Two-time U.S. Open champion Walter Hagen said, “Anyone can win one Open. It takes a hell of a player to win two.”
Here, in their own words, Lee Janzen, Andy North and Curtis Strange share what it takes to double-dip at our national championship.
U.S. Open wins: 1978 at Cherry Hills, 1985 at Oakland Hills
Fact: Only Wisconsin native to win a major; only player to win two Opens by making bogey on 72nd hole.
It’s so hard to win a U.S. Open. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been sitting with Mike Tirico or Scott Van Pelt getting ready for an ESPN SportsCenter segment and have thought, “I can’t believe I won two Opens.”
It takes a different mentality to not get frustrated by playing a stretch of holes in two or three over par.
I always loved walking into the locker room and hearing players complain about the Open setup being ridiculous. The tournaments I wanted to win were USGA events—the Junior, the Amateur, the Open. They meant something because they challenged players more than any other event. It was almost like those courses played defense. If you played great, you could shoot par.
After finishing second at the ’78 Kemper Open, I came home, got food poisoning and didn’t do much all week. I didn’t practice particularly well the next week at [U.S. Open host] Cherry Hills, but on my first approach shot in the first round with a short iron, all of a sudden my swing locked in. From there on, I played great until the 14th hole on Sunday. I was completely in control of my game. It was fun.
Before I hit a birdie putt at the 13th hole to go four or five strokes ahead, I told my caddie, Gary Crandall, “We make this one, it’s over.” Well, I did make the putt and from that point on, it was like they unplugged me. My emotional edge was gone. It was a struggle for me just to finish.
Dave Stockton and J.C. Snead missed their putts before I hit my second shot at the 18th, so I knew I had a two-stroke lead. I played a pretty good bunker shot to five feet and had that putt to win. The wind blew so hard when I set up to putt that the ball oscillated, so I stepped back. I got over the putt again, the ball oscillated, I stepped back again. On the third try, the wind stopped. It was almost like, “Okay, now it’s your turn—knock this in and get out of here.” And I did.
Bob Rosburg of ABC walked with our group, and he came onto the green to congratulate me. I said, “Thanks, Rossi, that means a lot.” He said, “Well, no, Andy, I’ve got to tell the truth. My wife had you in the pool, so she won the money, and I had an outing tomorrow that I would’ve missed if you had a playoff.”
By 1985, a lot of people had written me off because I’d struggled for a year and half after elbow surgery. Missing the cut at Westchester the week before might have been the key to winning at Oakland Hills. I went there early, practiced Sunday, and it all suddenly clicked. I had the best week of practice I ever had at a tournament. I really felt great. That’s probably how Tiger used to feel every week.
Lag putting was always a big strength of mine. With the pins tucked at Oakland Hills, I didn’t have to shoot at them. I could play a safe shot to the green, take the trouble out of play, two-putt from 40 or 50 feet, and simply move on with a par. You can do that in a U.S. Open, and sometimes, that’s all you need to do to get into a position to win.
Saturday, it was cold and rainy and after I bogeyed the first hole, I took my jacket off and decided to get wet but swing freely. I looked like a drowned rat. That 60-foot putt I made across the 16th green was hit way too hard. Somehow, it hit the hole and went in. It was the blind pig finding an acorn.
T.C. Chen had the Open completely wrapped up on Sunday. When he double-hit the chip at the fifth hole and took a one-stroke penalty, the door opened. I told my caddie, “The game’s on now.”
To be honest, if I hadn’t won those two Opens, I probably wouldn’t be doing TV work today. Winning those set me up for the rest of my life.