Rewrit­ing His­tory

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

Golf Digest Middle East - - Contents -

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.

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