US Open countdown: Tom Kite self-destructs, helping Curtis Strange win back-to-back titles

89th U.S. Open | June 15-18, 1989

Oak Hill Country Club East Course, Rochester, N.Y.


Curtis Strange, United States 71 - 64 - 73 - 70 278
Chip Beck, United States 71 - 69 - 71 - 68 279
Mark McCumber, United States 70 - 68 - 72 - 69 279
Ian Woosnam, Wales 70 - 68 - 73 - 68 279
Brian Claar, United States 71 - 72 - 68 - 69 280

“Move over, Ben!”

Those were the comments Curtis Strange brazenly made after overcoming Tom Kite in the final round to defend his U.S. Open championship.

Strange became the first man to win back-to-back national opens since Ben Hogan did it in 1951 at Oakland Hills Country Club in Michigan.

If Strange wasn’t the consensus top player in the world coming into the week, he was considered that afterward, showing extreme patience and willpower to just hit fairways and greens.

Strange ended up the winner, but Old Man Par was certainly the caddie.

His second-round 64 seemed way in the past by Sunday. At one point, Strange — a Wake Forest alum — went 35 holes without a birdie. Trailing Kite by two shots heading into the final round, he started with 15 consecutive pars.

And that turned out just fine because Kite self-destructed. The Texas native sailed a tee ball into the pond at the fifth hole, leading to a triple bogey 7. And later at the 15th hole, Kite sealed his doom with a double bogey at the par 5.

It was after Kite’s early disaster that Strange later admitted led to a change in strategy — just make pars.

Strange happened to make one birdie at the 16th hole. His 6-iron tee shot stopped 15 feet from the hole, and he rolled in the putt to grab a two-shot lead, and eventually the repeat victory.

He became just the sixth player in U.S. Open history to defend his crown. Oddly enough, this would be Strange’s last of 17 PGA Tour wins.

For Kite, who earlier in the season had won in back-to-back weeks at the Nestle Invitational and The Players Championship, this seemed like a back-breaking career moment at 39.

Kite promised afterward he would get over it, and a few years later at Pebble Beach Golf Links, indeed he did.

Heavy rainstorms early in the week led to great scoring. A record 38 under-par rounds were recorded in the first two rounds. And four players — Jerry Pate, Nick Price, Doug Weaver and Mark Wiebe — aced the downhill sixth hole.

This would also be the final time Gary Player played in a U.S. Open. He missed the cut.