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Lee Janzen and Payne Stewart at the Olympic Club in 1998.
USGA/J.D. Cuban
Lee Janzen and Payne Stewart at the Olympic Club in 1998.

Lee Janzen

Age: 49

U.S. Open wins: 1993 at Baltusrol; 1998 at The Olympic Club

Fact: In 1998, Janzen came from seven shots back in the final round to win; Payne Stewart finished second in both of Janzen’s Open wins.

Baltusrol made me an honorary member last fall, 20 years after my win, which was a big thrill. All the members wanted to talk to me about was the tenth hole. I had pushed my drive into the right rough there in the final round and had a big oak tree in my way. I tried to go over it, but I hit my 5-iron thin. The ball went right through the tree and onto the green without touching a thing. The members think I got lucky. So when they discussed how they should update their course, I told them they should make No. 10 a dogleg left and take out all those trees. They said, “You just don’t want anybody talking about that tree again.”

When I chipped in on 16, I made a beeline for the 17th tee. I didn’t want to look at Payne [Stewart] because he was a friend, but he came over, swatted me on the butt and said, “Hey, nice shot.”

On the 18th green after I won, he put his arm around me, had a big smile on his face and said, “Oh, this is going to change your life, you’re going to love it—great playing.” It was like he was my best friend and he was genuinely happy for me, which was amazing because there had to be some heartbreak for him.

People said I played out of turn on that chip-in because I wasn’t away, but Payne told me to go ahead. When I won the Players Championship two years later, we were paired again in the last round. I was in the front bunker on 17 and he was on the back of the green. He was actually away, and as we walked onto the green I said, “You want me to go?” Payne said, “No-ooo! You’re not going!” He putted down there for a tap-in par; then I hit my bunker shot close for a tap-in par. Payne hadn’t forgotten Baltusrol. The first time I remember being recognized somewhere other than a golf course was Tuesday night at a Yankees game before I won the ’93 Open at Baltusrol. I was getting a hot dog and a guy said, “Hey, aren’t you Lee Janzen the golfer?” When I won the Open later that week, I had no idea the attention would be so overwhelming. I didn’t know how to deal with it.

I ranked first or second in fairways that week at Olympic, but I couldn’t hit the one at the fifth hole, where my ball got stuck in a tree. If I missed a dozen fairways all week, three were on that hole. Luckily, my ball dropped out as I was heading back to the tee and I walked away with a par. If my ball stays in that tree, I’m looking at double or triple bogey and my tournament is probably over.

A big part of winning an Open is being in the right place at the right time. Play was slow in the last round at Olympic, and I had time to walk over to the side of the 12th green and watch the guys ahead of me hit at the par-3 13th. Their shots landed hard and ran into the rough. I hit my shot to eight feet and made birdie. If I hadn’t been standing there and watching, I wouldn’t have known to hit short of that pin.

I had found a rhythm and a groove on that last day, so I refused to look at a leaderboard. I was hitting every shot just the way I wanted and I didn’t want anything to change that. I sensed I was getting closer to the lead by the gallery. But when I walked off the 17th tee, some guy yelled, “Good luck in the playoff tomorrow!” I thought, “Ohhh, great.” [Stewart had a long putt on 18 to force a playoff, but he missed.]

Payne Stewart’s friends used to razz me pretty good. They’d say, “If only your dad had been a Catholic priest, Payne would have won four U.S. Opens.” That was pretty funny.

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