Surprise winner has emerged all four times Olympic Club has hosted U.S. Open
BY HERB GOULD email@example.com June 13, 2012 6:48PM
Jack Fleck, of Davenport, La., poses with his championship trophy after beating Ben Hogan, right, by three strokes in an 18 hole playoff in the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club, Lake Course, in San Francisco, Ca., on June 19, 1955. The man at left is Isaac Grainer, president of the U.S. Golf Association. (AP Photo).
Site: San Francisco.
Course: The Olympic Club, Lake Course (7,170 yards, par 70).
Television: ESPN (Thursday-
Friday, noon-2 p.m., 4-9 p.m.); Ch. 5 (Thursday-Friday, 2-4 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 3-9 p.m.).
Updated: July 15, 2012 3:31PM
SAN FRANCISCO — Four times, the U.S. Open has come to the Olympic Club. All four times, it has wound up with a surprise champion.
In 1955, Jack Fleck shocked his idol, Ben Hogan, in a playoff.
In 1966, Billy Casper defeated Arnold Palmer in a playoff after trailing by seven shots with nine holes left in regulation.
In 1987, Scott Simpson emerged from a crowded field to deny Tom Watson.
In 1998, Lee Janzen prevailed over Payne Stewart, who took a four-shot lead into the final round.
In other words, even though the spotlight will be on big names such as a resurgent Tiger Woods, fan favorite Phil Mickelson and defending champion Rory McIlroy, history indicates a relatively obscure winner will emerge.
We go in thinking Tiger or Phil. We’re likely to come out saying Jason Dufner, Adam Scott or Nick Watney. In this guessing game, even Luke Donald and Steve Stricker are too obvious.
A big reason is that the Olympic Club is notorious for putting a premium on accuracy in an event that seems dedicated to punishing mistakes sternly.
This golf course won’t know the Nike swoosh of Woods’ ball from
the dimples of China native Andy Zhang, the youngest player to make a U.S. Open field.
Zhang looked older than his 14 years during his media conference Wednesday, but he confessed: ‘‘I am shaking a little right now sitting here. I heard Jack Nicklaus was sitting in this chair this morning.’’
Zhang did just fine.
The focus is on the first six holes, where Olympic’s narrow, sloping, tree-lined fairways and slick, small greens are especially challenging.
‘‘They’re just brutal, brutal holes,’’ said NBC analyst Johnny Miller, who grew up playing Olympic. ‘‘I’ve never seen a tougher opening stretch of holes anywhere in the history of major-championship golf. A number of players could lose the tournament there on Thursday.’’
Added Woods: ‘‘If you play them for four straight days even par, you’re going to be picking up a boatload of shots.’’
Woods also said there’s going to be pressure to make birdies on the last three holes — the only two
par-5s on the course, the 16th and 17th, followed by the 344-yard 18th.
‘‘Absolutely, you’re going to have to make some birdies there,’’ Woods said. ‘‘Generally, we’re just trying to hang on coming in and make pars. But all of a sudden, you’ve got to change gears.’’
The last three holes also are perilous, Mickelson said.
‘‘I think 16 will play more over par than any hole on the course,’’ he said. ‘‘And there could be a big swing on 17. It’s a hole that provides an eagle opportunity but can easily lead to a bogey or double [bogey]. And 18, you think it’s a nothing hole, but you hook it into the rough and make double, and you lose the Open. It’s really a great finish.’’
The golf world marvels at how Fleck could beat Hogan on the biggest stage. Still spry at 91, Fleck said his key to victory was nothing fancy.
‘‘I putted very well for me; that has to be a big thing,’’ Fleck said, adding that he nearly snatched the 1960 Open away from Arnold Palmer. ‘‘If I would have been half as good in 1960, Mr. Palmer would have not won that tournament. But I think I missed five little putts on the last nine holes. That happens. That’s golf.’’