US Open countdown: Hale Irwin survives a wicked Winged Foot

74th U.S. Open/June 13-16, 1974

Winged Foot GC West Course, Mamaroneck, N.Y.


Hale Irwin, United States 73 - 70 - 71 - 73 287
Forrest Fezler, United States 75 - 70 - 74 - 70 289
Lou Graham, United States 71 - 75 - 74 - 70 290
Bert Yancey, United States 76 - 69 - 73 - 72 290
Jim Colbert, United States 72 - 77 - 69 - 74 292
Arnold Palmer, United States 73 - 70 - 73 - 76 292
Tom Watson, United States 73 - 71 - 69 - 79 292

Johnny Miller’s final round 63 to win the 1973 U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club not only had a profound effect on how the USGA set up this course — which was brutally difficult — but also on how it would view future national opens.

In short, that kind of score would never be seen again.

So when the field showed up to Winged Foot, players saw conditions they had never seen before. Thus, the nickname “Massacre at Winged Foot,” penned by famous sportswriter Dick Schaap, came to light.

Greens were so fast, the world’s best — including 14-time major championship winner Jack Nicklaus — were seen rolling their putts off the greens.

And the rough was so thick and deep that if a golfer could advance his ball 100 yards out of it, it was considered a near miracle.

Members of Winged Foot were so confident no golfer would break par through four rounds of the championship, some began taking wagers on it.

Yet, one Missouri native — Hale Irwin — not only survived the week, but also told his wife, Sally, that he had a dream weeks before that he would win this national open.

On the first day, 44 golfers shot 80 or worse. Nobody broke par.

The morning of the second round, word got around that a car had been driven onto the course and over the first hole green. Rampant speculation was that a drunken patron might have gotten disoriented, and devised his own exit strategy from the nearby parking lot.

In the second round, 43 more scores of 80 or higher were recorded. The tournament cut was 14-over 154.

Tom Watson, who had yet to win a professional tournament, grabbed a one-stroke lead after a third round 69. But he made nine bogeys in the final round, and bowed out of contention.

Irwin, a relative unknown at the time, canned a 25-footer for birdie to grab the lead for good. He made bogeys at 15th and 16th holes but survived — especially after Forrest Fezler failed to hit a green in regulation after the 12th hole.

“Winning (the U.S. Open) does a lot for my ego,” Irwin told reporters afterward.

The 7-over 287 total is still the second-highest winning score at a U.S. Open in more than half a century, matching Merion East (1950), Oakland Hills (1951) and Olympic Club (1955), and behind Julius Boros’ 9-over 293 at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts in 1963.