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U.S. OPEN OAKLAND HILLS | GOLF / THOMAS BONK

Winning an Open Has Become a Unique Experience

June 16, 1996|THOMAS BONK

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. — The U.S. Open has deep rough, narrow fairways and fast greens. Seven of the last eight winners of the U.S. Open have no other major titles.

Does this mean anything? What it seems to indicate is that in recent history, only a certain type of player wins the U.S. Open, which as we know pretty much sets itself apart from its major championship brethren.

1. Big hitters need not apply: You drive it wildly and you might as well turn in your courtesy car Friday night.

2. The rough eats golf balls: (See No. 1.) As the courses are set up by the U.S. Golf Assn., you must hit drives that are as straight as a flagstick or the penalty is a walk in grass halfway up your pants leg.

3. The greens are fast: And that's not all. They've also got more undulations than a belly dancer.

Before the first round, Tom Watson said there were only about 20 players who had a chance to win. Recent Open history seems to indicate it's usually the type of player who follows rules 1, 2 and 3.

The winners: Corey Pavin in 1995, Ernie Els in 1994, Lee Janzen in 1993, Tom Kite in 1992, Payne Stewart in 1991, Hale Irwin in 1990, Curtis Strange in 1988 and 1989 and Scott Simpson in 1987.

Of that group, Stewart is the only one to have won a different major. He won the 1989 PGA Championship.

Irwin has won three U.S. Opens. Strange hasn't won any tournament since defending his Open title.

Loren Roberts, who lost to Els in a playoff at Oakmont, said it's only a cycle.

"You've also had winners like Watson and Nicklaus who win a lot of majors," Roberts said. "I think things will change again."

About the only thing that has changed so far, Roberts said, is the length of the U.S. Open rough. It has gotten taller, from Oakmont to Shinnecock last year to Oakland Hills this year.

"It's really, really extreme," he said.

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Top excuse: Friday was a work day, but that didn't seem to stop many people from showing up at Oakland Hills for the Open, which means they all must have some pretty good alibis going at work.

A man who identified himself only as Jeff, from West Bloomfield, said he used this on his boss: "I told him I came down with a bogey."

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Most expensive parking: The lot on Maple Avenue across the street from the club is charging $35.

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Most puzzling: Ian Baker-Finch. The player who defines slumps. Baker-Finch had 46 on the front and shot 83 Thursday when he hit one fairway and came back with a 82 Friday to finish 25 over par.

Baker-Finch, who won the 1991 British Open, has not made a cut in his last 26 PGA Tour events.

On the 15th tee Friday, Baker-Finch hit a low hook that went about 50 yards. "Well, that's a new one," he said.

In his last six U.S. Open rounds, Baker-Finch is 51 over par.

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Most honest: Curtis Strange thinks Oakland Hills is pretty difficult. Said Strange: "I'm just glad I'm not a member here because I'd have to play here every day."

Scott McCarron is a close second. Said McCarron: "The greens are borderline ridiculous."

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Open and Shut

Recent U.S. Open winners and their next PGA Tour victory.

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Year: Open Winner Next Victory 1987: Scott Simpson 1989 BellSouth Classic 1988: Curtis Strange 1989 U.S. Open 1989: Curtis Strange None 1990: Hale Irwin 1990 Buick Classic 1991: Payne Stewart 1995 Houston Open 1992: Tom Kite 1993 Bob Hope Classic 1993: Lee Janzen 1994 Buick Classic 1994: Ernie Els 1995 Byron Nelson Classic 1995: Corey Pavin 1996 Colonial

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