The ten greatest shots in U.S. Open history

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The 123rd national championship of American golf takes place for the first time at Los Angeles Country Club. M. James Ward outlines the ten greatest shots played in the event's long and storied history.
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Los Angeles, CA. This year's U.S. Open returns to the Los Angeles area for the first time in 75 years. Los Angeles Country Club will have its public unveiling with the staging of this year's championship.

It has been said U.S. Opens are not won -- but lost by others. Generally, that is often true. However, in the ten instances outlined below -- the player involved produced a specific golf shot at a critical moment providing the needed boost to solidify their hold of the title and a permanent placement in golf history.

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#10

The 1999 U.S. Open marked the first time the championship was hosted at Pinehurst and staged on the much celebrated #2 course.

The competition featured Payne Stewart locked in a contested tussle with Phil Mickelson. Stewart kept the lead sinking critical putts at the 16th for par, the 17th for birdie and finalizing matters with a 18-foot par putt at the final hole to secure the victory.

The win marked his 3rd and final major title as tragically Stewart died in a plane crash later that same year.

 

#9

Corey Pavin's 4-wood approach to the 18th hole during the final round of the 1995 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills. The approach finished within feet of the hole and although Pavin missed the birdie putt, his par secured the victory by two shots over a fading Greg Norman.

 

#8

Hale Irwin's monster final round putt at the 1990 U.S. Open at Medinah on the 18th hole did not win him his third championship but pushed him into a playoff with Mike Donald which he won the next day.

 

#7

The 1983 U.S. Open looked to be an epic showdown entering the final round with defending champion Tom Watson and Masters champion Seve Ballesteros paired together for the final round.

Neither would win the championship.

Larry Nelson had other plans. After barely making the 36-hole cut the soft-spoken Georgian broke the final 36-hole scoring record with rounds of 65-67.

The key coming with a 60-foot birdie putt at the par-3 16th.

Nelson would hold on to the lead at the point and eventually would gain admission to the World Golf Hall of Fame.

 

#6

The 1913 U.S. Open had the most profound impact in American golf. Played at The Country Club, one of the five founding members of the USGA, the storyline was truly a David versus Goliath tale.

The underdog was an American who caddied at the host club taking on two of the most talented players of the day -- Harry Vardon and Ted Ray.

The 20-year-old Francis Ouimet's long birdie putt at the par-4 17th during the final round pushed him into tying Harry Vardon and Ted Ray at the end of regulation play.

In the next day playoff. The amateur would birdie the same hole and shock the golfing world with an upset of epic proportions, providing the foundation for the ascension of American golf in the decades ahead.

 

#5

The championship was played at the Atlanta Athletic Club in 1976. The first time held south of Washington, D.C. and east of the Mississippi at the behest of a letter from Bob Jones.

Jerry Pate played himself into contention and when reaching the demanding par-4 18th he had moved into the lead for the first time by one stroke over playing companion John Mahaffey.

Mahaffey's hope was dashed when his second shot found a pond fronting the green. Pate's ball finished in the right rough and with the pin tucked to the far-left side he opted to play a 5-iron from 190 yards.

The ball finished less than two feet away giving the Alabama born Pate the championship.

 

#4

Bob Jones had a highly successful golfing career but the key for him came in winning his first U.S. Open at Inwood CC on Long Island in 1923.

Jones built up a three-shot lead going into the final round but his play suffered a series of mishaps. Fortunately meeting Bobby Cruickshank in a playoff to decide the event.

Both men were tied coming to the demanding final hole. Each man finished in the rough and while Cruickshank opted to lay-up before the fronting water hazard Jones' 2-iron shot to eight-feet from the hole at the par-4 18th proved to be the difference in winning by two and garnering the first of his four U.S. Opens.

 

#3

The intersection of Jack Nicklaus and the U.S. Open had many memorable moments. The four-time winner nearly claimed the title as an amateur in 1960 and his first professional win came just two years later when defeating Arnold Palmer in an 18-hole playoff at Oakmont.

The most defining shot from the Golden Bear in his long-storied career in the U.S. Open came during the final round of the 1972 event at iconic Pebble Beach.

Conditions proved exacting for the field and when Nicklaus stepped onto the tee at the dangerous par-3 17th the outcome for the championship remained in question.

Nicklaus ended all doubts with a brilliant 1-iron nearly finishing in the hole and leading to an easy birdie effectively ending the event and securing his third of eventual four U.S. Open wins.

 

#2

In the runner-up position is Tom Watson's epic chip-in for birdie at the penultimate hole in 1982 at Pebble Beach.

Watson pulled his approach to the 17th green and was left with a delicate chip from rough grass to the nearby pin. When his caddie Bruce Edwards told Tom to simply get it close, Watson fired back, "I'm not going to get it close, I'm going to make it."

After two bounces the ball glided along the ground and found paydirt when striking the flagstick and promptly disappearing to the bottom of the hole.

A jubilant Watson pranced around the green and looked back at Edwards and pointed his finger to reinforce the confidence he had with the shot.

Watson would go on to birdie the par-5 18th to secure his one and only U.S. Open title. The win also derailed the last opportunity for four-time winner Jack Nicklaus to garner a record 5th title.

#1

Leading the way is Arnold Palmer's dramatic final round charge in winning his sole U.S. Open title in 1960 at Cherry Hills.

Trailing by seven shots with one round to play, Palmer was having lunch with long-time Pittsburgh golf writer Bob Drum. Palmer asked the scribe what his chances would be with one 18 holes to go. Drum dismissed Palmer's thinking and said he had no chance. The comment roused Palmer to action.

Arnie proceeded to drive the green at the short par-4 1st making birdies on 6 of the first 7 holes and playing the outward nine in a total of 30 strokes. Arnold cooled off on the inward side but secured a two-shot win over amateur Jack Nicklaus.

The drive was the catalyst in propelling Palmer to the forefront not only in golf but in becoming a global sport figure.

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About M. James Ward

A GWAA and MGWA member, the 66-year-old from the USA has covered golf in all facets since 1980, notably the major championships and other high level events. He has played over 2,000 courses globally and has competed in USGA Championships.

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