As we get ready for the 2012 U.S. Open, held this year on The Olympic Club in San Francisco, and virtually on World Golf Tour, we take a look back at the history of this world-renowned championship.
The United States Open Championship (U.S. Open) is the second of four major championships in golf, including the Masters, British Open and PGA Championship. It has been conducted by the United States Golf Association (USGA) since it began in 1895. The first U.S. Open was held on the nine-hole course of Newport Golf and Country Club, and played four times in one day (for a 36-hole competition) by ten professionals and one amateur. The surprise winner was Horace Rawlins, 21, the assistant professional at Newport. Rawlins scored 91-82-173 with the gutta-percha ball. The prize money totaled $335, and Rawlins won the $150 first prize. He also received a gold medal and custody of the Open Championship Cup for one year, presented by the USGA.
In its first decade, the U.S. Open was conducted for amateurs and the British wave of golf professionals coming to the United States. It wasn't until 1913 that the U.S. Open really took off, when Francis Ouimet, a 20-year-old American amateur, stunned the golf world by defeating famous English professionals, Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, in a playoff. Another surge in the championship's popularity coincided with the amazing career of Georgia amateur Bobby Jones, who won the U.S. Open four times (1923, 1926, 1929, 1930). In 1960, Arnold Palmer scored a record comeback win at the U.S. Open when he fired a final round of 65 to come from seven strokes off the lead, cementing his dashing image. Jack Nicklaus' historic assault on the professional record book began when he won the first of his four U.S. Open Championships in 1962, his rookie season as a professional. Nicklaus, who also won in 1967, 1972, and 1980, is one of only four golfers to win four U.S. Opens. The others are Willie Anderson, Bob Jones and Ben Hoga.
In more recent years, the current defending champion from Congressional is Rory McIlroy with an impressive eight stroke victory. Tiger Woods won the U.S. Open in 2002, 2002 and 2008, and Retief Goosen in 2001 and 2004. However, the most famous modern U.S. Open champion may be Payne Stewart, who won the title in 1991 at Hazeltine and in 1999 at Pinehurst. Months later, Stewart died in a tragic plane accident at the age of 42, but his famous winning fist-pump is commemorated in a life-size statue overlooking the 18th green at Pinehurst.
Today, the U.S. Open is staged at a variety of courses each year in mid-June so that the final round is played on the third Sunday, which is Father's Day. In the U.S. Open, noted for being golf’s toughest test, par is always a good score and can often be good enough to win. Normally, an Open course is quite long and will have a high cut of primary rough (termed "Open rough" by the American press and fans), undulating greens (such as at Pinehurst No. 2 in 2005, which was described by Johnny Miller of NBC as "like trying to hit a ball on top of a VW Beetle"), and pinched fairways (especially on what are expected to be less difficult holes). Note that the format of the U.S. Open has changed several times. The USGA extended the championship to 72 holes in 1898, with 36 holes played on each of two days. In 1926, the format was changed to 18 holes played each of two days, then 36 holes on the third day. In 1965, the present format of four 18-hole daily rounds was implemented for the first time. The only break in the U.S. Opens since 1895 was 1917-18 for World War 1 and 1942-45 for World War II.
To learn more about the 2012 U.S. Open, visit the USGA site for more information, and stay tuned for weekly updates from WGT.
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