At the 1974 U.S. Open, the Grass Was High and the Scores Were Higher

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The greatest golfers on the planet, who will tackle the Winged Foot West Course this week, will encounter their share of agony. That is commonplace for the United States Open, the sport’s final grind. Yet, nonetheless disgusted they get, the 144 gamers on this yr’s area must be grateful.

It could possibly be lots worse. It could possibly be 1974.

That yr, the Open on the Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y., was gained by Hale Irwin with a rating of 287, seven over par and two strokes higher than Forrest Fezler. Dick Schaap, the journalist and sportscaster, wrote a guide in regards to the match: “Massacre at Winged Foot: the U.S. Open Minute by Minute.”

The greens had been quick, agency and undulating, and the fairways, as standard for an Open, had been slim. Then there was that tough.

“As high as I had ever seen it,” stated David Graham, who gained the Open in 1981 and tied for 18th in 1974. “If you missed the fairway, you were lucky to find your ball.”

The circumstances led to a match with extraordinarily excessive scores. The common rating for the week was 76.73, and there was no common rating increased in an Open since.

So what occurred? Why was the 1974 Open so punishing?

One principle that circulated was that the United States Golf Association, which ran the match, toughened the course after the yr earlier than Johnny Miller shot an eight-under 63 within the closing spherical to win the Open at Oakmont Country Club in Pennsylvania. He had rallied from six pictures again to win by one.

No one had ever shot a 63 in a U.S. Open and the speak was that the association didn’t need that sort of low rating on the Open at Winged Foot the subsequent yr.

In 2003, Johnny Miller instructed The Los Angeles Times: “My final round had more repercussions for the U.S.G.A. than any other round in history. The next year, [the course] was off the charts. I guess they really took a lot of flak. I sure took a lot of flak from a lot of players, blaming me.”

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Credit…Tyrone Dukes/The New York Times

An early indication of the sort of week it was going to be at Winged Foot occurred on the primary gap Jack Nicklaus performed.

He was one of many favorites, in pursuit of his fourth Open title. He confronted a few 25-footer for birdie. The ball stored rolling and rolling, coming to a halt about 30 ft away.

“He looked like a ghost,” Jim Colbert, certainly one of his taking part in companions, recalled. “He was in shock.”

Nicklaus would find yourself with a bogey and likewise bogey the subsequent three holes as effectively, ending with a five-over 75.

Referring to the putt on No. 1, Nicklaus stated in an electronic mail: “I went ‘Oops.’ I never recovered and never really got back into the tournament.”

Sandy Tatum, who died in 2017 and was the united statesG.A.’s Open committee chairman at Winged Foot in 1974, dismissed the Miller principle.

“Johnny Miller’s 63 at Oakmont had absolutely zero influence on how the course was set up at Winged Foot,” Tatum instructed The Los Angeles Times in 2003.

In any case, there have been different components that helped flip Winged Foot into such a demanding take a look at.

For one factor, a brand new mower had made it doable for the tough to be on the similar excessive stage everywhere in the course.

For one other, the climate within the months main as much as the match featured the right quantity of rain.

“It was a superintendent’s dream,” stated Ted Horton, the course superintendent in 1974. “It allowed us to firm up the greens.” The gamers, he added, “ran into what I’ll call their perfect storm, with the rough being as tough as it was. We also achieved green speed that had not been seen in any tournament to that date.”

Horton is conversant in the speculation that blames Miller’s 63, however he made clear, “That never got down to me for one minute.”

Irwin ultimately gained. He wasn’t a star, however he had confirmed himself greater than succesful with two spectacular victories on the Heritage Classic in 1971 and 1973, on the formidable Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head Island, S.C.

Irwin, began with a three-over 73, three pictures behind the chief, Gary Player, who had gained the Masters match two months earlier than.

At the midway mark, Irwin and Player had been tied, together with Arnold Palmer and Ray Floyd. Tom Kite and Tom Watson had been solely a shot behind.

Watson, seized the lead over Irwin after 54 holes by one with a 69 on Saturday. Palmer was nonetheless in it, three again.

On Sunday, Irwin handed Watson with a protracted birdie putt on the ninth gap, however bogeyed No. 10. He then transformed one other lengthy one for birdie at 11. Irwin held it collectively down the stretch for the win.

Credit…Tyrone Dukes/The New York Times

For Irwin, it was a dream come true. Literally. He stated that a number of months earlier than he had a dream he would win the Open. Irwin didn’t inform anyone besides his spouse, Sally.

While many gamers could have been intimidated by Winged Foot, that wasn’t the case with Irwin, an All-Big Eight Conference security for the University of Colorado.

His approach was just like how he may deal with a fullback.

“You didn’t take it head on,” stated Irwin, who stated his purpose the entire week was to maintain the ball below the outlet so he wasn’t placing downhill.

For Watson, who shot a 79 within the closing spherical, it was removed from a complete loss.

He was having a beer within the clubhouse afterward when he was approached by Byron Nelson, who provided to assist him along with his sport. They wound up working collectively a number of years later. Watson went on to develop into one of many sport’s nice champions, with eight main titles, together with 5 British Opens.

Irwin additionally grew to become a terrific champion, capturing the U.S. Open in 1979 and 1990, and gained 45 occasions as a senior participant.

“As a younger man, winning the U.S. Open was my goal,” stated Irwin, who was 29 when he prevailed at Winged Foot. “I had achieved that, but that didn’t mean I wanted to stop.”