Well, of course Corey Pavin won. He cheated.
It's gotta be in the rule book. It's gotta say somewhere in there
that the pro with the clothes from J.C. Penney's junior department
but with the XXL heart cannot spend the whole week hiding in the
U.S. Open rough, then jump out from behind a clump of elephant
grass on the 69th hole and chomp everybody's kneecaps off.
Is that fair? A small guy like that -- 5'9", well below the Tour's
six-foot-plus median, so short that those trailer-tipping winds
at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club didn't even graze him -- stepping up
and clobbering one of the best finishing shots in U.S. Open
history and putting an overlapping grip on the tournament trophy?
Pavin couldn't have won. He's the cute skinny little guy you hang
from your rearview mirror, the one you count on to give a
wonderful consolation speech at a major and then go on the next
week to win himself a little Hattiesburg or a Wendy's Three-Tour
Challenge. Pavin had won 12 times before -- even led the Tour in
money one year -- but he had earned a stick-on label as the Best
Player Never to Have Won a Major. You try winning one of the big
ones when you're 150th on the Tour in driving distance and leading
in frog hair hit in regulation.
June 25, 1995
But it happened. After 11-1/2 years on the Tour, Pavin swooped up
from nowhere and flew by glory boys such as Greg Norman and Davis
Love III and Phil Mickelson to steal an Open out from under their
This will take a little explaining in the chic burg of
Southampton, N.Y., which must be the only town in the nation with
a dress code (it's on signs all over). The fashion police aren't
going to be happy about having a winner who walks around in a
plain white hat that reads CLEVELAND, for crying out loud.
You could squirt a hose in downtown Southampton and hit half a
dozen billionaires. The Loves, the Jeff Slumans, the Barry Lanes
and a dozen other people stayed in the same private mansion near
Shinnecock and barely bumped into each other all week. Robin Love
was having such a lovely time that she told her husband, ``Boy,
wouldn't it be nice to live here?'' and Davis jumped off the couch
and yelped, ``Hey, don't start looking in this neighborhood!''
Not that any of the upper crust actually made it out to the golf.
It was far too gruesome. The greens were little more than large
inverted woks. The fairways were not quite wide enough for Colin
Montgomerie and John Daly to pass each other without turning
sideways. And bordering the fairways were knee-high acres of what
they call poverty grass, hitting into which was a very poor
decision. ``Man, I go rabbit hunting in that stuff,'' wheezed
Fuzzy Zoeller after a brutal day in the rough. ``You don't go in
there; you send your beagle in there to get something out. . . .
I'm lucky I didn't break any bones.''
He wasn't kidding. Amateur Tiger Woods had to withdraw on the 6th
hole last Friday after he ``tweaked'' his left wrist while hitting
out of the high grass. Woods was bogeying four straight holes at
the time he injured himself. ``Sure,'' said Jim Murray of the Los
Angeles Times. ``[Tom] Weiskopf used to get that. He'd be on his
way to an 81 and get the flu.''
It was a great week to be a cramp. Loren Roberts threw out his
back on Thursday marking his ball and had to withdraw. Mark
McCumber blew out a calf muscle lining up a putt the same day and
limped the rest of the way. Fans had to worry about getting Lyme
disease. Why is the AMA worrying about boxing when it's golf
that's too dangerous?
On Saturday, with Norman leading by two strokes over Jumbo Ozaki
and his line of Liberace golfing wear, things just got uglier.
Winds gusted up to 27 mph, the sun started turning everything
brick-hard, and the scores rose like Southampton property values.
Only three players broke par the entire day. ``I can't remember
ever playing in tougher conditions than these,'' said Norman, who
still found more ways to save than WordPerfect, rescuing par an
astounding 10 times.
The conditions ruined almost everybody else. Favorite Nick Faldo
shot himself out of contention with a 79. Ozaki shot 80. Ben
Crenshaw had not one but two chips on the 10th hole roll back 40
yards to his feet. Not long before Crenshaw played Skeeball on the
10th, Tom Kite was flying the golf ball back and forth over the
same green. He and Crenshaw both made triple bogey. Somewhere
Harvey Penick was chewing on a wedge.
All of which gave us a Sunday morning at the Open with some
wonderful possibilities. Norman and Tom Lehman were tied for the
lead at one measly shot under par, with Mickelson and Bob Tway one
shot back, followed by, among others, Pavin three back and Love
four back. ``I would take 68 and sit back and watch,'' said Pavin
before the round.
Norman, who had all his luck surgically removed as a boy, started
Sunday by hitting the first flagstick with his wedge shot, a bad
break that catapulted his ball off the green, from where he had to
scramble for par. Not a good omen.
Right about then, the USGA did something completely different. It
sealed up all the holes. No leader made a putt longer than his leg
for two hours. Had Love sunk even half his four-footers, he would
have run away with the title, and perhaps Robin would be looking
at schools in the Hamptons now. Instead, he finished with a
one-over 71, tied for fourth, and got passed the mantle of
B.P.N.T.H.W.A.M. May he not keep it as long as Pavin.
If Mickelson had not played the par-5 16th seemingly blindfolded
-- he was six over for the hole on the week, including a double
bogey in crunch time Sunday -- he would have run away with the
trophy, too. ``That hole just crushed me,'' he said woefully. You
know, Phil, to play those big par-5s, you've got to talk to the
little guys. Pavin played the 16th in two under.
Anyway, by five o'clock Sunday, Shinnecock had a four-way tie for
first among Lehman, Norman, Pavin and Tway. Then Pavin poured in
an eight-footer for a birdie on 15 at just about the time Norman
was missing a par putt on 13. Suddenly everybody was chasing Pavin.
Still, Norman came back to birdie the 15th, and what you had left
was Pavin and a one-shot lead and the 18th hole. Now, the 18th at
Shinnecock is meaner than gout -- 450 yards long, with the last
200 straight uphill, into a crossing wind and onto a green no
bigger than a 10-man hot tub. Pavin's squirty drive left him 228
yards from a hole he couldn't even see, and it left the world
wondering how in the world he could make a four. ``You think I can
get a two-iron there?'' Pavin asked his longtime caddie, Eric
Schwarz, who goes about seven inches taller than Pavin.
``No way,'' said Schwarz. ``Hit the four-wood and stay with it.''
So a little guy from Oxnard, Calif., got ready to hit the biggest
shot of his life. In Pavin's losses at the 1992 Masters (where he
came in third), the '93 British Open (tied for fourth) and last
year's PGA Championship (second), there had always been the big
shot he couldn't quite pull off. And now here it was again.
He took a rip and knew he'd flushed it. Of course, proving he'd
flushed it was another matter. Because he is short and the hole
was so high, Pavin had to run to see the ball land. So he sprinted
after the shot as though he wanted it back. ``The ball was
blocking out the flagstick,'' he says, ``and I thought, Oh, man,
that thing might go in!'' It didn't, but it rolled to within five
feet of the hole. Talk about your Heaven Wood.
Pavin was so overcome by the moment that it nearly felled him. He
raised his fists, then stopped in his tracks and squatted in the
middle of the fairway to catch his breath, say a prayer and
compose himself. ``I let my emotions get loose,'' he said. ``I had
to get them back inside me.''
If Pavin's wasn't the Greatest 72nd-Hole Shot in U.S. Open
History, it's in contention. If they ever build a case for such
things, Pavin's four-wood should go in there with Ben Hogan's
one-iron (from Merion), Jack Fleck's seven-iron (from Olympic) and
Jerry Pate's five-iron (from Atlanta). For sure, Pavin's is the
Greatest Uphill Metal Wood Ever Hit by a Guy Who Had to Run to See
Out on the 16th, Norman could do nothing but listen. There was no
way to play with that racket going on. He needed a birdie on 16,
for he knew 17 and 18 weren't likely to give one up. But, as he
has done so many times in his life, he hit a wonderful little
88-yard shot that turned out to be a little too wonderful. It
landed right on line with the flag, bounced forward within four
feet of the stick and sucked back off the green and down into the
rough. Norman would make a harmless little par. Lehman, though,
would make a double bogey, and Tway was on his way to three
straight bogeys. Now it was just Norman and Pavin.
Up ahead, Pavin -- who tied for fewest putts on the week and, as
Schwarz said later, ``hadn't missed a key five-footer all week''
-- missed a key five-footer. Norman still had a chance. But there
is the Norman Rule, which almost always holds true. It states that
winners are variable, but the person they use as a human footstool
to glory is always the same: Norman. On the par-3 17th he bailed
out his six-iron into the right bunker for a bogey, which left him
needing to slam-dunk a seven-iron on the 18th to tie.
Pavin was sitting in NBC's 18th tower trying not to watch. ``I
heard [on-course reporter] Roger Maltbie say, `That's left of the
flag,' and I knew,'' Pavin says. ``I was the U.S. Open champion.''
What Pavin had done was win a Groanfest. Of the last 14 players to
tee off Sunday, Pavin was the only one to ride home under par. He
had shot his 68, sat back and won the Open.
Being the B.P.N.T.H.W.A.M. ``bothered me a lot more than it has
ever bothered anybody else on the planet,'' Pavin said afterward,
``so I'm more relieved than anybody.''
``I never cry over spilled milk,'' said Norman, who made one
birdie during the weekend and wound up second for the 51st time in
his career. The man could build a mansion out of his silver
medals. ``People are going to say, `He's letting things slip
away,' '' Norman said, ``but it's just as hard to get in there
with a chance to win as it is to win.'' Norman can say what he
wants, but you can tell these losses are killing him. Still, he
perseveres. He let go of his crying wife, Laura, walked up to
Pavin and mustered his usual postmajor posture: chin forward, hand
extended. ``Welcome to the club,'' Norman said with a smile.
``Thanks,'' said Pavin. ``I'm glad to be part of it, lemme tell
O.K., so the world ached for a Norman win here, ached for the
heroic figure with the world's greatest hair, greatest clothes and
greatest 70-hole golf game. He has now finished second in seven
majors, losing four of them in playoffs. This season, however,
Norman has finished in a tie for third at the Masters and second
at the U.S. Open, so maybe first is coming next month in the
British Open at St. Andrews.
To the purist, meanwhile, this Open was sweet and neat. On the
100th anniversary of the USGA, on one of the finest courses in
America, a much-loved player who has made a career of never
quitting shot even par, 72-69-71- 68-280, to win his first major.
``I'll tell you one thing,'' Pavin said, holding the trophy by one
of its handles. ``It's gonna be a long time before I let this
thing out of my sight.''
And he didn't. He kept it close through all the toasts and
autographs and handshakes, and through the cellular phone call
from President Clinton. Pavin even held on to the trophy when he
and his wife, Shannon, their buddy Lee Janzen and his wife,
Beverly, and some other friends sneaked up on the roof of the
nation's oldest clubhouse. It was Janzen, the 1993 Open champion,
who, after beating Pavin in a playoff at the Kemper Open the
previous week, had sidled up to his friend and said, ``You know
what this means, don't you?''
``What?'' said Pavin glumly.
``You win the Open. Whoever finishes second the week before always
wins the Open.'' Which was almost true. It happened in 1994 with
Ernie Els, and it nearly happened in 1993, when Janzen finished
tied for third at Westchester.
So the two golfers went up on the roof the way winners will do
and celebrated the day Pavin went from being the Best Player
Never to Have Won a Major to being, at least for one week,
simply the Best Player. And as the two broke open a bottle of
champagne and toasted in the sunset high off the ground, Pavin
must have finally felt very tall indeed.