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Open enjoys No. 100

Since 1895, the tournament has attracted the world's best golfers.

By BOB HARIG

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 13, 2000


PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- In the beginning, it was not much of a tournament at all. It attracted a whopping 11 players -- 10 pros and one amateur -- who took four trips around the same nine-hole course in Rhode Island and called it the golf championship of the United States.

The U.S. Open has come a long way.

Considered a sideshow to the first U.S. Amateur, which was played on the same Newport Golf and Country Club course during the same week, the first U.S. Open played in 1895 offered a purse of $335. English professional Horace Rawlins, 21, was the winner, shooting scores of 91 and 82 with a gutta percha golf ball.

From those humble beginnings, a major championship was born. Except for periods during two world wars when the tournament was halted, it has been played every year.

And that makes this one special.

The 100th U.S. Open will be this week at Pebble Beach Golf Links, where it will be played for the fourth time.

Considered one of America's golf treasures, Pebble Beach is always among the top-rated courses in the country.

The winners here have been significant, too: Jack Nicklaus (1972), Tom Watson (1982) and Tom Kite (1992).

Here is a look at the Open.

NO DEFENSE: While the U.S. Open celebrates No. 100, it mourns the passing of two-time champion Payne Stewart, who died in October in a plane crash.

This is the seventh time a champion will not defend his title, the first since Ben Hogan in 1949, who was unable to play following a serious automobile accident. The last player to not defend before that was Bobby Jones, who retired after winning the Grand Slam in 1930. The others who did not defend were Harry Vardon (1901), Alex Smith (1907), Jerome Travers (1916) and Edward Ray (1921).

JACK'S OPEN RECORDS: Any discussion of the U.S. Open can't go very far without mentioning Nicklaus, who has competed in nearly half of the championships played. This year, at age 60, Nicklaus will be competing in his 44th Open.

Nicklaus, of course, has his own personal history at Pebble Beach, where he won the 1961 U.S. Amateur and the 1972 Open and where he was denied a record fifth Open title in 1982 when Watson chipped in for a birdie at the 71st hole.

Nonetheless, the Golden Bear has the lion's share of U.S. Open records: top-10 finishes (18); top-25 finishes (22); low 72-hole score by an amateur (282, 1960); lowest score by winner, first round (63); most consecutive Opens (43, soon to be 44); Opens finished 72 holes (35); span from first victory to last victory (18 years); most subpar rounds, career (35); most rounds in the 60s (29); most subpar 72-hole totals (7); most special exemptions for a U.S. player (8).

FOUR-TIME WINNERS: Nicklaus won the tournament in 1962, 1967, 1972 and 1980. Only three others won it as many times: Bobby Jones (1923, 1926, 1929, 1930), Willie Anderson (1901, 1903, 1904, 1905) and Hogan (1948, 1950, 1951, 1953).

GOING LOW: Johnny Miller's 63 in the final round of the 1973 U.S. Open at Oakmont is believed by many to be the finest round in Open history. Miller hit every green in regulation and took just 29 putts. Ten of his iron approach shots finished 15 feet or closer. Of the 64 other players in the field that day, only four broke 70. Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf also have shot 63 in an Open, both doing so in the first round in 1980.

GOING LOW, FOR NINE: Neal Lancaster is the only player to shoot 29 for nine holes. And he did it twice. Lancaster did it during the final round of the 1995 Open at Shinnecock, then did it at Oakland Hills a year later in the second round.

SHOOTING HIGH: Ten players have shot in the 80s and won, the last occurring in 1911 when John McDermott shot 81 in the first round and then 80 in a playoff in becoming the first U.S. born champion.

AMATEURS: John Goodman was the fifth and last amateur to win the U.S. Open in 1933. The first was Francis Ouimet in 1913 at age 20. The others were Jerome Travers (1915), Charles (Chick) Evans Jr. (1916) and Bobby Jones (1923, 1926, 1929, 1930). Evans was the first player to capture the U.S. Amateur and Open in the same year.

FIFTY YEARS AGO: In one of the more historic U.S. Opens, Hogan returned after missing the Open the previous year while recovering from injuries sustained in a serious car accident and won the 1950 title in a three-man, 18-hole playoff with Lloyd Mangrum and George Fazio.

ONE HUNDRED YEARS AGO: British star Harry Vardon, already a winner of three British Opens (he would go on to win six), captured the U.S. Open at Chicago Golf Club. His first-place payday: $200.

YOUNG AND OLD: McDermott became the youngest winner of the championship when he triumphed in 1911 at age 19. Eight players 21 or younger have won the Open, but none that young since Bobby Jones in 1923. Since then, the youngest to capture the title was Jerry Pate at age 22 in 1976. The oldest winner of the Open was Hale Irwin in 1990 at age 45.

PLAYOFF: The Open is the only championship with an 18-hole playoff in case of a tie. It used to be worse. In 1931, a 36-hole playoff format was in place. And when Billy Burke and George Von Elm were tied after the extra 36, they played 36 more -- a total of 72 playoff holes and 144 for the entire tournament with Burke winning. The following year, the Open went to an 18-hole playoff.

FORMAT: Over the years, it has changed several times. It started as a 36-hole championship and was extended to 72 holes in 1898, with 36 holes played on each of two days. In 1926, the format changed to 18 holes played each of two days, then 36 holes on the third day. In 1965, the current format of four 18-hole rounds was instituted for the first time.

- Information from Golf Journal, Golf Digest and the U.S. Golf Association was used in this report.

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