Tom Kite won the 1992 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach the hard way

Tom Kite, June 2010
Tim Mantoani
Kite, 60, has seven wins on the Champions Tour.

You shot one of the better even-par 72s in history. For those who weren't at the 1992 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, just how bad was the weather that final day?
You talk to the players, and almost to a man they consider it one of the most difficult days they ever played golf, especially for those of us who went off late. The day got progressively worse. The course was set up benignly early in the week and there were some low scores, so the USGA decided to dry it out, and Sunday became a tough, tough day.

With the wind howling the way it was, what did you hit on No. 7, the little 100-yard par-3 on the ocean?
I hit a 6-iron. Everybody was trying to find a club you could hit to keep it under the wind and fly 105 yards or whatever it was, but with an elevated tee that was tough to do. They tell me only one person out of the last 30 players hit the green in regulation. That's one guy in the last 15 groups able to hit a green barely 100 yards away.

You missed the green long and left, and you've called your next shot, a lob wedge that went in the hole, the best shot of your career. Can you describe it?
I think a lot of people missed it over there. The ocean's to the right, and if you were to hit land right of the green you'd be playing your second shot straight downwind. The lob wedge is really the club that won that tournament for me. As most people who follow my career and the game know, I was the first one ever to use the L-wedge. I put it in the bag in 1980, long before anyone had ever tried it. That's when I started becoming a good player. And never was it more important than that day; I think I used that L-wedge nine times in the final round. Pebble has by far the smallest greens in major competition, and in conditions like that with that much wind, with the greens that hard, you're just not going to hit that many greens in regulation.

Out of those nine times, how many times do you think you got up and down?
I did on five, holed out on seven and got up-and-down on eight, nine, 10 and 14. I made a great bogey on nine, and an awesome birdie at 12 when everybody was making bogeys and double-bogeys on that hole. From five through 14, where I made my last birdie, was some pretty awesome golf, maybe the best I've ever played.

There's a story that Jack Nicklaus congratulated Colin Montgomerie on winning his first major after Monty had come in early with a 70 for an even-par total. Is that true, and did you ever talk to them about it?
It is true. I didn't talk to Colin, but I talked to Jack about it. He was doing the announcing, he was going to the TV booth to announce for ABC, and he saw Colin just as Colin finished and congratulated him on the win. Of course [Montgomerie] didn't even finish second. Jack was a better player than he was a prognosticator.

Pebble hosted two Tour events that year. You remember who won the other one?
I don't, but if I had to guess I'd say Mark O'Meara.

Correct. Could you have imagined a guy would win an Open there by 15 shots, as Tiger Woods did in 2000?
No, but if you watch the telecast, early in the first round, Johnny Miller said he thought Tiger was swinging the best he'd ever swung, and he was really in control, and Johnny made the prediction that this could be a runaway. It turned out to be true. You wouldn't think that kind of margin would be possible at any tournament.

Tom Watson called Tiger's 2000 U.S. Open victory at Pebble the most astounding tournament result in the game. Do you agree?
It was great golf, but I don't know if I'd call it the single greatest achievement. That's probably a bit of a stretch. Is it better than Francis Ouimet beating Ted Ray and Harry Vardon? Is it better than Jack Nicklaus winning the Masters at 46? I don't know.

 

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