The U.S. Open — History In The Making
I promised last week to bring you at least a little of the history behind one of golf’s greatest tests, the U.S. Open, which was first played on October 4, 1895 at the Newport Country Club in Newport, Rhode Island (If you’ve never been to Newport, I highly recommend it. Make sure you take in some of the local seafood!)
That first competition was only 36 holes, and was played in a single day. In that first competition, there were ten pro golfers, and one amateur. The winner was a 21 year-old Englishman named Horace Rawlins, who had arrived in the U.S in January that year to take up a position at the host club.
His winnings: $150 cash and a $50 gold medal…and, the Open Championship Club trophy.
It went on that way for a number of years, with the Brits dominating until John J. McDermott came along to become the first native-born American winner, and soon, the U.S. Open found itself joining the ranks of golf’s majors.
Since 1911, the title has been won almost exclusively by U.S players. Since 1950, players from only six countries other than the U.S. Have taken the Open trophy, most notably South Africa, which has taken it five times since 1965.
Today, the U.S. Open is the second of the four major golf championships, and is staged by the United States Golf Association in mid-June, with the final round typically played on Father’s Day.
The tournament is staged at a variety of courses, often set up in a way that scoring is very difficult with a premium placed on accurate driving. The tournament’s play is typically characterized by tight scoring at or around par by the leaders (with Rory McIlroy’s −16 finish last year a very rare exception!).
A U.S Open course is very rarely beaten by such a margin, and in fact, there have been a number of over-par wins. Often, Open courses are very long in yardage, and have a very high cut of primary rough, undulating greens (making putting and approach placement critical), and tight fairways.
The U.S. Open is the only one of the four majors which does not go immediately to a playoff if two or more players are tied at the end of the four rounds, instead having the players play a fifth 18th-hole round the following day (Monday). After that, if a tie still exists, then a sudden-death playoff is held, much as happened in 2008 when Tiger Woods defeated veteran golfer Rocco Mediate on the first additional playoff hole, a finish rife with drama and much pain incurred by Woods with his weakened knee ligament.
In San Francisco this week, at the Olympic Club, the site of the 2012 U.S. Open, that course’s history exceeds that of the Open itself. It was established in 1860 and enjoys the distinction of being America’s oldest athletic club, wtih some 5,000 members who compete in 19 sports out of its downtown San Francisco clubhouse. Its 45 holes of golf include the Lake Course, originally designed in 1924 by Willie Watson and Sam Whiting, and redesigned by Whiting in 1927 after suffering storm damage.
The Lake Course remains true to its 1927 design, with minimal renovations in the intervening years, save for the creation of a new 8th hole, a 200-yard par 3. The course is hosting its fifth U.S. Open and should provide a substantial challenge with its narrow, tree-lined fairways and small, well-bunkered greens.
It should prove to be a compelling four days (or, pending any ties at the top of the leaderboard, five days) of championship golf!