Breaking down the top shots in U.S. Open history
Saturday, June 7, 2014
Major championships are career-defining moments. If you own a green jacket, the U.S. Open Championship trophy, the Claret Jug or the Wanamaker trophy, you've made it in the game of golf.
While the trophy is what you take home, it is the shots that the player pulls off in the toughest of conditions that go down in history.
The shots keep fans buzzing decades later, and can simply define a career that was looking for a bit of definition.
Our crew of senior writers have been around the game for dozens of years combined, and have seen their fair share of incredible moments in the U.S. Open.
So, in honor of this year's national championship at historic Pinehurst No. 2, those writers sat down to reflect on what they believe is the best shot in U.S. Open history.
Surprisingly, there was no overlap from our experts . . .
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Jim McCabe: Arnold Palmer, 1960, Cherry Hills, final round
My shot comes courtesy of Arnold Palmer on the first hole of the fourth round of the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills.
If he doesn’t drive the 346-yard, par-4 first hole, maybe Arnold Palmer doesn’t make birdie, maybe doesn’t make six birdies in the first seven holes, maybe doesn’t shoot 65 – 280 to storm from 15th place to win, and maybe – just maybe – doesn’t become The King and the most beloved golfer ever and a one-man rocket who carried the game to extraordinary heights. Such a frightening thought, so be thankful that he did drive that green with the most important golf shot in U.S. Open history.
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Adam Schupak: Tom Watson, 1982, Pebble Beach, final round
The 1982 U.S. Open is the first national championship I remember watching, and it is etched in my memory because of the heroics of the favorite golfer of my youth. Tom Watson arrived at the picturesque, 209-yard 17th having just bogeyed the previous hole to fall back into a tie for the lead with Jack Nicklaus. His 2-iron drifted left and chased through the green into the gnarly fescue grass that guarded the shallow, hourglass-shaped green.
Watson’s caddie, Bruce Edwards, realistically calculated that even a golfer with Watson’s superlative touch would be able to stop the ball perhaps only 5 to 7 feet from the hole. Imagining the best-case scenario, Edwards optimistically left his partner with the parting shot, “Get it close.” Watson, famously replied, “I’m not gonna get it close; hell, I’m gonna make it!”
Blessed with a fluffy lie, Watson managed to slip the leading edge of his sand wedge, a gift from Tour pro David Graham, underneath and puffed the ball barely onto the putting surface. Once the ball landed, it picked up speed and, as if drawn by a magnet, obediently curved toward the hole, hit the stick flush and fell for a miraculous birdie.
Watson once told me that he immediately knew he had holed the shot and he burst into spontaneous dance, lifting his arms toward the sky in jubilation and then pointing at Edwards as if to say, “I told you so.”
It was an instant classic before ESPN coined that phrase, and I think of it all the time. First an advertisement taped to my bedroom wall and later a framed photo commemorating the moment has hung in some corner of my home as a constant reminder since my teenage years. As if I could ever forget that shot!
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For my money, I'll go with Ben Hogan's 1-iron shot on the 72nd hole of the 1950 U.S. Open. Sixteen months after a car accident that nearly killed him, Hogan came to that hole needing a par to force a playoff. Facing about 213 yards to the hole, he hit a shot that ended up 30-40 feet from the hole, two-putted for par and won a three-way playoff the next day. Hogan is pictured from behind in one of golf's most memorable photographs.
I pick this for three basic reasons: 1. Hogan's legs were battered and swollen on his 36th hole of the day. 2. I don't know of many other U.S. Open photos that people have framed and put on their walls. 3. Try finding someone who even owns a 1-iron these days.
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David Dusek: Tiger Woods, 2008, Torrey Pines, practice round
Jack Nicklaus’ 1-iron to the 17th at Pebble Beach in 1972 was amazing, and so was Tom Watson’s chip-in on the same hole 10 years later. I remember watching Hale Irwin on TV as he did a lap of the 18th green at Medinah in 1990 after he jarred a 50-footer. I remember how Corey Pavin’s 4-wood to the last green a Shinnecock Hills in 1995 bounced up onto the green to seal the deal. Pick any of those shots and I wouldn’t have a beef with your choice, but I never saw those in person.
For me, the single greatest shot I saw at a U.S. Open won’t be found on YouTube, and I’d be shocked if there was a single picture of it. Along with a few hearty souls, I woke up early on Monday morning in 2008 during U.S. Open week, in the dark, and made my way to the back nine at Torrey Pines South. Tiger Woods was playing a practice round with some big-hitting lefty named Bubba Watson. How could a guy named ‘Bubba’ ever amount to anything on the PGA Tour?
Anyway, on the 17th tee, Watson pounded a driver halfway to Los Angeles and because there was a thick marine layer still hanging in the air, we were left to presume his ball landed safely at LAX. A moment later, instead of reaching for his driver, Tiger pulled out his 5-wood and lashed at his ball. There was no hint of a knee injury in his swing and he didn’t wince, but what I will never forget is that the ball went about 250 yards and never got above eye level. It was a stinger of the highest order and stopped in the middle of the fairway. I’ve never seen anyone hit a ball that hard and keep it that low. I’ve seen putts fly higher than that drive, which is why I’ve always thought of it as one of the most amazing golf shots I’ve ever seen.