In 1895, the first U.S. Open Championship was held at the Newport Rhode Island Golf and CC. The winner, 21-year-old Horace Rawlins, won the $150 first prize.
In 2012, the 112th U.S. Open, will be held this week at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, with the winner receiving an estimated $1,500,000.
Last year, Rory McIlroy, 16 under par, stunned the rest of the field at the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., embarrassing the host club and the United States Golf Association, which pride themselves in being able to bring the greatest players in the world to their knees. The navy blazers never mention revenge at the Far Hills, N.J., home of the USGA, but rest assured Olympic will be the surrogate for getting even. This year every one of the 156 players who tee off Thursday, June 14, will pay the price.
In 1998, Lee Janzen posted even par when he bested the field to win at Olympic. Ten years earlier, Scott Simpson was three under par when he won at Olympic in 1987. In 1966, Arnold Palmer lost a 7 shot lead to Billy Casper over the last nine to allow Billy Casper to tie and go on to win in a playoff the next day 69 to 73. The “king” was forever dethroned. And in 1955, Jack Fleck surprised everyone by tying Ben Hogan and then winning the next day. Fleck’s 287, seven over par, was the highest U.S. Open score at Olympic. The last amateur to win any U.S. Open was John Goodman in 1933, so don’t look for any amateur surprises this year.
Today’s players have such an equipment advantage over participants in previous Opens at Olympic, but Olympic asks three things from its champions: talent, focus and luck. Tiger Woods has the first two now that he is comfortable in his Sean Foley-tuned swing. By the way, did anyone mention that Tiger is back? Phil Mickelson, who really wants to win a U.S. Open, is a California protégé. He left the Memorial exhausted and will need a major infusion of luck to get it done this week.
McIlroy, last year’s champion, is trying to recover some sense of focus after three missed cuts. But McIlroy, the No. 2 player in the world, is young enough at 23 to shake it off and become the first since Curtis Strange in 1988 and 1989 to win back to back U.S. Opens. Then again, the list of previous winners at Olympic doesn’t suggest that the cream comes to the top as much as the milk just curdles. If that’s the case this year, the last man standing may just be Jason Dufner. This newlywed with the Hogan waggle will need a lucky putter.