Marino's U.S. Open Reflections

By: Marino Parascenzo

Editor's Note: Marino Parascenzo was in San Francisco this past week covering the U.S. Open for Cybergolf. Here are some reflections on this and past U.S. Opens by the Hall of Fame golf writer.

This was the 112th U.S. Open, and in terms of history, you could spin the dial for any one of them and come up with a performance, an episode, an event, a quirk that would recommend it to historians.

The question of who won and who might have won but didn't is, generally speaking, pedestrian stuff. It's those odd little pebbles that send ripples to the shore, or rocks that send waves, that have enriched and shaped America's national golf championship.

Never mind that Webb Simpson came from behind and ground out the win at Olympic. The kid had already stamped the 2012 U.S. Open as his.

Beau Hossler, amateur, a mere 17-year-old from Mission Viejo, Calif., heading for his senior year in high school, was just trying to finish as low amateur. He said he had put no expectations on himself, other than low amateur. Then he found himself among the contenders going into the final round, only four shots off the lead.

Then he couldn't resist the Sirens' song. He said he would try to win. It's been 79 years since an amateur won the U.S. Open. Hossler's ambition was noble. But would it be too heavy for a 17-year-old?

Yes, it would. But the kid had woven himself into the tapestry of the U.S. Open.

History would show that Hossler hung on for the first two holes before he started to slip, bogeying the next three. He bravely fought back, never really threatened, and staggered home with a 76 to tie for 29th, helping to write - among so many others - these chapters in the U.S. Open:

1962: This was the dawn of the Nicklaus Era. It might not have dawned just then, except for a little evergreen tree at the 17th hole.

Jack beat Arnold Palmer, the reigning king, in a playoff at Oakmont. Putting on the wicked greens proved to be the difference. Palmer three-putted 10 times (or 11 or 12, depending on which source is accepted), and Nicklaus three-putted only once. And they might have only tied for second if Phil Rodgers hadn't challenged a little evergreen at the short 17th back in the first round.

He tried to drive the green, ended up stuck in the tree, and rather than take an unplayable lie decided to hit it out. He hacked at it, but it refused to fall. He ended up with a quadruple-bogey eight. With a bogey, Rodgers would have won. With a double-bogey, he would have tied Nicklaus and Palmer. But the "snowman" left him sharing second, two shots behind them.

1971: Two great things from Lee Trevino in this one, where he beat Jack Nicklaus in a playoff at Merion.

First, the truth wasn't as much fun as the fiction. The story has it that as they got ready to start their playoff, Trevino, up to his old hustler tricks, threw a rubber snake at Nicklaus to psyche him out. Not quite true, Trevino and Nicklaus have said. It turns out that Trevino's little daughter had left the rubber snake in his bag, and he found it as he was rummaging around in a pocket. Nicklaus said hey, toss that over here, and Trevino did. Good chuckles all around.

(By the way, whoever wants to call Trevino a hustler should not be standing too close.)

Here's an unknown part of that Open. The late Jim Simons, then a 21-year-old amateur and junior at Wake Forest, took the lead with a 65 in the third round and still led at the final turn, with Trevino, Nicklaus and others in hot pursuit. At one hole, Simons was about to hit his tee ball when Trevino stopped him. "Listen, kid," Trevino said, "this game is tough enough without you getting penalized for teeing it up in front of the markers." The penalty would have hurt Simons badly. Simons, who eventually tied for fifth, later would tell of how Trevino sacrificed his chance to pick up ground just to help a young guy who got a little lost in the glare.

1975: Tom Watson set two landmarks at Medina. One involved lightning, the other choking. He made them keep the one on lightning. He erased the one on choking.

A tremendous electrical storm hit Medina in the second round, and Watson refused to play. U.S. Golf Association officials tried to find a way to force him to play - threats of a penalty, perhaps - but finally agreed that the situation was dangerous. Play was suspended. It's a rule of golf now that a player can refuse to play if the situation is threatening. In fact, officials will suspend play themselves when the threat of lightning moves into the area. So Watson was instrumental in bringing a sensible rule into play.

Watson, then a young Huck Finn comer, shot the first two rounds in 67-68 and held a three-stroke lead, but crumbled over the last two with 78-77. This fold, combined with earlier shaky moments, left him stuck with the tag "choker," rightly or wrongly.

Two years later, he won the 1977 Masters, out-dueling Jack Nicklaus down the final stretch. Watson told the media corps at Augusta National, "You can't call me a choker anymore." And they couldn't.

P.S. Lou Graham won that U.S. Open, beating John Mahaffey in a playoff.

1978: The USGA, determined to fight slow play, instituted a two-shot penalty and warned all within earshot at Cherry Hills. Officials soon had a chance to prove their point. In the first round, Robert Impaglia, delayed by looking for his ball at No 9, was knocked for two shots. He was the first guy in the 78 years of the U.S. Open to be penalized for slow play. He'd shot 36 on the front but, frazzled, went 47 on the back. Cracked Impaglia: "I love the exposure, but I wish it was for something else."

1979: It is one of golf's bedrock axioms: Thou shalt play the course as you find it. But at Inverness, USGA officials didn't like the course they found after Lon Hinkle discovered that shortcut. Hinkle played the par-5 No. 8 by going through a gap in the trees and down the adjoining 17th fairway. He shot 70 in the first round, and so officials came out that evening and stuck a 26-foot spruce tree in the ground to plug the gap. The tree, of course, was immediately named "The Hinkle Tree."

Unfazed, Hinkle came out in the second round and took the shortcut again, this time having to thread his tee shot through a high narrow opening, and a number of other golfers also used the shortcut. Hinkle faded to a tie for 53rd, but even so, his name went into the annals of the U.S. Open.

Hale Irwin took his second Open, possibly the first to win while braces on his teeth. "Everything," Irwin said then, "tastes like metal."

1981: At Merion Jim Thorpe shot a 66 in the first round and was hailed as the first black ever to lead the U.S. Open. Wrong. That would John Shippen, in 1896 at Shinnecock Hills, in the second U.S. Open. Shippen was then identified as part-black, part-Shinnecock Indian. Wrong again. The Shippens, living in Maryland, were black. His dad, a minister, moved the family to the Shinnecock reservation on Long Island, where he became the pastor of a church. Shippen tied with a 78 in the first round, then 81 in the second, tying for fifth overall in the two-round event.

1994: The Rulesman cometh for Ernie Els on his way to winning this one. Leading in the fourth round, Els hit his tee shot at No. 1 into deep, shaggy rough to the left, and had a TV broadcast truck in his line to the hole. A rules official took one look at the big tires the truck had rolled in on and declared it to be a temporary immovable obstruction. Els got a free drop in a much friendlier place, and turned a very likely double-bogey into a bogey.

Els also enjoyed a temporary ruling at the short par-4 17th. Anyone driving into or behind the grandstands near the green got a free drop for an open line. This was a blessing for long hitters who could reach that area. The shorter hitters had no such advantage. Els went on to tie Loren Roberts and Colin Montgomery in an 18-hole playoff on Monday, then beat Roberts on the second hole of sudden-death. The grandstands were moved for later Opens at Oakmont.

2000: Tiger Woods turned this one into a lark. There was nothing left to say about this one. He ran away with it by 15 shots at Pebble Beach. The "Age of Tiger" was still young, and if it had lacked anything, it no longer did. He had his first U.S. Open.

Marino Parascenzo can assure you that hanging around with great and famous pro golfers does nothing to help your game. They just won't give you the secret. But it makes for a dandy career. As a sportswriter with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (now retired), Parascenzo covered the whole gamut of sports - Steelers, Pirates, Penguins, Pitt, Penn State and others - but golf was his favorite. As the beat writer for the paper, he covered all the stateside majors and numerous other pro events, and as a freelancer handled reporting duties for the British Open and other tournaments overseas - in Britain, Spain, Italy, the Caribbean, South Africa, China and Malayasia. Marino has won more than 20 national golf-writing awards, along with state and regional awards. He has received the Memorial Tournament's Golf Journalism Award and the PGA of America's Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism. His writing has appeared in numerous magazines, among them Sports Illustrated, Golf Digest and Golf Magazine, and in anthologies and foreign publications. He also wrote the history of Oakmont Country Club. Parascenzo is a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America and is on its board of directors. He is the founder and chairman of the GWAA's Journalism Scholarship Program. He is a graduate of Penn State and was an adjunct instructor in journalism at Pitt.