Els and co must roll up their sleeves at US Open
THIS being a US Open week I’ve done what I usually do and that is, just for interest, look up in my US Open Almanac who won America’s fabled championship 100 years ago.
This took me back to 1917 but there wasn’t a US Open that year because of the Great War. The tournament returned in 1919 at Brae Burn CC in Massachusetts. At the end of 72 holes of regulation play that larger than life, magnificent showman, notorious party animal and superb golfer that was Walter Hagen and little-known Mike Brady were tied at the top on 301.
That called for an 18-hole play-off and legend has it that after the final round of regulation play ‘The Haig’ attended a party thrown by Al Johnson and stayed out all night. Next morning, after a quick shower, Hagen arrived at the course for the play-off.
Brady parred the first hole to go one up but on the second tee the following exchange took place:
“Mike, if I were you I’d roll down my sleeves,” said Hagan. “Why?” Brady enquired. “So all the gallery won’t see your muscles quivering,” replied Hagen.
Brady, intimidated by the great man, hooked his drive which led to a six and Hagen went on to win.
Hagen saw the world as his oyster, staying in the best hotel suites, dressing grandly, often arriving at the course in a chauffeur-driven limousine and he was apt to give his first place cheque to his caddie.
In a fabulous and colourful 30-year career he won 11 Majors, 60 tournaments and played in 1500 exhibition matches around the world, including in South Africa.
In explaining his all-night party bouts before a tournament round and pitching up at the first tee still in his tuxedo, Hagen said: “The rest of the field might have been in bed, but they most assuredly were simply tossing and turning and not sleeping. I felt it more restful to stay up rather than to toss and turn.”
This flamboyant American is part of the game’s rich history and, hopefully, one of eight South Africans in the US Open beginning at Erin Hills in Wisconsin tomorrow will add to that history with a famous victory.
Close to 10 000 golfers tried to qualify for the US Open. So to have eight players – Els, Schwartzel, Oosthuizen, Grace, Thomas Aiken, George Coetzee, Oliver Bekker and young Brandon Stone - in the final 156-man line-up is just a reminder that we’re not a bad golfing nation. Schwartzel is in fine form after finishing tied second behind Daniel Berger in the PGA tour’s FedEx St Jude Classic on Sunday, while you can never discount Grace and Oosthuizen (he seems relaxed and I like his chances) as contenders this week. Two-time US Open champion Els is not the force he once was, but don’t be surprised to see some good golf from Stone who although still only 24 has won both the BMW South African Open and Alfred Dunhill Championship on the European Tour.
Well done to our own Dylan Frittelli, like Stone a former SA amateur No 1, for registering his maiden European Tour win in the Lyoness Open in Austria on Sunday, with compatriot Jbe Kruger joint runner-up. Frittelli played college golf for the University of Texas where he won the decisive match to lead his team to victory at the 2012 NCAA Championships and he’s shown steady improvement as a professional in the past four or five years.
Finally, just a word on the late, great Vincent Tshabalala who passed away earlier this month aged 75. He won nine times as a professional including the French Open in 1972 at Le Touquet with a score of 272. The following year, at the same course, Seve Ballesteros took the honours on a return 10 shots worse.
Tshabalala was an amazing talent and, had it not been for apartheid which cost him many opportunities on the fairways of the world, he surely would have won more. He always had a smile and in pro-ams, as I discovered, he was always happy to help you with your dodgy swing.
Fine man, fine golfer.