Winged Foot, which stops by the consciousness only once in a while in golf-major terms, happens to be where Phil Mickelson led by two shots with four to play in the 2006 U.S. Open, only to make a horror of No. 18 and arrange a gnawing agony to last only the remainder of his life. (It cost him the only major he hasn’t won, overshadowing that human frailty on No. 18 also cost Colin Montgomerie a chance at the major that always eluded him.) It happens to be where Davis Love III won the 1997 PGA Championship with a rainbow on No. 18, with some linking that rainbow to the on-course happenings.
It happens to be where Greg Norman made a 40-footer on No. 18 at the 1984 U.S. Open so that Fuzzy Zoeller waved a mock-surrender towel from the fairway, so that Thomas Boswell wrote, “No one won the U.S. Open today and no one will forget it,” before Zoeller bested Norman in an 18-hole Monday playoff. It happens to be the site of probably the most famous golf major for brutality, the 1974 U.S. Open, where Hale Irwin won with a score of 7 over par and Dan Jenkins wrote in Sports Illustrated of the best golfers in the world, “All week they kept climbing wearily out of deep bunkers, poking their heads around trees and yelling at their putts to stop sliding toward New York City.”
For kicks, its 1929 U.S. Open went to Bobby Jones, in a 36-hole playoff, by 23 shots.
The rescheduled near-autumn Open will take place at the course of the gorgeous stone clubhouse that looks right out of the British Isles, the wilderness rough and the deathless line from Jack Nicklaus. When asked about the famous closing holes, Nos. 16-18, Nicklaus said, “The last 18 are very difficult.” Four of its five U.S. Open winners have finished over par.
Mostly this week, even though it happens to be noted for rigor — \“If this course were human, it would sleep in a coffin,” Murray once wrote — it’s gaining note as fair, a description not always synonymous with U.S. Opens and a description players here sometimes precede with the words “very, very.” If the PGA Tour’s reactivation in June in Fort Worth meant a time of caution as it operated among few other sports and if its first major without spectators brought a sigh in August in San Francisco, this one seems apt to bring a competition people might recollect years on.
“I haven’t played a tournament yet, but so far it seems very, very hard, one of the harder ones I’ve ever played,” said Dustin Johnson, the world’s No. 1 golfer and a winner in 2016 on a U.S. Open course (Oakmont Country Club) often compared to Winged Foot for ruthlessness.
“The golf course is big. It’s hard. There’s no tricks to it,” said Gary Woodland, who won the most recent U.S. Open in June 2019 at Pebble Beach.
“Well, I think it’s right up there next to Oakmont [in Pennsylvania] and I think Carnoustie [in Scotland] as far as just sheer difficulty without even doing anything to it,” said Tiger Woods, who won U.S. Opens in 2000 at Pebble Beach, 2002 at Bethpage Black on Long Island and 2008 at Torrey Pines next to San Diego.
“Man, it’s a great test,” said Bryson DeChambeau, that noted golfer with linebacker muscle.
With that rare 14-year gap between majors, only 15 of the 144 players in the field will have played a U.S. Open at Winged Foot before. They range from Mickelson, nowadays 50, who finished at 6 over par that ghost-story day in 2006, one shot behind Geoff Ogilvy, to Sergio Garcia, nowadays 40, who missed the cut and then some at 16 over par across two days, a 78 and a 78. Paul Casey, back again after his good challenge at the PGA in San Francisco, shot a respectable 10 over par here in 2006, Ian Poulter 9 over, Steve Stricker 8 over.
But Woods, who missed that cut (76-76) shortly after his father’s death and who finished tied for 29th at 6 over in the different setup of the PGA in 1997, saw no advantage in the experience. The course, the technology and the players all have changed, he said. A constant does remain: “Pars are obviously going to be really good [scores] this week,” PGA Championship winner Collin Morikawa said, and when pars are really good, so, often, is lore.
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