NOW THAT THE USGA HAS GONE FROM 18 HOLES TO TWO FOR U.S. OPEN PLAYOFFS, WE LOOK BACK ON WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN. BY DAN JENKINS
Now that the USGA has gone from 18 holes to two for U.S. Open playoffs, we look back on what might have been. BY DAN JENKINS
When the USGA announced this year that it was going to switch to a twohole playoff and sudden death thereafter to determine future winners of the U.S. Open in case of a tie after 72 holes, those who usually follow the championship on TV had a perfect excuse to go happily singing and dancing into the night. No longer would they be forced to call in sick at work to watch the 18-hole playoff on Monday. Unless of course it involved Al Watrous versus Aubrey Boomer. Who would care? I, however, slumped over in regret when the news hit that after 123 years of 18-hole playoffs, five playoffs of 36 holes, and one of 72 holes, the winner of the grand old Open title has suddenly been reduced to what might as well be a coin flip no matter who’s involved. And obviously for television. It sent me staggering back into the past to see how the two-hole playoff and sudden death might have changed history. Immediate finding: In a shocking 15 of the U.S. Open’s 33 playoffs—hold still—a different winner emerges. Pardon me for suggesting that these results would have had a profound effect on the game’s illustrious history. But consider:
On the sixth hole of sudden death, Harry Vardon beats Francis Ouimet at Brookline in 1913, killing one of the great golf stories of all time. Ouimet lives the rest of his life as a bartender.
Instead of Bobby Jones beating Al Espinosa by 23 strokes in their 36-hole playoff at Winged Foot in 1929, Espinosa wins the first two holes to hoist the Open trophy. A year later, Espinosa wins the Grand Slam. Jones retires to practice law. The Masters is never created.
The golf world is saved the agony of enduring its only 72hole playoff when George Von
Elm defeats Billy Burke on the first two holes in 1931 at Inverness. Celebrations break out all over Toledo.
After so many heartbreaks, Sam Snead finally wins the Open in the two-hole playoff over Lew Worsham at St. Louis Country Club in 1947. The world rejoices. The Slammer is no longer a four-time Open runner-up.
Lloyd Mangrum becomes No. 1 on the FBI’s Public Enemy list when he ruins Ben Hogan’s comeback at Merion in 1950 by winning after two holes of the playoff. Hy Peskin’s famous photo of Hogan’s shot to the 72nd hole never makes print. Mangrum escapes capture. Last heard of living somewhere near Auckland, New Zealand.
After blowing a seven-stroke lead in the final nine holes of regulation, Arnold Palmer outlasts Billy Casper on the fourth hole of the playoff at Olympic in 1966 to claim his second Open. The world rejoices again. National holiday declared.
The USGA calls an urgent meeting to discuss the shocking new winners of the Open, a list that now includes Bobby Cruickshank, Jacky Cupit, Loren Roberts and Mark Brooks. Name change of tournament suggested. Under further review, Jack Fleck still beats Hogan at Olympic in ’55, so that nightmare continues, largely at my expense.
UNDER THIS NEW PLAYOFF FORMAT, SAM SNEAD WOULD'VE WON A U.S. OPEN AND A CAREER SLAM.