My Best Shot: SI's photographers describe their favorite U.S. Open photos
Sports Illustrated has photographed the U.S. Open ever since the magazine debuted in 1954. The editors asked SI photographers past and present to pick their favorite shot from the Open and describe why the picture is meaningful. Here are their selections and stories.
I shot the Sunday action from Snoopy, a.k.a. the MetLife blimp. After Tiger made the putt on 18, I could hear the roar of the crowd, even with the engine noise. The NBC guy on board asked if I got the shot, and I said yes. I reassured myself by looking at the sequence on the LCD of my Nikon D3 until we landed at Brown Field. As I was shooting, I could see Tiger’s caddie, Steve Williams, running toward Tiger with his arms raised. It reminded me of high school when I got into trouble for running on the green during jayvee golf.
My 14-year-old son, Robert Jr., had graduated from middle school that Friday and was running cards for us. I was the last of SI’s photographers to get to the 18th green, and I was down low with my Nikon 400 f/2.8, fairly far away from the pin but with an unobstructed view and a clean background. My son was dutifully back by the ropes. I called him over to my side for a better view. I said something like, “This is it.” Tiger putted to a hushed crowd. I watched his eyes through my lens and listened as the crowd willed the ball toward the jar. When the ball dipped into the hole, I let the trigger ride. The crowd was beyond loud. Tiger was beyond Tiger. When it was over, I knew I had the shot we work and wait for. I looked at my son and said, “How was that?” The look in his eyes said it all.
Looking back roughly 48 years is not easy, but in this case my memories are quite clear. In those days they played 36 holes on Saturday and that particular Saturday was exceptionally hot and humid. Players and spectators alike were struggling with the intense heat, but none more so than Ken Venturi. I can still see him walking the final nine holes of the second 18, a lone figure moving ever so slowly down the fairways.
He seemed to be suffering from some form of heat exhaustion, placing cold towels on his face, drinking liquids and taking pills. The thought running through my mind, and I’m sure many others’, was Can he make it to the 18th green before he collapses? I had been following him, taking pictures the entire time.
When Venturi finally did make it to 18, I scrambled for the best camera position. Unfortunately, I ended up with a view of his back when he sank the winning putt, but as the ball dropped into the cup he turned 180 degrees. Now he was facing directly toward me with arms raised in triumph and a look of joy and relief on his face.
Generally speaking, photographers favor pictures that are the hardest to get. This picture of Tiger Woods hitting an approach shot was one of those. Everything about getting this picture was difficult. It was taken in a driving rainstorm. There were throngs of media inside the ropes. We were still using film back then, and that meant opening the camera to reload. Keeping the camera dry enough to keep operating was a huge task. I believe the picture captured Woods and the feel of that miserable day, from the splash created by his shot, to the rain coming down, to the umbrellas lining the green in the background. And the picture is simple—that is, nothing distracts your eye away from what I was trying to show.
On Sunday evening I settled in at the 18th green waiting for the final pairing of Kenneth Ferrie and Phil Mickelson. Those of us around the green heard history unfold through whispered details from TV and radio personnel. By the time Mickelson made it to the green a silent disbelief had overtaken the gallery. Mickelson squatted like a catcher and squinted into the light as Ferrie finished. I kept my camera focused on Mickelson. When he finally reacted, he brought his hands to the top of his head—but for just a split second. It was as if he reconsidered doing it the moment he gently touched his fingers to his cap. I fired my camera, cringing at the thought of Ferrie hunched over his putt.
I didn’t play golf or truly know the game when the Open came to my home state, New Jersey, but I could recognize an athlete with supernatural appeal—Arnie. Palmer had his army. Every shot was a drama. He was their conductor, and they were his orchestra. They had their periscopes; he had their hearts.
At the start of the final round the winner lurked in the final six groups. I was out wandering aimlessly, looking for a shot that would sum up the day. Finally, on the 9th hole, behind the tee box, I found my spot. I pulled out a new gadget, a silent camera. Corey Pavin’s caddie, Eric Schwarz, scowled at me as I aimed my secret weapon. No worries. From close quarters I noiselessly captured Pavin at the top, with the splendid Stanford White clubhouse in the background.
When grown men meet their boyhood heroes, they are often disappointed. When your boyhood hero is Arnold Palmer, you don’t have that problem. I had worked with Arnold many times before the ’94 Open, his last, and always found him to be courteous, friendly and more generous—professionally and personally—than I could’ve imagined.
In my one and only visit to Olympic I was struck by its rugged natural beauty, rolling hills and high canopy of trees. While lovely, the manicured artifice of Augusta National pales in comparison.
The dramatic vista from the clubhouse, high above the 18th green, perfectly captures the San Francisco environment
It seemed as if every golf fan in the world was charging up to the 18th green with Curtis Strange, but thanks to growing up in New York City, I know how to wiggle through large crowds. The editors captioned the picture king of the hill. I couldn’t have said it better.