As the start of the US Open 2015 nears we take a look back at some of the best shots in the history of the tournament. Some of these are just incredible!
Corey Pavin, Shinnecock Hills, 1995
There was 209 yards separating Corey Pavin and the 18th pin. Pavin knew that Greg Norman was still close, so he boldly launched a 4-wood and watched on as his ball landed behind a small hill that was blocking his view of the green.
As he began to race down the cheers of the fans who were calling out his name in unison told him all he needed to know. The ball had landed just short of the green and rolled to within five feet of the pin, leaving Pavin with a pedestrian two-putt for par and a two-shot victory for his first major championship.
“It was by far the biggest shot of the little man’s life,” wrote Larry Dorman of the New York Times. “For too many years now, he had endured the left-handed compliment—best player never to have won a major championship. Now, if he could hit the green, he could lose the label forever and take his place among the giants of the game.”
“It’s the most pressure I’ve ever felt on a golf course,” Pavin went on to say. “I just tried to gather myself and make a good swing. I was trying to hit a low draw, and I knew I’d hit a good shot. I just took off running then because I wanted to see it. I knew it would get pretty close.”
Payne Stewart, Pinehurst, 1999
Alan Shipnuck described the 1999 Open as “the greatest U.S. Open ever,” on Golf.com, and Payne Stewart won his third major against Phil Mickelson after producing an amazing putt on the last hole at Pinehurst.
The Open came down to the final two holes on the Sunday. Stewart managed to pick up a birdie on No. 17 to establish the outright lead over Mickelson, who only managed par. Mickelson narrowly missed his putt on No. 18, which then left Stewart staring at an 18-foot par putt with the trophy just moments away.
It had been eight years since Stewart’s last major victory, and the sheer explosion of emotions right after his victory was testament to how much it meant to him. “I kept my head still on that putt,” said Stewart. “And when I looked up, it was about two feet from the hole, and it was breaking right in the centre, and I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe that I’d accomplished another dream of mine.”
Heartbreakingly, Stewart died four months later in a plane crash, but his performance and victory in the 1999 U.S. Open earned him – rightly so – legendary status and he is still revered to this day by peers and fans alike.
Hale Irwin, Medinah, 1990
Entering the final round at Medinah Country Club in Illinois in 1990, Hale Irwin was four strokes off the lead, but he didn’t let that unsettle him. He made up for the previous day’s deficit and carded a scintillating six-under on the back nine to earn a playoff place against Mike Donald.
The playoff was exciting enough, but the final stroke of Day 4 that earned Irwin the right to battle on the Monday was incredible stuff. The champion of the 1974 and 1979 U.S. Opens was staring down a 45-foot birdie putt to go eight under. The length of the shot was anything but simple, yet Irwin stepped up, gave it one final look, and then patiently rolled his ball over the hump and right down into the centre of the cup.
The weight off his shoulders, Irwin took off running toward the gallery with his arms above his head, smashing high fives from the patrons before blowing them all kisses as he returned to the green.
Jerry Pate, Atlanta, 1976
The young Jerry Pate, just 22-year-olds at the 1976 U.S. Open in Atlanta Athletic Club, found himself holding onto a one-shot lead over 1975 runner-up John Mahaffey as he stepped up to the 18th tee. His first shot found the right rough and left him with an unenvious 194-yard approach over the water.
Pate understood that only a perfect shot would do, otherwise his dream would be over. No pressure. Somehow though, the young golfer collected himself and muscled a 5-iron through the rough to land his ball just three feet from the pin.
“As soon as it left the club face, I knew it was good,” Pate told Ian Thompson of the Birmingham News in 2011. “It was getting late in the day, and it painted the sky. It was as if everything was in slow motion. I couldn’t see it land, but I knew it was good, and the crowd yelled, so I knew it was on the green.”
Some critics have harshly tried to claim that the pressure wasn’t as high because Mahaffey had dropped his 3-wood approach in the water just before, thus easing the tension. However, the threat of losing the Open and his dream was very real, and the shot he ultimately pulled off in the end was nigh on incredible under any circumstanes.
Geoff Ogilvy, Winged Foot, 2006
Most people remember the 2006 U.S. Open for Phil Mickelson’s breakdown on the final hole after his tee shot landed him a double bogey. But, take nothing away from Geoff Ogilvy’s par-saver on No. 17.
Mickelson had a one-shot lead over Ogilvy on the 17th tee box and was agonizingly close to securing his third major of the year. Ogilvy, on the other hand, knew time was running out for him and only managed to find the fringe with his third shot on the par four. With everything to lose, he decided to chip.
Miraculously, the ball landed softly and rolled right into the hole for an even-par lifeline going into No. 18. Ogilvy was still in there. More importantly for him by this point, he now had the momentum.
Eventually, Ogilvy kept a level head, came from behind and got up and down for par at the last to win his first (and only) major. Mickelson, meanwhile, gave two back and settled into a three-way tie for second place with Jim Furyk and Colin Montgomerie.
Jack Nicklaus, Pebble Beach, 1972
A list comprised of the best ever shots in U.S. Open history would not be the same without an inclusion for Jack Nicklaus.
When entering Pebble Beach in 1972 the Golden Bear was fresh off a Masters win and could boast of two U.S. Open titles under his belt. However, the way he earned his third title on the par-three 17th in the final round was something that lives on in memory for anyone that watches it.
With a picture-postcard setting – crashing waves and a cool wind – the scene was set perfectly as Nicklaus hit the ball with his 1-iron. He watched it bounce on the green, hit the pin and settle right next to the hole. Nicklaus putted for birdie on No. 17 and then carded a three-stroke victory over Bruce Compton.
The legend would go onto win one more U.S. Open in 1980, but hitting the pin in 1972 is his proudest shot, as he told Golf.com years later: “The shot I performed, I don’t think I could ever do again.”
Tom Watson, Pebble Beach, 1982
Pebble Beach was the setting again for Tom Watson’s entry on this list. Watson and Nicklaus had systematically been warring against one another down the stretch on the Sunday – though technically the Golden Bear was already in the clubhouse by the time Watson reached the 17th. Watson missed the green on the par three and found his ball lying in the rough on a slope above the hole.
“I didn’t have an impossible lie, but I had to take an awkward stance because I was on a down slope,” he explained to Mal Florence in the Los Angeles Times. “My caddie [Bruce Edwards] said, ‘Get it close. I said, ‘Hell, I’m going to sink it.’
“If the ball doesn’t hit the pin, it goes five or six feet past. I wouldn’t want that shot again to make a par.”
Watson added to that one-stroke lead over Nicklaus with another birdie on No. 18, but the clincher was undoubtedly his chip on No. 17.
The ability to pull off such an audacious shot, and call it beforehand, against someone of Jack Nicklaus’s status takes an unrivalled amount of skill and confidence. Rightly so, Watson earned his spot as one of the greats. And some might argue the best shot of all time in U.S. Open history.