inside the ropes at Torrey Pines, watching Tiger Woods burnish his own place in history before announcing Wednesday that he will miss the remainder of the season due to reconstructive surgery on his injured left knee.
“This will down in history with Ben Hogan,” Jones said by phone, of Woods’s U.S. Open triumph won through gritted teeth and 91 holes. “I can’t imagine how Tiger pulled this off, knowing what he had wrong with him. Ben Hogan willed himself to victory. Tiger Woods did the same thing. That’s the telling mark of a champion.”
Jones walked with Woods’s group Saturday, Sunday and during Monday’s epic 19-hole playoff with Rocco Mediate.
“I really noticed [Woods limping] on Saturday,” Jones said. “On 15, I was right there when he winced and buckled over on the tee. He did the same thing in those bunkers we put in [on 18].”
It is, without question, a feather in the cap of the course architect who watches a legendary player win on his layout - Woods also won on Jones’s re-design of Bethpage Black in the 2002 U.S. Open – but even more so this year, considering the drama surrounding Woods’s victory. Jones’s only regret is that Woods will miss the chance to win this year’s P.G.A. Championship at Oakland Hills, which Jones re-designed in advance of the final major of the year.
“It’s a loss for Oakland Hills,” Jones said. “I just wonder who the Player of the Year is going to be. I think he still ought to win Player of the Year.”