6 Unforgettable Moments of Golf at the US Open
Johnny Miller’s 63 on Sunday at Oakmont (1973) takes the cake as the greatest final round in U.S. Open history. Tiger’s 15-shot assault over the field in 2000 is the most dominating performance we’ve ever seen at a major.
But are they among the most unforgettable moments at the U.S. Open?
Johnny’s miraculous round took place over the course of an afternoon and was filled with laser-like iron shots. It was fairly anticlimactic when Woods triumphed at Pebble Peach considering Tiger led by 10 shots before he even got out of bed that Sunday.
In terms of the U.S. Open highlights that included isolated moments that golf enthusiasts will never forget, now is when you get to kick your feet up.
Enjoy this trip down memory lane.
Watson Chips in at Pebble to Stun the Golden Bear
It’s the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links. Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson are tied for the lead at four-under-par, two shots clear of their next closest pursuer.
Facing a back-left pin on the 17th hole, Watson pulled his 2-iron in the thick rough, leaving himself in a very precarious spot. So much so that he turned to caddie Bruce Edwards and uttered, “That’s dead.”
Meanwhile, the Golden Bear was comfortably sitting in the clubhouse, having already posted a score and looking to be on the verge of lifting his fifth U.S. Open trophy.
That’s when Watson had other ideas.
Carrying a bit of extra speed, Tom’s downhill pitch shot crashed into the pin and disappeared into the bottom of the cup. Watson threw his hands up and ran around the green in pure jubilation. A few minutes later, Tom was celebrating in what turned out to be his lone U.S. Open title.
The Rubber Snake: Trevino’s Secret Weapon
72 holes weren’t enough to determine a U.S. Open champ in 1971, so Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino were off to an 18-hole playoff on Monday. Scratch that — it was actually Nicklaus, Trevino, and a pet rubber snake set to take part in the bonus action at Merion Golf Club.
Moments before striking his opening tee shot in the playoff, Trevino tossed the rubber snake he had purchased earlier in the week at the Golden Bear — a tactic many thought was intended gamesmanship on behalf of Lee in an attempt to throw Jack off of his game.
Sure enough, Nicklaus was three-over-par through three holes, and “The Merry Mex” never looked back.
Worth noting, it was later revealed that Jack had asked Trevino to throw the snake his way, clarifying that no ill intent was involved. Either way, it’s probably the last time you’ll ever see two competitors playfully joking with each other during a playoff at a U.S. Open.
Mickelson Plays Hockey at Shinnecock Hills
Originally, Phil losing his grip on the 18th hole at Winged Foot was a U.S. Open highlight I wanted to showcase. However, Johnny Miller already summed that snafu up stating that “Ben Hogan has officially turned over in his grave” as Phil’s tee shot sailed waywardly left, crashing off the hospitality tent.
Plus, what Mickelson did 12 years later at Shinnecock Hills was actually much more egregious. Some call it “Lefty” having a little bit of fun on his birthday; others call it downright disrespectful to the game.
You be the judge.
In the midst of shooting 81 on his 48th birthday, Phil had enough after watching his bogey putt race past the hole on the treacherous 13th. Instead of waiting for his ball to settle like a normal human being, Mickelson batted his ball across the hole as it was still moving.
Joe Buck was stunned in the booth — virtually speechless — and former USGA Director David Fay said he hadn’t seen anything like that since John Daly at Pinehurst back in ’99.
Phil incurred a two-stroke penalty for his childish actions before retaliating with a 69 on Sunday.
Arnie Drives the Green to Set Up His Sunday Charge
Beginning the final round of the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills seven shots out of the lead, Arnold Palmer knew it would take something special to get into the hunt. Looking to mount a charge right from the get-go, Palmer wasted no time making his presence felt.
“The King” proceeded to drive the first green, booming his tee shot some 350 yards straight down the chute.
Talk about setting the tone for what turned out to be one of the greatest final rounds in PGA Tour history. Palmer birdied six of the first seven holes that day. When it was all said and done, Arnie held off a 20-year-old amateur named Jack Nicklaus by two shots to claim the hardware.
Watch below as PGA Tour players try and recreate Palmer’s heroic tee shot from 1960 at the 2014 BMW Championship.
Spoiler alert — Rory McIlroy was the closest to driving the green, and he still came up a whopping 49 yards short.
Payne Embraces Phil at Pinehurst
The 15-foot par putt Payne Stewart holed on the 72nd hole at Pinehurst in 1999 was undoubtedly one of his finest moments on the golf course. The raw emotion and affection he displayed as he clenched Phil Mickelson’s face and shared a few words about fatherhood is a U.S. Open highlight that’ll last an eternity.
Phil’s wife was due to give birth to the couple’s first child at any day, so it was a bit complicated that Mickelson was playing a golf tournament on the other side of the country some 2,500 miles away. Had the phone rang relaying that Amy had gone into labor, Phil had committed to walking off the golf course regardless of the situation.
Speaking of the situation, it was a tight one at that.
Knotted with three holes to play, Payne got the party started by draining an improbable 20-footer for par on 16 to remain neck and neck with Mickelson. Stewart then stuffed his approach on the 191-yard par-3 17th and converted the birdie to take a one-shot lead as the final pairing strutted down the last.
That’s when the magic went down, as you can see in the clip below.
Tiger’s Birdie Putt to Force a Playoff at Torrey Pines
Tiger has holed crucial putts to force playoffs in majors before — just look back at the best moments in PGA Championship history. Nonetheless, the putt he made Sunday at Torrey Pines in 2008 to set up a mano-a-mano date with Rocco Mediate the following day was simply extraordinary.
I’ll set the stage.
Mediate is in the clubhouse, leading the U.S. Open. He’s anxiously watching on television as Tiger is playing the final hole in the last group. Woods needs to make birdie to force a Monday playoff. Tiger spins his approach back to 12 feet but leaves it above the hole in a delicate spot.
Anyone who has played on Poa annua putting surfaces before can attest at how hard it is to hole out, and the greens at Torrey Pines during a U.S. Open take that to the extreme. Throw in the fact that it’s late in the day and it’s downhill and left-to-right.
Additionally, the U.S. Open is on the line and millions of people are watching. Did I mention Tiger was hobbled all week and essentially playing on one leg, or can you start to imagine the obstacle he was facing?
Rather than me ruining what happened next, you can check it out for yourself.