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.
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.
U.S. Open wins: 1988 at The Country Club, 1989 at Oak Hill
Fact: First (and last) to win back-to-back Opens since Ben Hogan in 1950-’51.
The Open was a different game in our day. There was a lot of rough right off the fairways. We couldn’t hit it onto the green from there most of the time. So it was a priority to put it in the fairway and hit as many greens as you could. “No s---,” you’re thinking. But you had to play more conservatively on your second shots, and that’s easier said than done. Par used to be a good score on every hole at the Open. I don’t know if that’s still the case.
You have to take a different mentality into the Open. You have to be so much more patient. Instead of being upset that you’ve got an eight-footer for par like you would be at the Honda Classic, you’ve got to give it your best to make the putt. It’s hugely mental.
A month before the ’88 Open, at the Memorial, Hale Irwin said I was the best player in the world. I didn’t pay it any mind other than, “Thanks, Hale, that means a lot coming from you.” You’ve still got to do your job the next day. Winning that Open, over Nick Faldo in the Monday playoff, didn’t change the way I viewed myself. But for everybody else looking in, it did.
When you turn the corner and head to the Open’s last nine holes, there’s an enormous amount of pressure. Mistakes are magnified and you have to accept that. You hate to come close and not pull through because you don’t get that many opportunities.
In 1989, I was walking down Oak Hill’s tenth hole on Sunday when I got a thumbs-up sign from a golf writer. That meant I had the lead. The adrenaline rushed through my body like nothing I’d ever felt before. When I birdied the 16th, I went up by two shots and felt like I was in good shape—as long as I didn’t throw up on my shoes.
There’s a picture of me playing the bunker shot on the 72nd hole. It’s this great panoramic scene—it’s the last hole of the Open, and I look like a midget out there in the bunker surrounded by all these people. Talk about being on a stage.
In 1989, I had no idea who the last player to win back-to-back Opens was until the media brought it up when I had the second-round lead. When I won and said on camera, “Move over, Ben,” it was absolutely spontaneous. I meant it to be complimentary. I had the highest regard for Ben Hogan.
I was dumbfounded by winning at Oak Hill. I was just in the right place at the right time, which happens at the Open. Suddenly, Ben Hogan and I were two names people were talking about, which is ridiculous as far as ability and accomplishments. It’s nice that I did something that somebody else did a long time ago. The more years that pass, the more proud I am of it.
I said, “This one’s for my dad,” when I won my first open at The Country Club. That line first occurred to me at Augusta in 1985, when I had a chance to win and didn’t.
I went back to The Country Club last fall, the first time I’d been back. It’s a hell of a course. It’s hard. I didn’t remember it being that hard. What a place. It didn’t disappoint. A lot of memories came rushing back. They had some old pictures hanging in the locker room, and that was nice, too—if you can put up with those tight red pants. Geez!