When Tony Lema reflected recently on what it felt like to play in the U.S. Open he came up with one word—torture. It is a strong word, but Lema was merely confirming what all touring pros know well: the Open is a tournament that knots the nerves and strangles the will as no other golf event can. The U.S. Golf Association, which runs the Open, deliberately fosters this feeling. It redesigns Open courses, narrowing fairways and making entrances to greens as tight as garage doors. It flanks the fairways with what it proudly calls "Open rough," a dense sea of unyielding grass that traps every imperfect shot and is rarely escaped without penalty. The grass around the edges of the green is snarly, nasty and five times longer than the pros are used to. Thus, those who would win an Open must play 72 holes knowing that each error they make can hurt them badly. All this may put tremendous pressure on the golfer, but it fascinates the spectator. The gallery relishes harsh penalties for the sloppy shot and delights in peering through its periscopes to observe Palmer and his friends in an exercise of golfing brinkmanship. The painting on the cover and the ones that follow portray some of the difficulties and theatrics of this most exciting of all tournaments.
If you were making a modern coloring book for golfers and wondered what the U.S. Open should be, the men who have played in it would tell you: "Color it blue." They might say this just thinking about their scores, but there are other reasons, too. At the Open both time and nature close in on the player—time, because the field for the first two days is very large and dusk is turning to night as the last threesomes come up 18; and nature, because the thick rough, the tight fairways, the threatening trees conspire to keep a golfer out of the sunlight, where he most wants to be. And so the trees that all but trapped the player at right provide a deep blue filter as a shot is hit toward a green in the late, late afternoon.
In other tournaments the drama stays on the course, but because play on the last day of the U.S. Open is 36 holes, there is a brief lunch break, during which the tension moves indoors. Within the clubhouse occur ironic moments like these from last year's Open—semiprivate scenes that no gallery witnesses. Below: Arnold Palmer tries to hold on to the concentration he will soon need on the course, while reporters, conscious of his situation, ask muted questions. Palmer, of course, was news, but Julius Boros (right), a man who was not news until he went on to win the Open, stands alone.