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June 15, 2001

by Bill Hogan



This week, Southern Hills in Tulsa, Oklahoma plays host to golf's United States Open. That's OUR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP!

American players use words like pride, patriotism and honor to describe the feeling they have when competing in this historical event.


American sportsfans use words like pride, patriotism and honor to describe the feeling they have when witnessing this historical event.

It just seems like there is more on the line when there is Red, White and Blue involved. Like a Ryder Cup match or watching John McEnroe get excited about playing Bolivia in tennis' Davis Cup.

There is no shortage of heroism when it comes to the history of the U.S. Open.

In 1950, less than a year after a near fatal car crash left Ben Hogan suffering from a crushed left leg and fractures to his ribs, collar bone and pelvis, the gallery at the Merion Golf Club in Pennsylvania witnessed one of those heroic moments.

After staggering around the course that final day for thirty-six holes on wounded legs, it seemed improbable that Hogan could be tied for the lead. What was more improbable was Hogan winning the Open the next day after eighteen extra holes. Heroic.

Similar heroics were displayed in 1964 at the Congressional C.C. in Bethesda, Maryland. Ken Venturi, suffering from exhaustion, dehydration and heat prostration, summoned the will and the strength to complete the thirty-six hole final round and earn a four stroke victory.

(After 1964, the USGA wisely decided to eliminate the thirty-six hole final round.)

* * * * *

I've been reading a lot about Tommy Bolt the last few days. Bolt won the first U.S Open played at Southern Hills in 1958. What a character!

He was known on tour as "Terrible" Tommy and mid-round temper tantrums were the norm. He must have kept a few golf club makers in business as well because, to read about it, it seems there was always a bent or broken shaft in his bag at the end of the day.

Today's sportswriters would probably label him a brat. Forty-three years ago, he was called a "colorful character".

That was the "colorful" side of Southern Hills. There was also a seedy side.

1977 U.S. Open winner Hubert Green had to play under the cloud of a death threat (taken seriously enough to involve the F.B.I.).

In 1981, a mob assassin's .38 caliber bullet ended the life of businessman Roger Wheeler in the parking lot of the prestigious country club. (You can read more about this at www.golfdigest.com).

* * * * *

In 2001, Southern Hills will again be center stage for America's Championship, and again, history may be in the making as Tiger goes for his fifth consecutive major. (You can read more about that in any sports magazine, newspaper or website in the country!).

As an occasional betting man, I have to agree with Tiger who recently conceded that an even money bet on a golfer is not a smart business decision.

Even Tiger is only a couple of bad shots away from being beaten. I think the bookmakers are selling a lot of talented golfers short.

Heck, the three-time defending World Series Champion Yankees are 3-2 to win the American League Pennant.

If Tiger has a couple of bad days, he's done. If Paul O'Neil or Derek Jeter have a few bad games, the Yanks can still win.

(Of course, the big question is, will Tiger ever have a couple of bad days in a major tournament).

Then there's the "what if's" that can spell doom for the worlds greatest golfer:

What if Fred Couples ever decided to take his golf game seriously again. Have you ever seen a more laid back competitor?

What if Phil Mickelson or David Duval show up in Tulsa with the nerve (guts?) of Hal Sutton - they might actually be able to compete with the Tiger on Sunday.

What if Colin Montgomerie decides to wear ear plugs. Every one knows that it would take only one beer-soaked Okie behind the green chanting U-S-A while "Monty" lines up his putt to send him reeling back "across the pond".

What if the USGA, in an attempt to make things less predictable, allowed some to the "weaker" players to team up?

What do you get if you combine Chris Anderson with Willie Wood? Four-time U.S. Open Champion Willie Anderson!

(Anderson won the Open in 1901 and then an unprecedented three-peat from 1903-1905).

If you could cross Michael Campbell with Pete Jordan you'd have a golfer with the heart of a true champion. (I'm not going to explain the reference, just think basketball).

* * * * *

The media is treating this Open like it's already been played and the winner decided. Kind of like, recording the big game because you have to work, then going the whole day trying to avoid hearing the results. You go home and pop the tape in the VCR, but it's not nearly as exciting because you know, no matter how hard you root, the outcome has already been decided.

A fifth straight major would be incredible and historical. But, what if…


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