“The U.S. Open at Pebble Beach is always memorable,” says the United States Golf Association’s Craig Smith (the USGA oversees the U.S. Open Championship). “There are always tremendous finishing holes that add incredible drama. There’s just a sense that you’re seeing something great.”
Jack Nicklaus goes into Sunday’s windy final with a one-shot lead over Lee Trevino, a two-shot edge on Bruce Crampton and Kermit Zarley, and a three-shot advantage over Arnold Palmer. After nine holes, Nicklaus has increased his lead to four and Trevino drops out of the chase, but by hole 12, Palmer closes to within one. Then on the par-3 17th hole, Nicklaus makes one of the most famous shots in golf history.
Ahead by three, he readies himself to hit a one-iron. But the wind forces his clubface further closed than he intended, and he has to make a split-second adjustment on impact. The result: a shot that defies the wind, hits the flagstick and rolls to a stop five inches from the cup. His birdie seals a three-stroke victory over a late-charging Crampton.
Just as it was in the 1972 U.S. Open, the 17th hole is the turning point. Again Nicklaus is involved and the result is once again historic. This time, however, Nicklaus is on the other end of the equation.
Tom Watson begins the day tied for the lead; Nicklaus is three shots back. On the strength of a run of five straight birdies, however, Nicklaus soon overtakes Watson, who himself charges back for the lead. As Nicklaus heads into the clubhouse, the two men find themselves in a tie.
But then Watson comes to that famous 17th hole. His 2-iron drifts into the rough left of the green, 16 feet from the cup. The best he can reasonably hope for is a bogey for a one-shot Nicklaus lead.
And then, it happens: Watson chooses a sand wedge, pitches the errant ball into the air, then watches as it dropped onto the green and shoots straight into the hole. A birdie two for a one-shot lead! His birdie on 18 seals the victory, adding yet another chapter to 17’s role in great U.S. Open finishes.
It is 10 years after the 1982 U.S. Open, and 10 holes earlier, but no less dramatic a finish for 1992. As Colin Montgomerie sits in the clubhouse being congratulated by Jack Nicklaus on his first U.S. Open win, Tom Kite is in the rough off of the 7th green, fighting to stand straight in the 40-mile-per-hour seaside wind.
Montgomerie had gone into the clubhouse as the leader, but now Kite is currently three strokes up, and firmly mired in the same tall grass that has just caused Nick Faldo to take a five on the hole.
Kite selects his 60-degree wedge and pitches his ball out of the grass, and—in a moment oddly reminiscent of Tom Watson’s 1982 chip shot on 17—it drops right into the hole! Kite plays a solid finishing round, holding off Jeff Sluman for a two-stroke victory and his first major title.
The U.S. Open celebrates its 100th playing at Pebble Beach Golf Links in June of 2000, showcasing what will become a symbolic passing of the torch from golfing great Jack Nicklaus to heir-apparent Tiger Woods.
Woods’ performance is nothing short of unbelievable. His first-round score of 65 is the best 18-hole total in any of the five U.S. Opens held at Pebble Beach. On Friday, he shoots a 69, giving him a six-stroke lead on the field. Despite a triple bogey on Saturday’s third hole, Woods rebounds to a par 71 and extends his lead to nine strokes.
Finally, on Sunday—in front of the largest U.S. Open television audience in two decades—he turns a dominant victory into a historic feat. Tiger combines a bogey-free round with birdies on holes 10, 12, 13 and 14. His 67 gives him a four-day total of 272, tying the record for the lowest 72-hole score ever in the national championship, and besting his nearest competitor by 15 strokes.
As a boy growing up along the rugged Portrush peninsula in Northern Ireland, Graeme McDowell would fantasize that he had two putts to win the U.S. Open Championship. He lived out that dream, two-putting for par to capture the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links, and adding his name to the Hall of Fame list of major champions at the legendary course.
Fittingly, in a championship where a score of par is the most meaningful, the 30-year-old McDowell posted an even-par 284 for the 72 holes to become the first European winner of the championship since England’s Tony Jacklin in 1970.
“This is just a special golf course to win,” McDowell said. “Pebble Beach, it’s such a special venue. To join the list of names—Tom Kite, Tom Watson, Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus—I can’t believe I’m standing here as a Major Champion.”
While Pebble Beach welcomed a new champion to its U.S. Open history, it said goodbye to another: Watson, who played his first national championship in the 1972 Open at Pebble Beach, had indicated that 2010 was to be his last.
At age 60 and playing on a special exemption from the USGA, Watson exceeded all expectations, finishing tied for 29th. Upon completing his round, Watson turned and threw his golf ball into Stillwater Cove, just as he did the day he won in 1982.
Pebble Beach Golf Links and the USGA again will celebrate a Centennial together, when the U.S. Open Championship returns for a sixth time in 2019. Pebble Beach, which hosted the USGA’s Centennial U.S. Open in 2000, will welcome back the Championship in 2019, when the legendary links is celebrating its own Centennial Anniversary.
“Pebble Beach is a magical place,” said Tom O’Toole, President of the USGA. “It is one of our most treasured U.S. Open sites.”