10 Things to Know About the U.S. Open Championship

Chambers Bay Golf Course, image: eighteenunderpar.com

Chambers Bay Golf Course, image: eighteenunderpar.com

Dreamers have been standing on putting greens of courses all over the world pretending practice putts are “to win the U.S. Open” since 1895. America’s oldest golf tournament has built up quite a body of lore to soak in during its 120 years, and with the 2015 U.S. Open Championship on June 15-21, it’s nice to have a bit of a refresher course. Here are our top 10 things to know about the U.S. Open:

1. The U.S. Open is not a PGA Tour event

The United States Open is conducted by the United States Golf Association (USGA), which is the ruling body of amateur golf in America. The organization stages many national championships but the Men’s Open, Women’s Open, and Senior Men’s Open are the only ones for professionals. While this will not matter much to us the viewers, it is a big deal to the players. This is one of the few tournaments where you hear a lot of talk about how the course is “set up.”

At a normal PGA event, sponsors love to see birdies, eagles, and low scores, but a perfect winning score at the U.S. Open for the USGA would be level par. So you often hear pros griping about long, rough, and unplayable pin positions to which the standard USGA line is: “We are not looking to embarrass the best players in the world, we only want to identify them.”

2. This is truly an “open” tournament

Theoretically, any male golfer – amateur or pro – with a handicap of 1.4 or lower can play in the United States Open. All you need to do is pay your entry fee and tee it up in one of the more than 100 local qualifiers that are held in May around the country. The lowest qualifiers will fill the spots not already filled by automatic qualifiers. You will not just meet fellow dreamers in these fields, as top professionals who are not otherwise qualified for championships have to go through the same qualifying process as amateurs. For example, former World #1, Luke Donald, had to go the qualifying route to get to Chambers Bay this year. For the Women’s Open and Senior Men’s Open, the qualifying handicaps are 2.4 and 3.4 respectively.

3. No one has ever won more than four U.S. Opens – or have they?

Ben Hogan at Hale America National Open

Ben Hogan at Hale America National Open

Willie Anderson, Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, and Jack Nicklaus hold the record for most U.S. Open championships with four each. But Ben Hogan went to his grave believing he had won five. Why? In 1942, the USGA cancelled the U.S. Open with America at war. But mostly it was because the host club, Interlachen Country Club in Minnesota, backed out. The USGA co-sponsored another event in its place as a substitute to raise money for the war effort. It was called the Hale America National Open Golf Tournament, and it featured all the top pros and offered the biggest purse of the year. It was a United States Open in everything but the name, and Hogan won by three strokes. The pros and golf writers all considered it an “Open” but the record books never agreed.

4. You really do have to win one of these to be considered a golf immortal

It is no coincidence that three of the faces on golf’s Mount Rushmore won four U.S. Open Championships (the other, Tiger Woods, has three). Sam Snead won 82 tournaments and seven majors, but is not revered like Hogan because of that goose egg at the U.S. Open. When he was 27 years old in 1939, just a par five on the finishing hole would have won him the tournament, but his golf ball had other plans and he made triple bogey. He was still trying 34 years later when he became the oldest player to make the cut in the Open, but sadly never won. And how much higher would Phil Mickelson rank in history’s regard if he could have turned one or two of those six runner-up finishes into wins?

5. No, Jordan Spieth will not be the youngest winner of the U.S. Open if he wins

Johnny McDermott

Johnny McDermott

No doubt you will hear announcers invoke the name of Johnny McDermott during this year’s U.S. Open, when the cameras hone in on 21-year old Masters champion Jordan Spieth. McDermott, the Philadelphia golfer who dropped out of high school to play professional golf, won in 1911 when he was 19 years, 315 days old. He won again the next year at the Country Club of Buffalo, so he had two Open titles before his 21st birthday.

However, if 15-year old Cole Hammer wins, he will be the youngest champion ever, as he is also one of the youngest ever to make the cut. The youngster qualified after shooting a 64-68 in Dallas.

6. The U.S. Open still requires an 18-hole playoff to break a tie

The U.S. Open is the last major to use an 18-hole playoff on Monday to determine a winner. If play ends in a tie on Sunday, there is no sudden-death playoff. It is a full 18 holes the following day. The last time that was necessary was at Torrey Pines in 2008, which actually did go to sudden death before Tiger Woods finally held off Rocco Mediate on the 19th hole. That was Woods’ last major title.

7. The U.S. Open trophy does not have a name

U.S. Open Championship Trophy

U.S. Open Trophy

No Claret Jug (British Open Championship) or Wanamaker Trophy (PGA Championship). It is just the U.S. Open Championship Trophy. The current trophy was first presented by the USGA in 1947 and holds many similarities to the the very first U.S. Open trophy from 1895. However, that original trophy was burned in a fire in 1946.

Its replacement has a permanent home is at the Golf House museum at USGA headquarters in Far Hills, New Jersey, and champions receive a replica of the tournament trophy to take home.

8. The USGA likes to bring the tournament to different sections of the country

One of the stated goals of the USGA is to bring “America’s tournament” to as many people as possible. However, the mid-June dates make that difficult in the southern tier of the country, so it may not always be obvious. The tournament committee wanted to bring the event to the Pacific Northwest for the first time, which is why the 2015 Open is at Chambers Bay on the Puget Sound.

9. Oakmont Country Clubs may be the ultimate U.S. Open test

Oakmont Country Club outside Pittsburgh has hosted more U.S. Opens – eight – than any other course and the tournament is planned to head there again next year. The course, built by amateur golfer and steel industrialist Henry Clay Fownes in 1904, is roundly considered the toughest test of golf in America. It started as a par 80 with over 300 bunkers, and the greens are so severe that golf icon and western Pennsylvania native, Arnold Palmer, used to say that he could hit all 72 Oakmont greens in an Open and still lose the tournament.

10. You can play more U.S. Open courses than in years past

For decades the United States Open was associated with posh private clubs, hidden behind thick hedges that the public otherwise never saw. That changed in 2002 when the USGA staged a “bold experiment” to bring the championship to a true public fee course: Bethpage Black on Long Island. The result was so spectacular that since then the U.S. Open has been back to Bethpage Black again, to another daily fee course at Torrey Pines and is back at a public course in Chambers Bay this year. In 2017, the Open will travel to Erin Hills, a public course in Wisconsin. Toss in resort courses like Pinehurst and Pebble Beach, and that is a half-dozen United States Open courses any golfer can play.

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