USGA's commemorative to the U.S. Open will entertain any golf fan

Thursday May 23rd, 2013
Great Moments of the U.S. Open

You’ve seen the moment a hundred times if you’ve seen it once. Tiger Woods, in his traditional Sunday red shirt and black slacks, bends at the knees, leans back, raises both arms in triumph and howls. He has just holed the big putt on the final green at Torrey Pines to force a playoff in the 2008 U.S. Open.

The scene is golf’s replay du jour this time of year, but the cover of a new book, Great Moments of the U.S. Open ($35), presents a stunningly different look. This one is a panoramic view from right of the 18th green, shot by John Mummert, from behind several rows of fans who have their arms raised in excitement. Woods and caddie Steve Williams are somewhat smallish figures on the green, but Tiger’s pose is unmistakable. The two are surrounded by thousands of fans around the edges and in the stands. In fact, the panoramic extends to the book’s back cover to provide an almost 360-degree sweep. It’s a remarkable photograph and would be even more amazing if only someone hadn’t decided to drop five slides of past Opens in the middle of the back page -- winners such as Tom Watson, Gene Sarazen, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Payne Stewart and, what the heck, a close-up frontal view of Woods at the same moment as above.

Well, the front cover is suitable for framing on its own. If that shot doesn’t get you excited enough to page through a book produced by the United States Golf Association on its own championship, then you don’t like golf. The photographs are, as the cliché goes, priceless.

You will be tempted to remove some of the 10-by-10 photos from the hardcover binding and showcase them. And why not? These are famous shots, some of them even iconic. Like a black-and-white of a young Palmer flinging his visor (it was red, by the way) after capping his amazing comeback at Cherry Hills in 1960. That photo curiously appears twice in the book, freeing up one for use on your office wall.

Or the shot of Jack Fleck studying the front page of the San Francisco Examiner and its headline: “Fleck wins; Big Ben Retires.”  Or a black-and-white of four-time Open runner-up Sam Snead, on one knee and with half his face brushing against the grass as he tries to line up a putt with an evil-eye look we associate these days with Keegan Bradley. Even a painting of Olin Dutra in an advertisement for Beech-Nut chewing gum passes for art.

There is a young Palmer firmly and graciously shaking the hand of an even younger Nicklaus as they came off the last green at Oakmont in 1962, Nicklaus having defeated local favorite Palmer in a memorable 18-hole playoff that signaled a new era in golf. Another shows 2011 champ Rory McIlroy teeing off at Congressional’s par-3 10th, ringed by thousands of spectators. One shot (shown at right) makes diminutive Gene Sarazen look almost jockey-like as he rides the shoulders of few exuberant fans at Skokie Country Club in Illinois in 1922, holding the Open trophy in one hand and an American flag in the other as he’s surrounded by crowd of straw-hatted revelers.

Great Moments of the U.S. Open comes with words too. I like that in a book. There is no fancy writing here. It gets a bit dry at times, but generally, the stories of the men who won and lost Opens are fancy enough. What’s interesting about the Open’s history is the people. These are their tales, told again in many cases, yet chock-full of forgotten nuggets. For instance:

Johnny Goodman, the last amateur to win the Open, in 1933, grew up near the slaughterhouses of south Omaha, the fifth of 13 children of Lithuanian immigrants. A relative unknown, he had knocked off Bobby Jones en route to winning the 1929 U.S. Amateur, and after Goodman won the Open, a relieved Jones wrote, “Now people will quit asking me how Goodman beat me at Pebble Beach.” Another Amateur win in ’37 earned Goodman a 1938 Time magazine cover titled, “The King of Swing.”

Ben Hogan’s famous one-iron shot to the 18th green at Merion in the 1950 Open, a pose immortalized by photographer Hy Peskin, is unforgettable. Not so the prologue. Hogan had to play on without that club in the following day’s 18-hole playoff. It was among several items stolen from his locker that night. The club turned up in a golf collector’s shop in 1982 and was sent to Hogan for his perusal. He confirmed it was his one-iron and promptly sent it on to the USGA Museum.

What Johnny Miller remembers about his 1973 Open win isn’t just his record-setting final-round 63. He played the first two rounds with Palmer at Oakmont. “Everybody was following him,” Miller said. “To be paired together and both play well -- that’s what I remember.”

The 1980 Open, won by a resurgent Nicklaus, went on without Masters champion Seve Ballesteros, who missed his second-round tee time and was disqualified. Ballesteros thought he was off at 10:45, not 9:45, and by the time the error was discovered, he couldn’t fight his way through New Jersey traffic to reach Baltusrol in time.

When Ken Venturi survived Congressional’s heat to win the 1964 Open, it was playing companion Raymond Floyd who graciously picked the ball out of the cup on the 72nd hole and, with tears in his eyes, handed it to the drained Venturi.

Snead never won an Open, and he lost on his first try in 1937 due to an odd bounce. He was in the clubhouse at 281 and receiving congratulations. However, Ralph Guldahl made a charge on the closing holes at Oakland Hills. Guldahl’s approach shot at the 15th hole was headed for thick rough when it conked a spectator in the head and caromed into a greenside bunker and a much easier lie. Guldahl got up and down for a crucial par. The conked fan later apologized to Snead for costing him the title.

Willie Anderson, a transplanted Scot, won four Opens from 1901 through 1905. He might have won even more, but he died in 1910 at 31, apparently from an epileptic fit, shortly after complaining of bad headaches after playing three 36-hole matches in Philadelphia.

Some tales will be familiar to long-time golf observers. But the book presents a nice highlight package of Open lore. Four pages of assorted records and statistics in the back should appeal to serious fans. One nice chart is the progression of the 72-hole Open scoring record as it was set and reset en route to the current mark, McIlroy’s 268 total in 2011.

Great Moments of the U.S. Open has enough stirring pictures to entertain a casual golf fan and enough Open lore to interest a serious golf fan. It’s a nice souvenir from the U.S. Open. All 112 of them.

(Photo: Courtesy of the USGA)

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