US Open countdown: Hale Irwin survives shaky finish to win 1979 crown

79th U.S. Open | June 14-17, 1979

Inverness Club, Toledo, Ohio


Hale Irwin, United States 74 - 68 - 67 - 75 284
Jerry Pate, United States 71 - 74 - 69 - 72 286
Gary Player, South Africa 73 - 73 - 72 - 68 286
Larry Nelson, United States 71 - 68 - 76 - 73 288
Bill Rogers, United States 71 - 72 - 73 - 72 288
Tom Weiskopf, United States 71 - 74 - 67 - 76 288

Anybody who saw Hale Irwin on the golf course knew exactly what led him to the large amount of success he had on the PGA Tour.

He was a mess with mechanics. But nobody was more determined to grind through a championship round of golf than the Missouri native.

In fact, watching Irwin maneuver through a course was much like watching a football player weave through traffic to make a tackle. After all, that was also what Irwin was — a two-time, all-Big 8 defensive back at Colorado in the late 1960s.

He also captured the NCAA Division I golf title his senior season with the Buffaloes in 1967, and went on to have one of the most storied careers in American golf, winning 20 PGA Tour tournaments, including three U.S. Opens.

This was his second national open victory — one he admitted afterward that he essentially locked up with a 4-under-par 67 in the third round to grab a three-stroke advantage over Tom Weiskopf.

And shortly after walking in an 8-foot birdie putt at the eighth hole in the final round, Irwin took a six-shot lead with him to the back nine at Inverness.

No sooner did he step to that tee, Irwin felt wiped out. Anxious, he had not gotten any sleep the night before, instead opting to engage his wife, Sally, in hours of conversation in the hotel room.

From the 10th hole on, he could not hit any club in his bag straight. He hit just two of the last 10 fairways in the tournament.

“I just couldn’t get to the barn fast enough,” Irwin said.

He did strike one more fantastic shot at the 12th hole, a par 3, which landed right next to the pin. After Weiskopf birdied the hole, he followed suit to open up a five-stroke lead with six holes to play.

That helped him offset a double bogey-bogey finish to claim the U.S. Open championship, and becoming the 14th golfer to win multiple national opens.

Also, 19-year-old Fred Couples, a Seattle native who was at the University of Houston, made his U.S. Open debut, making the cut at 302 and tied for 48th.