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No One Has Won U.S. Open & Players Championship in Same Year, But Why Not?

By: Jay Flemma


[Editor's Note: Cybergolf's Jay Flemma is in Pinehurst for the 114th U.S. Open. Here's Jay's fourth report.]

With Martin Kaymer separating himself from the pack early at the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst, much of the talk has been that this could be the year someone finally wins the Players Championship and the U.S. Open in the same year.

But that begs the question - Why has no one won both in the same year? The Players is 40 years old, having been first held in 1974, yet no one has bagged this double despite the Players being, arguably, the fifth major while someone has won every combination of two other majors in one year that can be achieved. Is it one of those statistical anomalies? Or is there some reason you can point to in order to explain why not?

"Well, no one has even won two majors in the same year since Padraig Harrington in 2008," observed ESPN's Bob Harig. "Just the idea of someone winning two big tournaments - one a major and the other major-like - is very unusual. So it's really not a surprise that it hasn't happened. It's just not a common occurrence, Jack and Tiger aside, they are the exception."

And although he's won 14 majors, captured four majors in a row and won multiple Grand Slam titles in the same year four times, even Tiger hasn't captured the Players in the same year as the U.S. Open. After winning at TPC Sawgrass in 2001 he finished T-12 at Southern Hills (Retief Goosen won in a playoff over Mark Brooks), and in 2013 Woods posted a dismal T-32 as Justin Rose won at Merion. In fact, the closest anyone has ever come was Nicklaus who tied for sixth at Cherry Hills after winning the Players in 1978.

Golf experts disagree on the subject; some say it's just one of those statistical outliers - an odd-duck factoid that will occur one day, maybe this weekend since Kaymer appears to be playing a different tournament than everyone else. (As we go to press, he has an eight-shot lead off two straight 5-under 65s.)

Len Shapiro, the Washington D.C. sportswriter, author of several seminal sports books and now a writer for GlobalGolfPost.com, thinks the style of golf course has something to do with it.

"They are two totally different types of golf courses. The U.S. Open is usually the hardest course the golfers will ever face. They grow the rough to crazy length and ramp up the green speeds, so that only a patient and deeply talented golfer can win. Plus there are 156 guys in the field," he pointed out. "Gamblers and go-for-broke golfers don't win the U.S. Open. Phil Mickelson is the poster boy for that. The Players, however, allows golfers a little more room to go for it.

They can play golf for the title at the Players instead of tiptoeing around trying to make the fewest mistakes. This year Kaymer is halfway toward breaking the "jinx" of the 36-hole U.S. Open leader not winning that year (if jinx it is . . .). Rory McIlroy at Congressional in 2011 and Tiger at Pebble Beach in 2000 are the only exceptions in recent memory.

"The courses are radically different. More people can stay in the mix at the Players," Shapiro concluded.

Another golf writer, John Huggan of Scotland, disagrees. "There's really no answer to that. Who knows? It's one of those existential questions that has no answer. There's no reason."

"I think it's just dumb luck that it hasn't happened," agreed sportswriter and author John Feinstein of the Players-U.S. Open scenario. "It's no different than asking why no one else ever won any other tournament and the Open in the same year."

Either way, as Day 2 draws to a close and Kaymer's 36-hole U.S. Open record of 10-under 130 has him way ahead at press time, it's possible one more statistical anomaly may vanish. One thing is certain, until he actually wins the point is ephemeral.

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 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.