Although the United States Open Golf Championship made its debut in 1895 at
Newport, Rhode Island, the United States Golf Association is celebrating the
Centennial U.S. Open this week at Pebble Beach, site of three prior U.S.
The USGA decided to 'jump' its rotation of Pebble by two years so that the
famed course could host this landmark achievement, as well as kick off the
new millennium. Last year, the final U.S. Amateur championship of the 20th
Century was decided at Pebble Beach, thus making Amateur champion David
Gossett the first person to appear in a consecutive USGA Amateur and Open on
the same course.
In their wisdom, the USGA couldn't have picked a better course to bookend
its most prized championships.
All told, the 2000 U.S. Open will be the 10th USGA Championship to be
decided at Pebble Beach, which first opened to the public in 1918. Though
other courses have hosted more USGA Championships, perhaps none has been
witness to as many brilliant Open moments as Pebble Beach. With luck, the
first U.S. Open of the 21st Century will follow suit with the preceding
USGA should have known that there was something magical about Pebble Beach
when it hosted its first U.S. Open on the Monterrey Peninsula in 1972. After
losing to Lee Trevino in an 18 hole playoff the year before, Jack Nicklaus
captured his third of four Open titles by vanquishing Palmer, Trevino and
Bruce Crampton with one of the highest winning scores in Open history.
The Bear sealed his victory with perhaps the most memorable 1-iron in
history on the 71st hole, hitting the stick on the dastardly par-3 that
overhangs the Pacific Ocean for a tap-in birdie. Over the years, Jack
Nicklaus has maintained that it was the greatest long shot of his career -
not a bad way to christen the inaugural U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
In Hollywood, sequels are typically less dramatic than the original, but at
Pebble the opposite was true. Ten years after Jack's triumph, the Bear
again held center stage at Pebble as he searched out a record fifth U.S.
Open title - something which had eluded both Hogan and Jones.
After posting 4-under par through 72 holes, it looked like Nicklaus would at
least get a chance to face Tom Watson in a Monday playoff as Watson
sputtered with the lead - as he had done on several prior occasions as well
- over the final nine holes. But in the ultimate touch of irony, the same
17th hole which had once catapulted Jack to victory dashed it in '82, as
Watson chipped in from no man's land - unquestionably the most memorable
moment in Open history - en route to a two shot victory over the Bear. It
would be Watson's only Open championship, and the defining moment of his
1992 saw the third installment of the Open at Pebble Beach, and although it
did not produce the singular dramatics of the Nicklaus 1-iron or Watson
chip-in, it does measure up as one of the most competitive and inspiring
Opens in recent memory, as Tom Kite ended his lifelong quest at age 42 for a
Major championship. Kite's final round two-under 70 - on a brutal day in
which almost half the field failed to break 80 - remains one of the gutsiest
performances Open history, and is certainly the crowning achievement of his
It goes without saying that this year's Open at Pebble Beach will be a
memorable one. Any championship held where writer Robert Louis Stevenson
once described as 'the greatest meeting of land and sea in the world' is
virtually assured of greatness.
Unfortunately, this year's championship will be played with a tinge of
sadness and heavy hearts, as Payne Stewart will not defend his title. Twice
this year, Pebble Beach has been the resting place of Payne's memory, and
only God could have picked a more timeless and beautiful setting.
It is customary for the USGA to pair the defending U.S. Open, British Open,
and U.S. Amateur champions together during the first two days of play at the
U.S. Open; it is there way of linking together the game's oldest
championships in its greatest setting. In Payne Stewart's absence this year,
the USGA asked Jack Nicklaus, in what will likely be his last Open
Championship, to play with David Gossett and Paul Lawrie. The Centennial
U.S. Open is already a memorable one.