BETHESDA, Md. – Compared with some venues of the past century-plus of U.S. Opens, Congressional Country Club might not stir the emotions of golf fans.
Shinnecock Hills, Oakmont, Merion, Winged Foot, Pebble Beach. They form a roll call of memories for our national championship.
Congressional? Sure, we remember Ernie Els’ victory in 1997, when he held off Colin Montgomerie and Tom Lehman for the South African’s second U.S. Open title. And a generation earlier, when Ken Venturi stumbled through his second 18 holes on a sweltering Saturday in 1964 to capture his only major championship.
Exceptional venues and strong contenders are a recipe for memorable championships, yet nothing about a U.S. Open is guaranteed. It takes more than a national treasure of a golf course to produce major memories.
Tiger Woods’ gritty 2008 playoff victory at Torrey Pines, Payne Stewart’s 1999 drama at Pinehurst No. 2 and Hale Irwin’s 1990 mettle at Medinah would have made for great theater just about anywhere.
Here at this playground of political power in the D.C. suburbs, anticipation on the eve of the 111th U.S. Open ebbs. Woods, the most dominant player of the past decade-plus, won’t be here because of an injury. Yet Congressional should not be undersold.
In the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus were in contention as golf’s past, present and future converged. At the 17th hole, Hogan flubbed a chip shot that would become part of Open lore. It opened the door for Palmer to win his only U.S. Open title. Yet Nicklaus left quite an impression on the steely Hogan.
“I played 36 holes today with a kid who should have won this Open by 10 shots,” he said, famously.
Of course, Nicklaus’ time would come, but for Cherry Hills, it’s day had arrived — not so much for the strength of the Denver layout but for its challengers who would play their way into Open history.
Congressional might not be quite the caliber of an Oakmont, but what if Phil Mickelson, Luke Donald or Lee Westwood were to win his first U.S. Open here? Or if Rickie Fowler finally were to break through?
It wasn’t so much the shots or the course that we remember from Ken Venturi’s stirring effort here in 1964. It was his determination.
Give the week time to play out. Afterall, who would have granted Francis Ouimet much of a chance early in Open week in 1913? Because of that upset, you probably recall The Country Club as the site.
A similar fate could await Congressional.