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US Open countdown: Andy North grabs Open lead, holds on for dear life

78th U.S. Open | June 15-18, 1978

Cherry Hills Country Club, Englewood, Colo.

Leaderboard

Andy North, United States 70 - 70 - 71 - 74 285
J.C. Snead, United States 70 - 72 - 72 - 72 286
Dave Stockton, United States 71 - 73 - 70 - 72 286
Hale Irwin, United States 69 - 74 - 75 - 70 288
Tom Weiskopf, United States 77 - 73 - 70 - 68 288

It’s not like Andy North did not have the pedigree coming to the PGA Tour, being a three-time All-American from Florida.

He just wasn’t Tom Watson, Gary Player, Andy Bean, Hale Irwin or Tom Weiskopf — guys who consistently won tournaments.

But North, a Wisconsin native, just happened to save his best golf for three tournaments — including two U.S. Opens.

He happened to win this national open the same way he captured his first PGA Tour title at the 1977 Westchester Classic: grab the lead and hold on.

The second wire-to-wire winner in two years, North entered the final round with a one-stroke advantage over Player, who had earlier won the Masters with a final round 64.

Many were expecting the same kind of fireworks from Player this time around, too. But he quietly bowed out with a 77.

For every drive he hit off line, North seemed to make a much-needed putt for par. In fact, he only needed 114 putts over 72 holes, which tied Billy Casper’s tournament record set in 1966.

But North made a bogey at the 14th hole, followed by a double bogey at the 15th hole, and just like that North’s four-shot advantage was down to one over Dave Stockton.

But in the group ahead, Stockton made a bogey at the difficult finishing hole, leaving North with a two-shot lead with one hole remaining.

North was the only man in the field to birdie No. 18 twice that week. But his 3-iron tee shot leaked too far into the rough. And his 8-iron approach shot came up 25 yards short of the green.

He dumped his third shot into a greenside bunker — he later admitted he tried to get too cute with his wedge — but he blasted out to 5 feet, sank the putt and won the U.S. Open.

Twice, he backed off the putt, waiting for the winds to die down. It took him nearly 90 seconds to compose himself to roll in the winning putt.

Afterward, he proclaimed himself the “U.S. Open Survivor” of 1978.

todd.milles@thenewstribune.com

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