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Hey, U.S. Open - Thanks for the Memories!

By: Jay Flemma


On the first day of the 2012 U.S. Open, let's mellow out, reflect and bring back some great U.S. Open memories.

Jay's Top-10 U.S. Open Memories of the Last 50 Years

10. 1973 - Johnny Miller's 63. Oakmont was not its usual brutish self that entire week. It was completely waterlogged, so competitors could play lawn darts instead of golf. How do you think Jerry Heard and John Schlee were in contention? They didn't have to tiptoe around the usual minefield of unexploded double-bogeys. Still, Miller played the course as he found it and played it like Corelli in C major, cruising to the best final round in Open history, streaking past a dozen shell-shocked competitors and driving off with a screech of tires and a wave before the cops could haul him in for felony robbery.

The tire marks were especially rough on Arnold Palmer. "Who the hell is 5-under?" he asked incredulously, visibly shaken when he realized he wasn't in the lead like he thought he was. "Miller," replied playing partner Schlee. "Didn't you know?"

"I didn't even know Miller made the cut," added Tom Weiskopf.

9. 1972 - Jack's 1-iron hits the stick at Pebble Beach's iconic 17th . The defining moment of the tournament, it secured Nicklaus his third U.S. Open and kept his hopes of the Grand Slam alive. In the end, though, Pebble really won the tournament. After posting 2-over as the winning score, Nicklaus asked the USGA, "What did you do with all the grass?"

8. 2000 - With golf shots indistinguishable from magic, Tiger pounds the mud shark out of Pebble Beach and the entire field. If this was a prize fight, they would have stopped it. Woods won by a gargantuan 15 shots and shattered a host of records, including several biggies like aggregate scoring, score-to-par and largest margin of victory. "Dominant," admitted Dustin Johnson, "Absolutely dominant."

7. 2008 - Nevertheless, I think Woods' last six holes in Round 3 at Torrey Pines were better still: three scorched-earth lightning strikes.

"Every time I've won, there has been a nine-hole stretch where I was able to make a big move," he explained. In this case, Woods holed a 66-foot putt for an eagle on 13, slam-dunked a pitch from a patch of the deepest spinach on the course at 17, then rolled in a twisting 45-footer at 18 to take the outright lead. As I sat working on a story alongside Art Spander, Golf magazine writer Cam Morfit walked by with a shell-shocked expression and asked, "Have you ever seen anything like this?"

Spander and I laconically (and testily) replied, "Yes. We have."

6. 1999 - The Tour players favorite: Payne Stewart's gutsy up-and-down at the 72nd hole to edge Phil Mickelson by one at stately old Pinehurst. A quintessential U.S. Open moment, Payne forever in triumph, fist pumping, legs churning. Four months later a plane crash would take him from us. We had him all to ourselves and now we don't have him at all.

5. 1962 - Jack spoils the party at Oakmont. Palmer was the national hero at the time and Jack was the villain because he beat the hometown boy and ruined the feel-good story. That resentment lasted for a while; Palmer's diehard fans even called him "Fat Jack" for more than 10 years thereafter. I know one man who went so far as to call him "Nick-lousy" for the rest of his playing career.

4. 2006 - Phil Phalling Phlat in Phorty Minutes. Mickelson horrifyingly collapses on the 72nd hole at Winged Foot and leaves Geoff Ogilvy as the accidental winner. The shock of recognition of his colossal blunder washing over him on the 72nd green was nothing short of heartbreaking, beautiful and terrible to watch, mesmerizing theater with its tragic catharsis.

Did you know that in practice rounds, he played 15, 16, 17 and 18 over and over again, trying to finish par-par-par-par? He even did it with Amy and the kids (pulling them in a wagon around the course). Mamaroneck, N.Y., municipal officials even gave him the key to the city, and all of greater New York City adopted him that week as their favorite son. For goodness sake, the day before was even his birthday . . . and then his fall made Icarus' look like a stumble.

"It was surreal," Ogilvy confided.

3. 1964 - Ken Venturi beats the field and the elements at Congressional. "Come on Ken, hold your head up like the champion you are," said USGA executive director Joe Dey as Venturi staggered up to him. He did and, after overcoming heat poisoning and light-headedness caused by too many salt tablets - while playing 36 holes on the final day, Venturi sat for his media center interview:

"Good to see you guys," he said. "Last time I saw you, you were interviewing me at the Masters, and somebody yelled, 'Palmer,' and all of you all ran out of the room and left me alone with my Coke."

2. 1982 - Watson stuns Nicklaus . . . again. Remember the guy who hated Jack Nick-lousy? You had to see the Cheshire Cat grin on his face when Watson chipped in at Pebble in '82. When his tee shot at the diabolical 17th nestled in the high greenside rough, Watson thought, "Uh-oh. Now I'm dead."

But when he got to the ball and saw he had a good lie, the sun chose that moment to come out. "I had a good feeling all over," said Watson, and now that shot is the cornerstone of beloved Pebble's immortality.

. . . and Jay's personal favorite U.S. Open moment . . .

1980 - Jack is Back! Jack is Back! Jack is Back!. Thought to be the beginning of the cold December of his career, Jack opens with a 63 and then holds off plucky newcomer Isao Aoki - the man who putted with the toe of the club in the air. Jack and Aoki blazed away like Guy Fawkes Night for 72 holes, Jack needing to birdie the two closing par-5s for the final margin of victory over his Japanese counterpart (8-under to 6-under).

I was just a wee lad enjoying the Our Lady of Lourdes grammar school end-of-year field trip when my mom announced to everyone, "Jack Nicklaus shot 63!" and our weekend plans were scrapped to watch the tournament (after golf, of course). It was a defining moment in my childhood, watching my hero triumph so gloriously.

As an aside, even though Aoki lost he started a fad that caused us to all looked silly for one summer. Aoki is still the only guy who could putt like that; the rest of us looked like dorks.

Pros & Joes - Favorite Moments of Players & Writers

Rory McIlroy: "2000, Tiger at Pebble. He was unbelievable, opening with a 65 and dominating the whole tournament. He was so much better than everyone else. Then Graeme at Pebble as well."

Graeme McDowell: "Well, Rory. He was so dominant last year. It was great to see. Then Ernie at Congressional. I was just starting out as a pro and he was a big hero to me. I even had Parallax irons."

Ricky Fowler: "Tiger at Pebble. He played pretty well there. I was 11."

Dustin Johnson: "Agreed, Tiger at Pebble. He won by 37 shots (Ed. Note: The difference was actually 15 strokes). That's pretty impressive."

Webb Simpson: "Payne Stewart in '99 at Pinehurst. I'm from Raleigh."

Lucas Glover: "Payne's putt at Pinehurst. Payne got robbed here (at Olympic), so to watch him win a year later was great. I know his son Aaron, and it was great his son got to see Payne win before he died."

Cybergolf's Marino Parascenzo: "Arnie saying goodbye at Oakmont in '94. He was in the media center and he got all choked up he put his head in a towel. And then when he left, he got the only standing ovation from the media I've ever seen. That never happens.

"My other favorite was when he took five shots to get out of a bunker and took a 10. Well after the round he's in the locker room and he sees me coming and says, 'You [expletive deleted]! I might have known you'd show up!' I responded, 'If you'd quit making 10s I wouldn't show up.' "

Geoff Ogilvy: "Hale Irwin in 1990 when he made that monster putt and then ran around the green high-fiving people. He beat Mike Donald in a playoff. Then Watson's chip-in at Pebble. I was seven, so I didn't understand the import like I do now. I mean he chipped in on 17 to beat Jack at the U.S. Open! Who does that?! Him and Trevino. And that's it."

Beth Major: (Beth works for the USGA and moderates interview sessions with the players in the media center after their rounds.) "Watching what Rory did last year was really special. It was great to see a young golfer play so well like that in the national championship."

Jim Furyk: "Curtis Strange going back to back at Oak Hill in '89."

Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, http://jayflemma.thegolfspace.com, Jay Flemma 's comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America's great public golf courses (and whether they're worth the money), Jay, an associate editor of Cybergolf, has played over 420 nationally ranked public golf courses in 40 different states, and covered seven U.S. Opens and six PGA Championships, along with one trip to the Masters. A four-time award-winning sportswriter, Jay was called the best sports poet alive by both Sports Illustrated and NBC Sports writers and broadcasters. Jay has played about 3 million yards of golf - or close to 2,000 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer (www.golfobserver.com), Cybergolf, PGA.com, Golf Magazine and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.