Until last week, San Francisco's Olympic Club seemed to behave
like a rebellious daughter whenever it hosted a U.S. Open--that
is, it invariably picked the wrong man. Jack Fleck over Ben
Hogan in 1955? Billy Casper over Arnold Palmer in '66? Scott
Simpson over Tom Watson in '87? It was as if that city, famous
for its fringe lifestyles, couldn't abide a conventional outcome
or the establishment's choice. Tony Bennett four-putts from 10
feet, while Country Joe McDonald holes out from the fairway.
Lee Janzen broke that string on Sunday, making up seven strokes
in 15 holes to win the Open for the second time. And he did it
just as he had in 1993 at New Jersey's Baltusrol Golf Club: by
outplaying Payne Stewart with the help of a merciful tree, a
final-round chip-in and his own unwavering concentration.
Janzen is not an emotive player. When he waves to the crowd, his
elbow stays close to his body. His eyes seem a little wary, as
if he expects something unpleasant to happen. But there were
tears in those eyes after Stewart missed the tying putt on the
72nd hole. "I went out and played my absolute best," Janzen
said, "and won the one championship I love more than any other."
There is no doubting that he was at his best on Sunday. He
played the demanding Lake Course in two-under-par 68, while no
other contender shot better than 73. He hit 11 of the 14 narrow,
tilted fairways and 14 of the 18 tiny, parched greens. "Lee
seems to play his best in the difficult tournaments, in
difficult conditions," says his good friend and fellow Tour
player Rocco Mediate.
June 28, 1998
Janzen proved that last fall, when he nearly saved the Ryder Cup
for the U.S. with a gutsy one-up singles victory over Jose Maria
Olazabal at Valderrama. He has struggled this year with his
putter--a malady treated last week by the Austin short-game
doctor, Dave Pelz, who found that Janzen was aiming left of the
hole on mid-range putts and aiming right on short ones--but
Janzen does not fit the profile of the usual Olympic Club
winner. He is neither unsung nor unloved.
Still, there was that history hanging over the tournament, so an
inordinate amount of attention was paid to golfers who couldn't
afford to stay at the luxury hotels on Nob Hill. You had
34-year-old Joe Durant, for instance, a fast-talking pro from
the Florida panhandle who confessed that his short game was
"very poor." You had Mark Carnevale, 38 years old and
Stadleresque in build, who won the Chattanooga Classic in 1992
but has ridden the choochoo on the Nike tour for the past two
years. And you had Lee Porter, a 32-year-old veteran of the
Asian and South American tours.
Was one of them the next Fleck? No. But Durant shot an
opening-round 68, Carnevale was in the top 10 after three
rounds, and Porter lingered like Hogan's worst Olympic
nightmare, holing his approach on 18 for an eagle on Friday and
riding the leader board on Saturday.
Then you had Matt Kuchar, the 20-year-old junior from Georgia
Tech who was bidding to become the first amateur to win the
national championship since Johnny Goodman in 1933. Justin
Leonard, for one, found two days with the always smiling
youngster hard to take, complaining that Kuchar's caddie/father,
Peter, was too boisterous in his appreciation of his son's touch
on the greens. But then, Leonard was stumbling to 40th place,
while the U.S. Amateur champion was making pars and shrugging
happily on his way to a 14th-place tie. Not since the days of
legendary hustler Titanic Thompson had someone so seemingly
guileless played such cutthroat golf.
Another good story had its epicenter down the peninsula. Four
former or current Stanford players were in the field, and two of
them--Tom Watson and Tiger Woods--were among the pretournament
favorites. But local knowledge didn't seem to help. Stanford
junior Joel Kribel missed the cut by a bunch, Watson missed by a
little, and Woods showed that he still has not learned how to
avoid the ugly hole. On his way to 18th place he four-putted
twice, looking like the man who spills coins and bills from his
pocket while taking out his keys.
That left only one happy Cardinal, the celebrated Nike tour pro,
Casey Martin, who made history as the first disabled player--the
first player, period--to ride a cart in a major championship.
Martin got in through sectional qualifying and judicial fiat,
but he proved he was no sympathy case. He finished tied for 23rd
on a golf course known for its steep slopes and treacherous
stances. "It's over," he said, hugging his brother, Cameron,
afterward, but to the press he spoke only of beginnings: "I
think I can play well enough to be a fixture out here."
For controversy, one had to look past the Americans with
Disabilities Act to the Disenchanted with the Setup Coalition, a
loose but vocal body that meets annually at U.S. Open sites.
This year's complaints centered on the 18th green, a patch of
lawn cut into the hill below the clubhouse. The upper portion of
this green, where the hole was placed on Friday, is pitched at
an angle close to that assumed by the Titanic just before it
went down. Frank Nobilo rolled a long birdie try up the hill and
watched his ball roll back 25 feet. Tom Lehman four-putted. Kirk
Triplett, like a second-grader at putt-putt, stopped his
retreating ball with his putter and drew a two-stroke penalty.
"It's not golf, and it's not fair," said John Daly. "It's just
Stewart had the most cause for complaint. His eight-foot
sidehill putt for birdie missed by inches and then ambled
downhill, taking 22 seconds to find a campsite 25 feet below the
hole. "I was bordering on fuming," Stewart said.
Bordering, in fact, is an improvement. Stewart used to turn a
petulant face to the public, to the point that in 1995 he
apologized for what he called his rude behavior toward fans. He
rarely had to apologize for his golf--he's been a member of four
Ryder Cup teams and a Top 10 money winner four times--but the
construction of his Florida mansion a few years ago distracted
him from his game and led to the suspicion that he would rather
live like a pharaoh than go to work on the fairways.
Stewart says that after his Open victory in 1991, he was
overreaching. "I put pressure on myself to be better than I
already was," he says. For three rounds at Olympic he was better
than anyone, going 66-71-70--three under par, four strokes
better than Lehman and Bob Tway and five better than Janzen and
But Sunday's portents were not good. The Lake Course is a kind
of sanitarium for aged cypresses and arthritic pines, and in
certain light the more twisted tree forms lend a haunted aspect
to the place. Stewart drove into a sand-filled divot on the 12th
hole, and that seemed to signal an end to his week of good
bounces. The luck had already passed to Janzen, whose tee shot
on the 5th hole vanished into a cypress and only plopped to
earth as he was walking back to the tee to hit again. Instead of
taking a two-stroke penalty, he wound up chipping in for a 4.
"That was a pure gift from God," said Janzen's wife, Beverly.
As in '93 at Baltusrol, where he knocked a memorable five-iron
through branches to the 10th green to make a crucial par, Janzen
exploited his good break. He birdied 7, 11 and 13 and was
walking onto the 15th green at even par when a roar went up from
the scoreboard watchers: Stewart had bogeyed 12 and dropped into
a tie with Janzen.
Janzen's last big challenge was the 17th, an uphill par 5
dressed up as a 468-yard par 4. He was five over par on the hole
in the first three days, so he should have been spooked. But
Janzen reached the green with two solid shots to make par. He
then played the 18th like a man with no worries, taking two
putts for par--the last about as long as his four-year-old son
Stewart's only hope of forcing a playoff was to birdie 17 or 18.
He got his chance on 18, but his big-breaking 25-footer faltered
at the last instant and slid a few inches by on the low side.
"The putt on the 1st hole meant as much as that putt on 18," he
said, hiding his disappointment behind a rueful smile.
The winner's expression was a little harder to read, it being
the same grin he displays when his son jumps onto his lap. But
Janzen said it plainly: "Winning the U.S. Open is the pinnacle
for me." Winning it twice--a feat accomplished by 17 other
golfers--is presumably like twin peaks.
No stunning upset at Olympic, not this time. Just a wonderful
deja vu by the Golden Gate.
Janzen doesn't fit the profile of the usual Olympic Club winner.
He is neither unsung nor unloved.