(AP) — If great golf courses are defined by its major champions, then it’s easy to understand why the membership at Oakmont Country Club was so thrilled to see Angel Cabrera in a green jacket.
No other championship course in America can boast such a long and distinguished list of major champions.
Gene Sarazen. Sam Snead. Ben Hogan. Jack Nicklaus. Johnny Miller. Ernie Els.
Not many people knew much about Cabrera when he won the U.S. Open at Oakmont two years ago by one shot over Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk. He was big, burly and his hardscrabble life was as much Pittsburgh as it was Argentina.
Oakmont has hosted 11 men’s professional majors, and only two of its champions – local pro Sam Parks Jr. at the 1935 U.S. Open and John Mahaffey at the 1978 PGA Championship – never won another Grand Slam event.
Thanks to Cabrera’s victory at the Masters, the one-hit wonders will stay at two.
“I think it’s very important,” said Bob Ford, the longtime head pro at Oakmont. “It validates this as a course that produces great champions. Great names win here. We were hoping for Woods to win, and when Angel won, it was like, ‘Who is this guy?’
“Now, he’s a Masters champion.”
Oakmont has some competition as the greatest roll call of major champions.
Augusta National doesn’t count for obvious reasons – it’s the only course that holds a major every year.
Ditto for St. Andrews, the home of golf, where the British Open has been played 27 times. That might be the greatest place to win any major, for even Nicklaus, a six-time Masters champion, once said, “I was always told that to be a good golfer is one thing, but to be a great golfer is to win at St. Andrews.” The British Open has used only 14 links courses for its 137 championships.
As for American courses used for the U.S. Open and PGA Championship?
Pebble Beach can surely state its case with Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Tom Kite and Woods winning the U.S. Open, and Lanny Wadkins winning the PGA Championship. All of them are, or will be, in the Hall of Fame.
Oakland Hills has hosted nine majors, and while its list includes two players with the career Grand Slam (Hogan, Gary Player) and four other multiple major champions (Padraig Harrington, Ralph Guldahl, David Graham and Andy North), it also features Steve Jones and Cyril Walker. The nine winners at “The Monster” have combined to capture 30 majors.
Baltusrol can claim two U.S. Open titles by Nicklaus and a PGA Championship victory by Phil Mickelson. But its list also includes one-time major winners Ed Furgol, Jerome Travers and Tony Manero.
And while the media complains too much about the heat, Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla., ranks among the best. Its seven major champions include the dominant players of the last two decades – Woods and Nick Price – along with Hall of Famers Raymond Floyd, Hubert Green and Tommy Bolt. The others were multiple major winners Retief Goosen and Dave Stockton.
Goosen, like Cabrera, was somewhat of an unknown until he won another U.S. Open three years later at Shinnecock Hills.
“Validation, like Bob said, is exactly correct,” Southern Hills head pro Dave Bryan said Tuesday. “Goosen validated his championship here, especially winning at Shinnecock.”
Winged Foot serves up Bobby Jones, Billy Casper, Hale Irwin and Fuzzy Zoeller among multiple major champions, along with one-time winners (for now) Davis Love III and Geoff Ogilvy.
Oak Hill has hosted only five majors and had a Hall of Fame list going – Cary Middlecoff, Nicklaus, Lee Trevino and Curtis Strange – until it crowned Shaun Micheel at the 2003 PGA Championship. It remains the only victory in Micheel’s career.
Does it matter who wins a major?
“I’d hate to say that,” Bryan said, pausing for a moment. “But I think it does. It’s important.”
That would be bad news for The Olympic Club in San Francisco, known as a graveyard for champions. It’s U.S. Open champions were Jack Fleck, Casper, Scott Simpson and Janzen. The runner-ups those years were Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Watson and Payne Stewart.
Oakmont, however, has an incomparable record of major champions. Its 11 winners have combined to win 56 majors, and seven of them are in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
But it didn’t need Cabrera to win the Masters to embrace him.
Ford tells the story of two Oakmont members headed to Argentina in March. He e-mailed Manuel Tagle, the agent for Cabrera, looking for suggestions. Tagle set them up at Olivos Golf Club, then contacted Buenos Aires Golf Club. But when Buenos Aires planned to charge triple the rate, Cabrera took over.
“He said, ‘Why don’t you call them and tell them to come to Cordoba instead, and I will play them,”‘ Tagle said. “So they did. We had a great time with them.”
A month later, Cabrera paid them back in his own way. He gave Oakmont another multiple major champion.
Cabrera plans to return this summer to Oakmont to take part in a recent tradition of awarding national champions an honorary membership to the club. Ford said Cabrera will be presented a jacket worn only by members.
Most appropriately, Oakmont’s jacket is green.