U.S. Open Memories – the Northwest golf community tells their story…
Robert Herold’s memories of the 1964 U.S. Open at Congressional reminded me of my earliest memory of the Open. In the summer of 1964 while visiting my uncle Ed Gozart, a very fine golfer and gentleman, I noticed a magazine with a photograph of a golfer on the cover. Noticing my interest, Uncle Ed then proceeded to tell me the story of the courageous Ken Venturi and his struggle in the heat to win the Open. His emotional telling of the circumstances at Congressional was intriguing to me, a 17-year old who had never played the game. My uncle is one of my heroes for many reasons besides his extraordinary ability to play golf. Therefore, his excitement regarding Mr. Venturi’s win at Congressional showed me just how exceptional it must have been. In later years I began to play the game, and I also visited Washington, DC in the heat of July, so I developed an understanding of that Saturday in 1964.
For many who love golf, the game was typically introduced by a family member, often a father. For me, it was my uncle Edward Gozart. At his 90th birthday party, held at his beloved Grays Harbor CC, surrounded by trophies and memorabilia of 75 years in the game, one piece of his golf history stood out for me. It was the scorecard of the game he played with Byron Nelson at Grays Harbor when Mr. Nelson was touring the country. There, below their scores, 72 for Uncle Ed and 66 for Mr. Nelson, were the signatures of Byron Nelson and Ed Gozart. I am looking forward to my first U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, and I know that as I take it all in, I will be thinking of Uncle Ed.
Can I fudge and tell you of my experience living outside of Ft. Worth in 2003 getting ready to move back to Oregon in 10 days when I realized Annika Sorenstam would be making history playing with the men in the PGA Tour event at Colonial, being the first woman in 45 years to do so? Amidst the packing, I took the day off and drove the 45 miles to watch her. It had rained for the previous three days and they had 4×8 sheets of plywood laying end to end all around the clubhouse areas leading out to the main areas of play for people to walk on. As a true Oregonian I felt right at home. Annika made a great show on the first tee with a 255-yard drive using a 4-wood. She only missed one fairway all day and missed the cut by only a few strokes, but she was a show-stopper that day. She proved to herself and everyone else that “she could.”
I attended the U.S. Open at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J. in 1967. Jack Nicklaus broke the championship scoring record, posting a final round 65 for a total of 275. Arnold Palmer finished four strokes back in second place. This was the era of huge crowds following those two around. My father took my brothers and I to the event on Saturday and Sunday. We tried to follow those two but found the masses too difficult to deal with so Dad chose a few strategic locations where we could sit for a while to watch the players go by. I recall Dad pointing out Ben Hogan (this was his final major) as he went by – it wasn’t until many years later that I realized the significance of who that man was that had caught Dad’s rapt attention.
Sunday afternoon we managed to find a spot on the 18th green about 10 back in the throng. We watched other players finish their rounds for about an hour and a half until Jack and Arnie came up the fairway. There was an incredibly huge surge of people trailing along with them. At that time, the ropes were dropped as they progressed and the crowd was allowed to walk immediately behind the players. The roar of respect from the crowd for the two of them still brings chills to my spine.
When they settled to finish their round on the green you could hear a pin drop. The final cheer for Jack’s final hole birdie and achievement is seared in my memory. My next oldest brother and I became separated from my other brother and father after that. We found Dad’s car and waited for them. I recall laying on the hood of the car watching the Goodyear blimp float listlessly over us.
Sunday at the 1992 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach was windy. Really windy. I caught up to Tom Kite’s group on No. 7 and the first shot I saw him hit was his pitch-in for birdie. He couldn’t reach holes nine or 10 but hit great wedges inside 10 feet and made par on both. On 12, it was clear he was the story of the day. The crowd was more than 10 deep and I learned what an advantage I had being 6′ 5″. From my tip-toes I saw his long putt across the green drop as he dropped to a knee and pumped his fist. On the 18th, I couldn’t find anywhere with a view, so I went under the grandstands and watched him win his only major through a gap in the bleachers.
My birthday – June 16 – always falls during U.S. Open week. I’m two years younger than Phil Mickelson and one day younger than Justin Leonard. At the 1998 U.S. Open, I followed Justin during the Monday practice round for several holes hoping to get his autograph. He stopped to chat and sign some stuff after a tee shot. As he signed my day’s entry badge, I sheepishly wished him a happy birthday. He looked up at me, said thanks, then put a finger to his lips and said “shhhh….”
For the final round in 1998 I followed my favorite player, Payne Stewart. As he teed off on 12, I’d made my way up the fairway to the landing area for drives. The 12th fairway was really hard to hit that week but Payne put it right down the middle but the ball rolled into a divot. I was even with the ball and I was definitely tempted to just run out in the fairway and improve the lie! Payne bogeyed the hole and lost to Lee Janzen by a shot.
I’ll be back at the U.S. Open this year at Chambers Bay.
I have marshaled the U.S. Open twice at Pebble Beach (2000, 2010). For years I have watched Johnny Miller commentate PGA Tour events and always enjoyed his no-holds-back candor. My first day at the 2010 Open was spent behind his perch and I was thinking I’m not going to see much golf today and this might be a little boring. To my surprise Johnny came out several times and thanked me for volunteering and spent several minutes just visiting. He was so genuine and it was one of the highlights of my weekend. He was truly a pleasure to meet and allowed me to see a different side of him.
I had a very interesting experience at the 1994 U.S. Open at Oakmont. My wife, my parents and I flew there from California to visit relatives and attend the Open. My cousin belonged to Oakmont, so he said we could play the course Monday morning after the championship was over. But Loren Roberts missed a short putt on the last hole to cause a Monday playoff with Colin Montgomerie and Ernie Els, so my golf hopes were dashed. I wished Ernie good luck before he teed off on Monday morning and he did win the Open. While driving back to my cousin’s in Ellwood City, we stopped for lunch at a restaurant. Halfway through our salads, a waitress came out of the kitchen and asked if there was a doctor or nurse available. No one responded. Then she asked if anyone knew CPR. My wife nudged me and I got up and said yes (at the time I was a correctional officer in a California State prison). I went into the kitchen and performed CPR on a cook who was on the floor and not breathing and had no pulse. When the ambulance arrived the cook had responded somewhat. The owner comped our meal, but I was so worn out I could not eat. The next day we learned the cook was progressing well and was expected to survive.
That experience still burns in my memory after 21 years.
While volunteering the 1998 U.S. Open at The Olympic Club, I was walking to my truck on that Sunday morning when I ran into Jack Nicklaus. I said the usual “Good luck today,” and he stopped to thank me for all the work that I had done over the previous weeks, and asked me what I was going to do today. I told him I was going to drive to my home in Sonoma, lie on the couch and finally enjoy the Open on TV. And he responded with, “I really wish I could do that, wouldn’t that be the best.” I felt great by that response, and I enjoyed the Open even more, and of course from my couch.
The year after my golfaholic husband passed away, my son and I had the opportunity to attend the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst. I had purchased the trip at a charity auction and it included an “inside the ropes” photographer’s pass with Northwest golf photographer John R. Johnson. My son had just taken up photography and jumped at the chance – it was a 16-year old boy’s dream.
After the round, under cover of darkness we made our way to the little “Putter Boy” statue in front of the clubhouse and left a few of Bob’s ashes. It was a bittersweet moment.
A few months later, I remember the phone call from a friend asking if I had heard the news. He told me of Payne’s Stewart’s plain flying pilotless through the mid-west. I was shocked and saddened by his tragic death.
In 1972 I was driving down to San Luis Obispo, Calif. from Spokane to report for Army Reserve Duty. On Sunday morning I heard on the radio that the U.S. Open final round play was getting under way. I drove over to Pebble Beach and soon was walking across the grass toward the first tee. As I approached the tee area I heard the announcer say “Jack Nicklaus, Columbus, Ohio.” I watched him tee off and then went over to the 18th green and watched as Raymond Floyd and others finished. Also, Spokane native Rod Funseth played in the Open that year.
I paid $7 for a gallery pass that year and will be at Chambers Bay. We paid a little bit more for our tickets this year….
My greatest U.S. Open memory is this: I was invited to bring my kids to the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont on Father’s Day – Sunday and final round of the greatest championship each year. We had the pro shop as our hospitality tent – the wrap-around porch of the pro shop at Oakmont sits at the corner of the 18th green and my three children had a great time with player after player exiting the green handing them hats, balls, visors, gloves, all while I enjoyed the action.
The icing on the cake: I have leased the pro shop for the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont.
This story starts about 10 years ago. I was attending a conference in San Diego and wanted to go golfing. I located a company that picked me up and arranged a golf game at Torrey Pines. I hooked up with two good guys from the Midwest.
The first hole is a par-4. Had good drive and on the next shot I was to the right of the green and the next shot I chipped in. I had a decent round but this first hole experience, as well as playing Torrey Pines, will stay with me for a long time.
Forward six years. I was in the process of moving and retiring. I received a call from a company I had worked with for over 25 years. They invited me to the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. I thought about it but decided I couldn’t leave my wife with the rest of the packing. I ended up sending a staff member. As an ex assistant PGA pro, he was ecstatic for this opportunity. I emphatically told him that he had to bring me back an Open golf hat and shirt, and to this day I have to tell this story any time I wear the Torrey Pines gear.
I was stationed at Fort Ord in 1972, and had the opportunity to go to the U.S. open at Pebble Beach. I followed Jack Nicklaus all day Sunday, and will never forget his tee shot on the par-3 17th. It was a very windy day and the wind was right at us. Jack hit an iron about two inches from the hole. I think the hole was about 200 yards, but was probably playing a lot longer due to the wind. I had heard later that he hit a 1-iron.
I have been collecting autographs and golf memorabilia since 1962. In the last several years, my emphasis has become U.S. Open programs and flags. I have numerous years of U.S. Open programs in my collection dating back to 1940 including three of the four years that Ben Hogan won the U.S. Open. My most prized item is a flag from the 2001 U.S. Open played at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla. The flag has been autographed by only U.S. Open champions. There are 37 autographs on it. The only living winners that have not signed it are Angel Cabrera, Martin Kaymer and Tiger Woods. I hope to get all three autographs this June at Chambers Bay.
The stories behind acquiring many of the signatures have provided a most interesting journey over the last several years with photographs, emails, letters and visits to various tournaments. My wife and I attended the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion, where my wife became convinced I am the “oldest 12 year old” around.
One of my brothers and I were living in the Bay Area in the summer of 1982 and we decided to head down to Pebble and catch the final round of the 1982 U.S. Open. I had never been to Pebble Beach nor a U.S. Open so two firsts for me to start the day.
My brother suggested that we find a “stud” that was having a bad weekend and follow him so that I could see the course and we could scout out a spot to watch the rest of the day. We latched onto Tom Weiskopf and then came another first for me – we saw Weiskopf ace the par-3 seventh hole.
We settled in on the 15th tee. From here we could see approach shots and the green on 14, tee shots on No. 2, tee shots and approach shots on No. 15.
After Watson teed off the 15th hole we tried to follow the action. By the time we got to the 17th hole we could go no further than the tee box because of the crowd. We saw Watson and Rogers tee off, but couldn’t see where Watson had hit it. I gave my brother my binoculars as I watched through my camera’s telephoto lens.
When I heard the roar from the green as Watson chipped in I snapped a shot of him running around the green. I can only hope for half the excitement this year at Chambers Bay. Watson took home $60,000 that day, and Nicklaus $34,500.
I was at the 1992 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. During the second round, I was standing next to the 14th fairway watching Craig Stadler hit his second shot. He hit a duck-hook into the tall rough. The guy standing next to me said, “That was a s***** shot.” I said, “Yeah, no kidding.” I turned to see who I was talking to. Before I could say anything after my double-take, Clint Eastwood turned around and walked off into the gallery.
My favorite memory is the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. I was a San Diego police officer and was assigned to Tiger Woods for security purposes. I was part of his inner security detail for the previous six years at Torrey Pines. I saw each and every shot, swing, and putt by Tiger Woods. That U.S. Open was the icing on the cake.
On Sunday’s final round I could tell Tiger was hurt and in pain. I didn’t know how bad it was. I looked at my partner and said, “If he withdraws how do we get him off the course?” On the final hole he has to make birdie or Rocco wins. He studies his putt for over 12 minutes and then hits it. I see the ball curl and fall into the cup. The crowd erupts into the loudest roar I’ve ever heard. I can’t hear my radio earpiece the noise is so loud. Watching the best player ever never gets old. As I escort Tiger off the green, I said to him, “Great putt.” Tiger looks at me and says as the crowd and media roars and claps and says to me, “I know.”
I am now retired from the San Diego Police Dept. Love it here.
In 2012, my 13-year old daughter Priya and I were fortunate to be given two tickets to attend the opening round of the U.S. Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco. We were thrilled when we learned that the high profile pairing for the day included three of our favorites: Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson. We followed the large gallery surrounding the group for much of the day. This was my daughter’s first professional golf event and was an incredible introduction for her to this wonderful game. We created many life-long memories that day, including witnessing Nick Watney double-eagle the par-5 17th on our way out of the club to head home.
Our entire family is looking forward to creating more golf memories at Chambers Bay this June!
In 1982 a friend and I attended the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. At that time ropes did not keep crowds back, so we parked along the No. 15 fairway and take our chairs and ice chest to the third green. We sit right next to the green, from where we could observe the fourth tee, 16th green and 17th tee. Our ice chest contained very little food, so by the time Tom Watson arrived at No. 17 on the final day we were feeling no pain. Two men come driving up in a maintenance vehicle, and we approach them to find out they are football players from Tampa Bay and they had borrowed the vehicle. We offer them a drink, put the ice chest in the back of the vehicle and jump on. We drive part way down No. 17 fairway & watch Tom Watson’s chip-in that won him the championship.
At the Tuesday practice round at the 2012 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club, the weather was an average foggy day at the Lake Course. The fog was hanging just above treetop level of Olympic’s giant Cypress trees. Casey Martin, who had qualified for that year’s Open, came motoring up the short par-4 seventh. I was walking from fairway to green and yelled out, “Just like Eugene weather.” Casey looked my way and gave the thumbs-up sign. His playing partner was his old Stanford teammate Tiger Woods. As they made their way to the green the bantering back and forth picked up and each were giving the other a hard time. While practicing on the green, Tiger was chipping and Casey putting. Casey was sinking a lot of 10-footers as Tiger was chipping to various spots. Tiger then focused chipping to the actual cut hole for that day. His chip from 60 feet gently rolled up, and as it appeared certain to drop in the cup, Casey walked up and swatted it away. The sparse crowd groaned and he grinned at Tiger. Woods calmly struck another 60-foot chip and it bounced, rolled slowly, and then dropped into the cup as Casey was getting back to working on his 10-footers. The few spectators cheered and Tiger tipped his hat to the crowd as Casey smiled and shook his head.
It was the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and our very own Jeff Coston qualified. Nice guy that he is he gave me and my wife at the time two special tickets to attend. Jeff made the cut and on that Saturday morning I was at the range watching him warm up and he looked over at me at waved me in to the practice area. Colin Montgomerie was on one side and Tiger a few people down along with all their swing coaches. Jeff knew he was giving me the thrill of a lifetime. I walked up to where he was with his son Tyler as his caddie and said, “What you need is a coach.” It was pretty funny. I stood there and watched and chatted for almost an hour.
Jeff didn’t place very high but I know it was special for him. Sunday being Father’s Day, as they were walking up the 18th hole Tyler looked over at his dad and said “Happy Father’s Day.” A moment they will both cherish all their lives.
When your wife tells you to enjoy a trip because it’s the only one of its kind you’re likely to experience in your lifetime, you know something special is lined up. In 2008, I embarked on the ultimate guys golf trip with two buddies, Rocky Griese and Jeff Wilson.
We flew into Coos Bay, Ore. on a prop plane, loaded onto the VIP shuttle playing Caddyshack on endless loop and arrived at Bandon Dunes for our tee time that happened to be just behind two groups with Clint Eastwood and his wife. We crammed four epic rounds into two and a half days before hopping on a plane down to Santa Cruz, where we played beautiful Pasatiempo. After a round near Monterey, we continued on to San Diego to take in three rounds of the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, with Jeff ending up on the cover of the Seattle Times celebrating one of Tiger’s dramatic eagle putts. Well, we saw almost three full rounds. We watched Tiger drain his putt on the 72nd hole from a bar at the airport, and had to talk ourselves out of doubling back to crash at our buddy’s house so we could be on hand for the playoff against Rocco.
Nothing replaces watching the mass of humanity following Tiger around a major. Never imagined seven years later that would still be Tiger’s last major.
In June 2012 I flew to the Bay area to stay with two of my sons, Matt and Paul, take in a Giants game, and attend the first day of the U.S. Open at Olympic Club. My sons are season ticket holders of the Giants and I had played Olympic a couple times in the 1970s, so it seemed like a perfect match.
The Giants were playing Houston on Wed., June 13, which just happened to be the night Matt Cain pitched a perfect game. Needless to say the game was extremely exciting. Several huge plays resulted in one of the rarest feats in baseball, and we were there to see it.
The next morning we drove to the old Candlestick Park to catch a shuttle to Olympic Club. We had just gotten out of our car and this guy approaches us with a cameraman and asks if he could interview us for that evening’s sports news on the local channel. We said sure, and when he heard we had attended the game the night before he was pretty stoked and spent quite some time with us; and indeed the three of us were prominently featured on that evening’s news. Pretty cool, and we hadn’t even gotten to the course yet!
We got to the course and immediately went to the practice area where they had grandstands set up for the spectators. It was full. Bummer. We were just about to leave when some people on the very front left of the grandstands got up to leave, and sat down with the best seats imaginable. We weren’t there for more than 10 minutes when who comes to warm up directly in front of us? Tiger Woods, of course! He was hitting shots no more than 50 feet from us for at least half an hour. The quality of his shots, and the sound of the club striking the ball was indeed different than any of the other pros we saw that morning. Simply amazing and the most enjoyable part of the whole day at Olympic. (Oh, by the way, Tiger went to the first tee and promptly duck-hooked his drive into the trees, so even he can’t take it from the range to the tee sometimes.)
We had a great time that day, and it ended with us heading back to catch the shuttle when we decided to stop at a par-5 and watch a couple groups come through. We were watching a group tee off in the distance, couldn’t tell who it was but a tee shot hit close to us and bounced off the hill and rolled to a stop at our feet. Of course everyone was crowding around but we stood our ground waiting to see who hit it. Up walks Phil Mickelson. His caddie asked us to move back a little to give Phil some room. So the day ended with an up-close and personal encounter with Lefty (who, by the way, hit a utility club out of the rough off a side-hill lie into the greenside bunker and got it up and down for birdie).
We truly felt charmed at the sequence of events that took place in less than 24 hours. We will never forget it.
Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
My wife and I took our two grandsons to a practice round at the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. This was the first time either of them had seen a golf tournament, and they were excited about seeing Tiger Woods in person.
As we were trying to get our bearings as to the layout and the facilities one of the pros walked by and caught my grandson Alec and me by surprised by addressing him and handing him a signed golf ball. Needless to say were both very impressed with Ben Curtis’ thoughtfulness, and gave us both a very positive remembrance!
On a less positive note, while we were watching Tiger and Rory on the practice tee, a young boy asked Steve Williams (Tiger’s caddie at the time) if he might get Tiger’s autograph, and Williams very abruptly told the kid that Tiger was too busy, and to basically bugger off. Glad to see Stevie gone, and it is unfortunate Tiger is so distant from his fans. As such, I’m not a fan, though I do appreciate his ability.
Over 30 years ago, when we were living in Scotland, my son (then 11 years old) and I went to Gleneagles to watch the Scottish Open. When we were watching the players on the practice green I noticed Fred Couples (not really a big name then, and almost unknown to the Scottish public). I went over to him and asked if I could get a picture of him with my son. He took the time to talk to us and got a great picture of them. Fred is still a gentleman, and look forward to seeing him in the winner’s circle again.
The day started early at 6:30 a.m. as I boarded the transportation bus to take me to Pebble Beach where I was privileged to be a marshal on the second hole of the 2010 U.S. Open. I started playing golf when I was 10, so after 52 years I was finally getting to attend and actually volunteer at a U.S. Open.
Shifts were long but fun; being so close to all the best golfers in the world was truly exciting to me. I spent a lot of time visiting with spectators from all over the world as they leaned against the ropes to get their best view. I met a gentleman wearing a Chevron hospitality badge and since I had spent most of my working career with Chevron we took up a conversation which led to him giving me an access badge to their hospitality suite.
So after a long day on the course holding back the huge crowds I decided to visit the hospitality to recoup. While I was sitting having a snack a nice gentleman bumped into my table and spilled a beverage on my table. I looked up and his badge read Robert Trent Jones Jr.! He was very apologetic and asked where I was from. When I said Seattle, his face lit up and a nice conversation ensued about Chambers Bay which he and his team designed.
He said he really enjoyed the designing of Chambers Bay and what were my thoughts. Well, I had not played it yet but I told him that the Northwest was really excited to host the Open in 2015. We visited for 10 minutes or more and he graciously signed my white U.S. Open hat on the bill. The hat hangs in my den and I will always cherish the day I met Robert Trent Jones Jr. at the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
1964 U.S. Open – Congressional Country Club
by Robert Herold
Over my 76 years I’ve been fortunate to have attended five U.S. Opens – the 1955 at Olympic, the 1997 at Congressional, the 2000 at Pebble Beach, the 2010 at Pebble Beach and, what I consider to have been the Open of Opens, the Open that gets my vote as the greatest of all time, as I refer to the 1964 U.S. Open at Congressional won by Ken Venturi, golf’s lost man.
A teenage junior golfer in Vallejo during the early 1950s, I knew about both Ken Venturi and E. Harvey Ward Jr. They were already famous throughout the Bay Area – Ward a national amateur champion, Venturi the California State Amateur Champion and a name synonymous with Harding Park Public Golf Course. The two were jokingly referred to in golfing circles as Eddie Lowery’s best “amateur” golfing car salesmen. Lowery, who caddied for Francis Ouimet in the 1913 U.S. Open, owned local Lincoln-Mercury dealerships and was known to hire good amateur golfers. Both were close to and learned from Byron Nelson who in those days was a frequent visitor to the Bay Area. In 1955 I watched Nelson and Ward put on an extraordinary clinic and exhibition at a local country club.
In 1956 just before the “Crosby Clambake” at Pebble Beach, Venturi and Ward took on Hogan and Nelson in a secretly arranged best ball match at Cypress Point. They were that highly regarded. This match became the stuff of legend. Hogan would sink a 10-foot breaking downhill putt on the 18th hole to win 1-up. Before he hit the putt, writes Mark Frost, author of the book “The Match,” Hogan muttered: “I’m not going to be tied by a couple of damn amateurs in front of all these people.” He then looked at Ward and Venturi, winked, and knocked in the putt for the win.
Ken Venturi, we all just assumed, was going to be the next Ben Hogan. As an amateur he would finish second in the Masters, blowing a big lead in the final round when his putting went south; then he finished second again five years later as a professional when Palmer birdied the last two holes to beat him by a stroke. After turning professional Ken won as expected, some 10 times early on, but then came injuries and his career went in the tank. He got into the 1964 U.S. Open through his good performance in the Buick Open, a tournament he entered, as I recall, through a sponsor’s exemption.
Venturi’s trials and tribulations are a story oft told. My story about him begins that Saturday morning, at Congressional, just before the field teed off for the final 36 holes of the championship.
I came to Congressional along with my younger brother, John. At the time I was 25 years old, a graduate student at George Washington University. John, eight years younger, was a senior at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington. We arrived at the course around 7:00 that Saturday morning. The temperature was already in the mid-80s, as was the humidity – and both were obviously climbing, even at that early hour.
Venturi had opened surprisingly well, 72-70; but this still left him six behind going into the Saturday final rounds. After arriving that morning we walked over to the practice tee – Venturi happened to be there hitting balls. We watched for a brief time. I recall that everything he hit seemed on a string. We wanted to see him play but his tee time was later. Rather than wait around we walked down the first fairway to await the arrival of Jack Nicklaus. And what an arrival it was – Nicklaus pushed his tee shot. It came to rest in the rough, only a few feet away from where we were standing. Directly behind the ball was a very thick and high clump of grass; a tree a few yards ahead blocked the view to the green. I looked over the situation as Jack made his way down from the first tee. There was no way he could do anything but hit out sideways into the fairway then try to get it up and down from about 140 yards out. But this was Jack. He wasted no time – he just grabbed a club, an 8-iron I recall, and without hesitating took a ferocious swing which had the force of an earth-mover. The ball flew up and over the tree and onto the green. A club pro we knew, a good player who had actually won a tour event, later told me that Jack’s biggest advantage was coming out of deep rough like this – first, he would be hitting an 8- or 7-iron rather than a 5- or even 4-iron; and second, there was his strength. We saw that first-hand on the first hole.
(The only comparable shot I’ve ever seen was the 7-iron Tiger Woods hit to the sixth green at Pebble Beach in the 2000 Open. He was down in six inches of rough, a tree in front, facing an uphill target, 200 yards away. I watched from the eighth fairway above – I couldn’t see the ball, it was down so deep. But he slashed it out, up over the tree, all the way to the front edge of the green. As I watched I thought to myself, “Hey, that’s the same shot that Jack hit on that first fairway at Congressional in ’64!” It was right then that the announcer gasped, “It’s not a fair fight.”)
We watched the “Golden Bear” for a few more holes but all this time we were keeping our eyes on the scoreboard. Soon they began putting up Venturi’s early round scores – his string of 3s stood out, and we immediately left Jack and headed off to find Ken. We caught up with him on the fourth hole and we stayed with him the rest of that beastly day.
Ken turned the front nine in an amazing 5-under par 30. It was this stretch of play that put him into serious contention. He then went to 6-under and held that score until the 17th hole; that was when the heat got to him. He pushed his iron shot and bogeyed that hole. John remembers what Venturi looked like when he walked by us: “His hands were shaking, and his face was white.”
Now weakened and distressed, he hit another bad tee shot on the 18th, a drive that went right. Our good fortune continued as Venturi’s ball, as had Nicklaus’ on the first hole, came to rest only a few feet from where we were standing. I can still see him slowly walking to the ball and looking over his second shot, a downhill shot of perhaps 170 yards. Water left. Bunker right. Trees lining the right side of fairway. His ball had come to rest barely outside the tree line. He pulled what I believe to have been a 5-iron. He lined up his shot, but then he stepped away. In a soft voice he asked the gallery to move back, and murmured something that I heard as, “Could you give me some air.” Alas, he hit a poor iron shot, didn’t get it up and down and finished off his morning round with a 4-under par 66. This wasn’t the 64 he had in his grasp, but good enough. Ken Venturi, golf’s “Lost Man,” after three rounds found himself only a couple of shots out of the lead.
By this time the temperature was over 100 degrees and the humidity in the 90s. I couldn’t breathe. I felt dizzy. I headed to a Red Cross tent – they gave me what they were giving Venturi, salt tablets, the worst. Venturi had to have been in far worse shape, with another 18 holes facing him.
We found a place behind the third green, sat down on the grass and waited for him – and waited and waited. Later we learned why the long wait: Venturi was too sick to go out on the course. He lay down. They tried to hydrate him. The USGA allowed him more time – an hour went by. His doctors advised him not to play that afternoon round for fear that he might die; he said that he had nothing else to live for – and with that, he headed to the first tee.
When we first caught sight of him I recall thinking that he looked like a zombie. His eyes were glazed. His walk was unsteady. We didn’t know just how bad a shape he was in but we certainly could see that he was struggling. Several people walked with him – one held an umbrella, another a water-soaked towel that he kept draping over Venturi’s neck. We later were told that another was a doctor. And Joe Dey, then the executive director of the USGA, was also there; part of what seemed like a small entourage.
Here are my clearest memories of that afternoon round: I was struck by Venturi’s teeing routine – I don’t recall him using tees, rather he would, ever so slowly, bang the ground a couple of times with the heel of his shoe, put his ball on the raised divot and hit off that. I believe that he hit 3-wood several times – maybe sacrificing a little distance for ease of accuracy. What I know for sure was that we were watching a man who looked and acted as if he were in some kind of trance, a man who sometimes seemed that he couldn’t take another step, but did. Throughout that round Ken Venturi was machinelike – drive down the middle of the fairway, second shot to the middle of the green, two putts, then a slow trudge to the next tee. Later he would say that he was going on instinct, that’s all he had left in the tank.
All the while the temperature and humidity continued to rise. I made another trip to the Red Cross tent, more salt tablets; I do not recall that they gave me water. I later learned that they were giving Venturi not just salt tablets but iced tea – a truly bad combination. We were now traipsing on fairways some of which I learned later were recording temperatures over 110 degrees, with the humidity now approaching 100 percent. And there was no breeze. None. The 100 degree muggy air just lingered, heavy, still, foreboding.
Another memory: Arnold Palmer in those days attracted all the fans who would have been at the baseball game had the team been in town. He transcended the golf aficionado fan. You might say that Palmer took golf to the “beer crowd.” And that day they were all following and drinking their way around with Arnie who remained in contention until midway through the fourth round. Now, keep in mind, all day long Venturi’s gallery, our gallery, had been supportive but very polite. Clap, clap – “Good shot, Venturi,” something like that. But then, with Palmer finally out of it – whoosh. In came his army. Most of his troops by that time were pretty well smashed. And it showed. Now we heard a lot of loud shouts, a favorite being a slurred version of “Attaboy, Kenny Baby.” I actually I felt a tad smug for not being part of this “Johnny come lately” crowd. We were the proud Venturi plank-holder fans. No one had given him a chance, but us.
One final point – as I mentioned, my brother and I also were at the 1997 U.S. Open at Congressional. A while back I compared the two courses and the scores. Congressional in 1997 played longer, by some 200 yards; but back in 1964 the course was no short track, it played over 7000 yards. The rough was higher in 1997, the spring in D.C. had been much wetter. Of course, the greens were much better in 1997.
Later I learned that the players, after the 1964 championship, had complained about having to hit so many drives to blind targets. In response, the USGA had the club raise many of the tees. So it was that in 1997 the players benefited from well-defined targets, whereas in 1964 players were left guessing as to where their ball was going to end up after it disappeared over the rise. And then there was the weather – in 1997 the temperature hovered in low 80s with relatively low humidity (by DC standards). The weather in 1964 was insufferable and had been all week. Yes, it would crescendo that Saturday, but it had been stifling throughout the championship.
Considering all the variables, let’s agree that the courses played to about the same level of difficulty. But for certain the equipment and balls were much better in 1997. Just ask Jack Nicklaus. Ken Venturi played with Hogan blades which had a sweet spot about the diameter of a dime and he was hitting those inferior 1964 golf balls. By contrast, Ernie Els played with the best TaylorMade could provide, aided by 23 years of technological advances.
So with all this – the courses about the same difficulty, weather favoring Els, and equipment not even close – what was the difference in the final scores. And here’s the shocker: Ernie Els beats Ken Venturi 276-278. That’s it. Els wins by only two shots.
And to this we have to add that Ken Venturi was out on his feet. Putting it altogether, his brilliant morning front-side 30 notwithstanding, the even-par 70 round Ken Venturi shot that suffocating furnace of an afternoon has to go down as one of the greatest rounds of golf ever played. Certainly the most courageous, surpassing even Tiger Woods astounding one-legged performance at Torrey Pines.
This story shouldn’t end without mentioning that Venturi’s playing partner that day was a 19-year old phenom named Ray Floyd. Tears in his eyes, Floyd retrieved Venturi’s ball from the 18th hole cup – a par putt from an up and down out of the greenside bunker. At the moment Floyd reached for the ball an almost delirious Ken Venturi shouted out, “My God, I’ve won the Open!” It was a championship for the ages.
Oh, yes, my brother checked – he tells me that the heat index that day had to have been close to 200 degrees, a temperature of 100 degrees combined with a humidity of 90 percent produces an index figure of 176. It was hotter that day and the humidity was over 90 percent.
The 1964 U.S. Open was the last time the championship finished with 36 holes on Saturday.
A brief footnote: Two summers ago the gentleman member who did such a wonderful favor for my professional caddie son, David, and brought us to his storied course, Cypress Point, told this post-U.S. Open story: “We had arranged a party for Ken upon his return. We saw his car pull up but then he didn’t come in. He disappeared. Where was he? What was up? Well, turns out that while we were waiting to begin the party Ken had taken a bucket of fried chicken to the caddies who were out in the shack behind the clubhouse. Before he partied with us he wanted to spend some time hanging out with the Cypress caddies, as they devoured his fried chicken.”
A way of saying that while you can take the boy out of Harding Park you never could take Harding Park out of the boy?
Thanks to the encouragement of our longtime friend and then-USGA Western Regional Director, Ron Read, I began my annual experience as a U.S. Open volunteer in 1998 at The Olympic Club. While every championship has its memorable moments – some due to the spectacular play and some due to a variety of weather conditions, I recall each one with pleasure and thankful for the opportunity to participate.
The 2004 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills certainly stands out as one of the most challenging of all championships – both for the players and some of us volunteers, as well. While the practice rounds and first two days of play were fairly routine, the weather on the tip of Long Island was rather benign – a welcome change from the scorching heat and thunder storms usually the norm at Midwest and East Coast venues. But this changed in a hurry on the weekend after the decision was made to cut back on watering the course and an unexpected wind came up during the final round on Sunday.
I finished my morning volunteer shift at corporate hospitality and hurried up to the first tee in time for the final pairing to tee off. As expected, the official starter, Ron Read, was holding court (and order) as he always did at the U.S. Open, making certain that players, caddies and officials were all in place and on time. I received enough training from Ron at previous championships to provide an extra hand in distributing first tee supplies to the caddies and counting, one last time, the number of clubs in each bag.
By the time the final group approached the tee, there was the usual 40 to 50 people crowding in and around the starter’s tent area. They consisted of players, caddies, scorers, officials, celebrities, occasional politicians and media types. Ron graciously recognized everyone by name and made it his business to sooth nerves and ease the tension with his impeccable timing of humor and friendly conversation with the VIPs.
While Ron kept a close eye on the official clock and direction from the network broadcast team, he still made time for introductions. Retief Goosen and Phil Mickelson were all smiles and joking with their caddies while shaking hands with the dozen or so officials and observers who were walking with the final group. It was at this moment that I narrowly dodged one of the most embarrassing experiences of my life in golf.
Ron walked several of the officials back toward the starter’s tent and asked me if I had been introduced. I looked up at a tall, young man dressed in what I thought was a typical USGA rules official uniform, shook hands and said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name.” Luckily, he hurried off without hearing me. An instant later, I listened as Ron took the microphone to announce: “Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to present our official observer with the final pairing today, His Royal Highness and Captain of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, Prince Andrew, Duke of York.” Admittedly, I am not a keen observer of the otherwise well-recognized personalities that often show up at the final round of the U.S. Open – Michael Jordan and the former president of the United States being fairly safe bets, even for me – but the Duke of York?
It was months later over several glasses of wine before I related this story to Ron, admitting that I was just a breath away from uttering the most embarrassing faux pas I could imagine in that setting. As it turned out, that Sunday at Shinnecock became one of the toughest days ever for the USGA, with the wind completely drying out green surfaces to the point that the finest players in the world were shooting in the mid-80s and Phil 3-putted the 17th to lose to Retief by 2 strokes.
My almost royal screw-up quickly diminished on the scale of importance compared to the relentless skewering by the media regarding the course conditioning issues. I think Ron and I are the only two people in existence that can laugh about at least one experience at the 104th national championship.
Member, USGA Regional Affairs Committee