The U.S. Open: Always Exciting, Always Open

The U.S. Open: Always Exciting, Always Open 1
Shane Bacon attempted to qualify for the 2009 U.S. Open.

FORTY YEARS AGO THIS WEEK, ex-Army staff sergeant Orville Moody stood over a 14-inch putt on the 72nd hole of the U.S. Open at the Champions Golf Club in Houston, Texas.

It was no gimme. “Sarge,” as he was nicknamed, was an awful putter. But he was a sweet ball striker. PGA Tour Commissioner Deane Beman later said, “He was the best shotmaker in the world at the time.”

Nonetheless, Moody had never won a tour event − much less a major − when he took his stance and tried to steady his hands over the biggest putt of his life. Somehow Orville nudged the ball into the cup and was crowned U.S. Open champion. It was his first and last victory on the PGA Tour.

How Moody won that U.S. Open is a part of tournament lore. It’s also a testimony to what makes the U.S. Open great. You see, above all, the U.S. Open is an “open” championship. You can earn your spot in the field, whether as an amateur (1.4 handicap index or lower) or professional.

Sarge was the last local qualifier to win the U.S. Open, meaning he had to advance through both local and sectional qualifying to earn his spot in the field. In April 2007 at the Legends of Golf in Savannah, I sat nearby as Orville told stories about his qualifying juggernaut in ’69. I admit I’m fuzzy on the details, but I believe it included holing out a chip or short pitch to make it on the number during one stage.

Later that year in Baltimore I again hooked up with Sarge at the Senior Players Championship. In fact, I rode with Sarge as he and Jack Fleck partnered in a best-ball event. I believe it was the last tour outing Sarge played before a massive stroke put him in a nursing home until he died in August 2008.

Within hours of Sarge’s death, former caddie and longtime family friend Kim Green contacted me and shared some of her favorite stories.

“He [Orville] had his faults, but his kindnesses and love and generosity made putting up with him so easy,” she said.

Golf Blogger Attempts to Qualify

Because it’s an Open, AOL Fanhouse golf blogger Shane Bacon stepped up to the first tee at Tucson Country Club for a local qualifier in May. Nearly 100 players were vying for six spots. The six qualifiers would face similar or worse odds in the sectional qualifier that followed.

Shane is legit. He played college golf and once shot a 68 in a Gateway Tour event. Still, this was a U.S. Open qualifier.

“I won’t lie,” he wrote. “I was very nervous.”

Shane birdied the first hole, the highlight of his failed attempt. But it’s conceivable he could have posted a qualifying number and advanced to the sectional. He’s good enough. He took a shot at it.

That’s what’s great about the U.S. Open. A golf blogger can qualify.

Can a Qualifier Still Win?

Yes. Michael Campbell won in 2005.

And last year journeyman Rocco Mediate − yes, a qualifier − almost did the unthinkable. He went toe-to-toe with Tiger Woods at Torrey Pines and nearly completed one of golf’s greatest upsets.

Mediate was having a mediocre 2008 season until he reached the Memorial Tournament and notched a top-10 finish. The following day, bad back and all, Rocco grinded for 36 holes in a Columbus, Ohio, sectional qualifier. He squeaked into an 11-man playoff for six spots. Rocco birdied, and he was on his way to La Jolla.

That’s what’s still great about the U.S. Open. If you play well enough, you can get in. And once you’re in, you have a chance to win.

−The Armchair Golfer

The U.S. Open: Always Exciting, Always Open 2FREE Drawing for ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
Enter the free drawing at above right (or ARMCHAIR GOLF BLOG) for a hardcover edition of ARE YOU KIDDING ME? The Story of Rocco Mediate’s Extraordinary Battle with Tiger Woods at the U.S. Open. The book is by Rocco Mediate and bestselling author John Feinstein.

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Neil Sagebiel

3 thoughts on “The U.S. Open: Always Exciting, Always Open”

  1. Mediate did shock a lot of people. He really came out of no where because his season wasn't going to well in the beginning. I would love to win that book by Mediate too…I heard he may be signing things at the sports challenge? Anyway, I'm super excited to see the results of the U.S. open this year!


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