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U.S. OPEN : Trevino Certain That Long Hitter Will Be Winner

June 15, 1989|MAL FLORENCE | Times Staff Writer

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Lee Trevino is getting considerable attention on the eve of the start of 89th U.S. Open golf tournament.

It's not that Trevino is favored to win, but just that he won the Open at Oak Hill Country Club the last time it was played here, in 1968, for his first tour victory.

Trevino, 49, doesn't figure he'll repeat at the same site 21 years later, but he has a thought on the type of pro who will win.

"I definitely think a long hitter will win the tournament," Trevino said.

He based his assessment on steady rain here Wednesday and the 70% chance of more today.

"I think the rain has taken care of the short hitters," Trevino said. "When you come to a U.S. Open, the short hitter who is extremely straight has an advantage because there's an opening in front of the greens on the old courses that are played in the Open and you can run the ball up.

"And if you don't have soft fairways, the straight hitter can get something extra out of his drives. A long hitter doesn't have an advantage.

"However, when you get a wet golf course like we have here, the premium is going to be on hitting the ball long."

Given that long hitters have an advantage on a soggy course, Trevino was asked to identify the favorites.

"This will favor Seve (Ballesteros), and Jumbo Ozaki is very long. Greg Norman is going to be in there someplace. Nick Faldo is playing extremely well.

"Sandy Lyle's game is off a little bit, but he's long. So is Mark Calcavecchia. And Curtis Strange has a tremendous amount of willpower and guts. We call him the Piranha because if he gets a chance, he'll gobble you right up. And Paul Azinger is starting to play very well.

"It's going to be someone young and someone long."

Strange is the defending champion, but that apparently doesn't give him an edge, considering that Ben Hogan was the last golfer to win consecutive U.S. Opens, in 1950 and '51.

Moreover, Strange, the PGA player of the year in 1988, has yet to win on the tour this year, even though he has earned $323,414 and ranks 13th on the money list.

There is usually a hometown favorite at any tournament and that distinction belongs to Jeff Sluman, the 1988 PGA champion, who grew up in Rochester.

However, if anyone can be called a favorite, Faldo would fall into that category. Not only did he win the Masters last April in a dramatic playoff with Scott Hoch, he recently won the European PGA championship and British Masters. And he came close to winning the Open last year, losing to Strange in a playoff.

Faldo, of course, is the only pro who has a chance to win the Grand Slam--victories in four majors--Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA.

Asked if he has given any thought to the Grand Slam, Faldo said: "Not really. It's not impossible but the odds are pretty slim, about 50,000 to 1. Hogan and (Jack) Nicklaus are the only ones to come close in the last 40 years of golf."

As for his confidence factor in his quest to win another major, Faldo said: "The most confident I've ever been was a couple of weeks ago when I won the British Masters. But this game can kick you in the teeth if you get too excited. You have to bring yourself down to earth and start again."

Faldo said he hasn't been dwelling on his U.S. Open loss to Strange last year. However, there could be some pressure on Strange considering his status as the defending champion.

Strange said he has had some sleepless nights pondering the defense of his championship.

"It's difficult not to get caught up defending a major," Strange said. "I've been trying to play tournaments, but it's tough because you keep coming back to the Open. That's what it's all about.

"I want to do well, of course. I'm the defending champion and that means a lot personally. Everyone will look to see what I shoot. Yes, I'm under the microscope."

Strange had won two tournaments last year before winning the Open.

"I'm not on the same level I was at last year, but I'm not far from it," he said. "I've probably tried too hard to win rather than just let it happen this season. I've said all along, the best thing I can do in 1989 is forget about what happened in 1988. I think I've done that."

He may have last year, when he became the first golfer to win $1 million or more in a season, in perspective, but the Open is special to him--as it is to any pro.

Strange's best tour finishes this year were third place in the Doral Ryder, Honda and Nestle Invitational tournaments in February and March.

Although Trevino believes that the long hitters have an advantage on the 6,902-yard, par-70 Oak Hill course, others, such as Nicklaus, say that the player with the best all-around game will prevail in the Open.

"Two things are important," said Craig Harmon, the pro at Oak Hill. "Good driving and good iron play. Accuracy off the tees and into the greens are premiums."

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