The U.S. Open Championship: Over 100 Years of National Champions
Posted on June 6, 2017
The United States Open Championship is the second oldest major golf tournament after the (British) Open Championship. It has become the flagship tournament of the United States Golf Association, or USGA. The tournament was established in 1895 during the USGA’s first full operating year. Since the inception of the US Open Championship many of golf’s greats have vied for the title.
To explore the history of the US Open Championship let us first take a look at the start of the USGA. The USGA was founded on December 22, 1894 after two separate golf clubs had tournaments and both proclaimed their tournament winner as the national champion. Representatives from five golf clubs gathered and formed the USGA to be the national governing body for the game of golf in the US. They conducted the US Amateur, US Women’s Amateur and the US Open Championships for the first time in 1895. The USGA has continued to preside over these tournaments.The inaugural US Amateur and US Open Championship, which at the time was secondary to the Amateur, were held during the first week of October at the 9-hole course at Newport Golf Club in Newport, Rhode Island. The US Open’s field was comprised of 10 professionals and one amateur who would compete in a 36-hole competition, which took place in one day. The first US Open Champion was Horace Rawlins, a 21 year old Englishman and local course assistant. Rawlins was awarded a gold medal, $150 and ownership of the US Open Trophy for a year.
The US Open expanded from 36-holes over one day to 72-holes over two days in 1898. During the early tournaments the US Open was dominated by European players from England and Scotland. Golf’s first international celebrity Englishman Harry Vardon won the 1900 US Open during his tour of the United States and Canada. Scottish golf professional Willie Anderson set the record for most wins after winning 4 times, a feat matched only by Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus. Willie Anderson won in 1901 and then consecutively from 1903-1905 making Anderson the only player to win 3 straight US Opens.The first native-born American golfer to win the US Open was John McDermott in 1911. McDermott is also the youngest winner of the US Open at 19 years and 10 months. McDermott would go on to successfully defend his title the following year. Then in 1913 the US Open became stage to what some call the greatest game ever played. Two of golf’s heavyweights of the time, Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, were competing in the 1913 US Open along with a 20 year old American amateur Francis Ouimet. The 1913 US Open took place at the Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts which was across the street from where Ouimet grew up. In an unprecedented series of events Ouimet found himself after the final day in a playoff against Vardon and Ray. Ouimet played stellar including making a birdie on the 17th hole, which was the hole he grew up across from, to inevitably claim victory. The match helped spark the popularity of the US Open Championship. Play of the US Open Championship was suspended in 1917 and 1918 due to World War I. In 1922 the US Open sold spectator tickets for the first time. As the tournament’s popularity grew the US Open introduced sectional qualifiers in 1924 as a way to gain entry to the tournament. The format of the tournament changed again in 1926 to having 18 holes played during the first two days and 36 holes played on the final day.
The legendary Bobby Jones dominated the tournament in the 1920s. Jones, who remained an amateur his entire golf career, won the US Open a record tying four times in 1923, 1926, 1929, and 1930. Jones’ victory in 1930 was the third win towards his achievement of his historic single year “Grand Slam,” which he completed 10 weeks later after winning the US Amateur and thus successfully winning all four major championships of the time.
Following Jones’ historic victory another milestone in US Open history occurred, the longest playoff. In 1931 Billy Burke eventually defeated George Von Elm after both competitors played 144 holes, double the amount of holes played in regulation. The fifth and final amateur to win the US Open was John Goodman in 1933. At Philadelphia Country Club for the 1939 US Open golfing great Byron Nelson earned the second of his five major championships after two 18-hole playoff rounds, equaling a total of 108 holes played.Play of the US Open Championship was suspended again in 1942 thru 1945 due to World War II. In 1948 Ben Hogan began his run to achieving a record tying four victories at the US Open. Hogan’s second win at the US Open came in 1950, a personal triumph as Hogan was in a near-fatal car accident 16 months prior. Hogan would successfully defend his title in 1951 and then win for a final time in 1953 after defeating Sam Snead in a playoff. The US Open Championship was the only major that eluded Snead.
The US Open was first nationally televised in 1954. This was the first year that the course was roped off from tee to green for spectators. In 1955 it looked like Ben Hogan was prone to win a record fifth US Open, but Jack Fleck made an 8-foot birdie putt to force a playoff. Hogan fell apart on the final hole of the playoff with a double bogey and Fleck won the championship. In 1959 the US Open expanded to two levels of qualifying events with local qualifiers across 57 districts and final qualifiers at 13 sections.
The 1960’s US Open Championship laid the grounds for what would become one of golf’s greatest rivalries and friendships. Arnold Palmer made the greatest comeback in US Open history after trailing Mike Souchak by eight strokes going into the final round. Palmer shot a final round of 65 to clinch the victory and gain even more popularity. Just behind Palmer coming in second place was a 20 year old amateur Jack Nicklaus. Two years later Nicklaus would return as a professional to duel it out with the fan favorite Palmer. The two ended up in a playoff with a crowd of around 10,000 spectators. The young Nicklaus won by three strokes, marking his first major and professional win. Nicklaus preceded to win the US Open again in 1967, 1972 and 1980, tying the record for most US Open wins.
In 1964, Ken Venturi became the first golfer to win the US Open after qualifying to compete through the local and sectional qualifier. The only other golfer to accomplish this in US Open history is Orville Moody in 1969. The format of the US Open tournament changed again in 1965 to the modern day format. The format is now four days of 18-hole rounds.In 1971, Lee Trevino created a classic comedic moment during the 18-hole playoff against Jack Nicklaus. Trevino grabbed a toy snake his daughter had left in his golf bag and tossed it at Nicklaus, which received a scream from a woman spectator and a big laugh from Nicklaus. Trevino, feeling more relaxed, beat out Nicklaus to earn his second US Open Championship. Two years later, in 1973, Johnny Miller shot a record final round score of 63 to win the US Open Championship. The following year Jerry Pate won the tournament which ended on Father’s Day. Since then the final round of the US Open has been scheduled to end on Father’s Day. In 1977 television coverage for the US Open expanded by ABC Sports to live coverage of all 18 holes of the two final rounds.
In 1982 for the first time the first two rounds of the US Open were broadcast live on ESPN. 1982 also saw Jack Nicklaus seeking to claim a record fifth US Open Championship, however another golf great and rival Tom Watson would out match the Golden Bear to win the title. In 1984 Fuzzy Zoeller and Greg Norman had a playoff showdown which ended with Zoeller clinching the win with an 8 shot lead. The total prize money for the US Open hit the $1 million mark in 1988, with the winner Curtis Strange earning $180,000 of that purse. Strange would successfully defend his title the following year, the last player to do so since.In 1990 the US Open Championship crowned its oldest champion when Hale Irwin defeated Mike Donald on the first hole in sudden death after an 18-hole playoff. Conditions during the final day of the 1992 US Open were turbulent causing many high scores. Tom Kite, considered a great golfer but had yet to win a major, finally clinched his only major title after a stunning shot that was running across the green when it hit the pin and dropped in the hole for a birdie leading him to eventual victory. NBC began broadcasting the full live coverage of the US Open in 1995.
The 1999 US Open final day had modern greats Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, Tiger Woods and Payne Stewart all towards the top of the leaderboard. While Singh and Woods fell out of contention after bogeys late in their rounds Mickelson and Stewart were neck and neck going into the 18th hole. Stewart ended up with a 15-foot par putt to clinch victory, which he sank to claim his second US Open Championship, his first came in 1991.The following year in 2000 the US Open saw Tiger Woods dominate the field winning with the largest margin in tournament history with a 15-stroke lead. Woods win at the 2000 US Open was the first piece of his “Tiger Slam” where he’d go on to win the following three major tournaments, the 2000 Open Championship, the 2000 PGA Championship, and the 2001 Masters Tournament. Woods returned to the victor’s circle at the US Open again in 2002 to win the first million dollar prize. 2002 marked the first time a publicly-owned course hosted the event, Bethpage State Park’s Black Course in Farmingdale, New York. The 2002 US Open was also the first to use a two-tee start for the first and second rounds, where players started on holes 1 and 10.
In 2005 the US Open expanded its sectional qualifiers to include international sites. Seizing the opportunity Michael Campbell qualified in England and found himself four off the lead going into the final day. Campbell made a charge and held off Tiger Woods to win by two strokes to clinch his only major title. 2008 saw Woods defeating Rocco Mediate after an 18-hole playoff at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego, California to win his 3rd US Open Championship. Including his amateur wins of 3 US Junior Amateur, 3 US Amateur and his 3 US Open Championships, all conducted by the USGA, Woods tied Bobby Jones for the most individual USGA championships.
Rory McIlroy earned his first major title at the 2011 US Open Championship in record setting fashion. McIlroy set 11 different records including lowest 72-hole score with 268 and most strokes under par with 16 under. The youth trend continued the following year when Andy Zhang, of China, at 14 years old became the youngest golfer to compete in the US Open. Webb Simpson won his first major championship that year winning a stroke ahead of Graeme McDowell and Michael Thompson.
Another golfer claimed his first major title the following year at the 2013 US Open. Justin Rose sank a par putt on 18 to seal his victory, becoming the first English champion since 1970. Phil Mickelson found his way to second place for a record sixth time. The 2014 US Open saw a record number of entries with 10,127 hopeful golfers trying to qualify. Martin Kaymer of Germany won the 2014 US Open, becoming the first winner from Continental Europe and the fourth European winner in five years.The 2015 US Open marked the 115th playing of the tournament. A 21 year old Jordan Spieth prevailed against Dustin Johnson and Louis Oosthuizen to win his second consecutive major championship. Spieth became the youngest US Open champion since Bobby Jones in 1923. Spieth is the youngest golfer to achieve the feat of winning both the Masters and US Open in the same year. This marked the first year that the US Open was televised by Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports.
Dustin Johnson returned to the US Open in 2016 determined to claim his first major victory. Johnson bested the wayward weather and the strong field, which included defending champion Jordan Spieth and world number 1 Jason Day, to emerge on top after the final round to secure his win. Dustin Johnson won three strokes ahead of the second place finishers Shane Lowry, Scott Piercy and Jim Furyk.
The 2017 US Open is set to be played at Erin Hills in Erin, Wisconsin beginning June 15th 2017.