Professional / PGA Tour

How has the U.S. Open changed? A revealing look at the 1973 Open at Oakmont

The scorecards from Johnny's Miller 1973 U.S. Open victory at Oakmont Country Club.
The scorecards from Johnny's Miller 1973 U.S. Open victory at Oakmont Country Club. (Getty Images)

OAKMONT, Pa. – Doc Giffin, the longtime confidant of Arnold Palmer, received an award from the U.S. Golf Association on Wednesday for his years of service to golf.

In his acceptance speech, Giffin talked about how different things are now than when he came to Oakmont as the PGA Tour press secretary in 1962, when Jack Nicklaus took “The King” down in his own neighborhood. Back then, Giffin said, the media had one tent and a little auxiliary tent for food. (Of course, today’s media operation is massive, with four large tents taking up 26,492 square feet.)

That got me thinking about how other opens were different. Instead of going back to 1962, I went 11 years later, with 1973, and took a look at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The 1973 U.S. Open is known mostly for winner Johnny Miller’s spectacular final-round 63 on what was then maybe the hardest venue in the history of the national championship. That score has survived the test of time as it remains the lowest in major-championship history, even though it has been matched.

Miller’s 63 likely won’t be eclipsed this week as many believe the winning score will be closer to 2007 winner Angel Cabrera’s 5-over score than Ernie Els’ 5-under winning total here in 1994.

In the Friday, June 15 edition of the Post-Gazette, Gary Player’s 3-under 67 in the first round was not the top story, running secondary to the headline, “Mitchell OK’d bug – Magruder.”

For those of you too young to remember, that summer was the height of the Watergate investigation and the topic consumed the country through most of the next year, until Richard Nixon resigned as president in August 1974. “Mitchell” referred to former Attorney General John Mitchell, and “Magruder” referenced Jeb Stuart Magruder, the deputy director of the Committee for the Re-Election of the President.

The first round also started a little awkwardly when Jack Crist, the starter, called the first tee times on the first hole. According to the Post-Gazette, Crist, after welcoming the crowd to the 73rd U.S. Open, said, “First off the tee this morning is Geoff Hensley, from Zephyrhills, Fla.; Bob Gilder, an amateur from Tempe, Ariz.; and Roland Stafford of Verona, Pa. Mr. Hensley has the honor.”

Unfortunately, Hensley was nowhere in sight. After what the paper said was an embarrassingly long wait, Hensley was called again, but there still was no answer. Crist asked where Hensley was and finally a cry came from outside the gallery ropes, as Hensley appeared out of breath.

“I’m not wearing a watch, “Hensley said. “They should have some way of calling you from the practice area. It’s 200 yards away, and I had to run all the way.”

Hensley didn’t play so well after hitting his tee shot into the right rough, leading to a 79.

The spectators have a little different experience, as well. The public had unrestricted parking on Oakmont’s East Course, just on the other side of the second green off of Hulton Road, and free shuttle service from the parking lot to the course was provided in 1973.

In 2016, public parking is either at the Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills, northeast of Oakmont, or Hartwood Acres, north of Oakmont. Both parking lots are approximately 25 miles from the U.S. Open, but complimentary shuttle is available.

Miller’s victory was worth $35,000, and the total purse was $219,400. This week’s purse has not been announced, but last year Jordan Spieth pocketed $1.8 million from a purse of $10 million.

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