Tom Lehman placed both hands over his cap in disbelief when his shot into the 17th green at Congressional bounded off the side of the green and into the water in 1997, ending his hopes at a US Open he never won.
A year later, Lehman became the first player since Bobby Jones to play in the final group at a US Open in four consecutive years. The difference was that Jones wound up a winner.
There is cause to feel badly for Lehman, though he’s not alone. Behind the long list of US Open champions is a healthy list of players who left heartbroken and who, like Lehman, never won a US Open. Here’s five to consider:
Roland Hancock was on the verge of becoming a surprise winner of the 1928 US Open at Olympia Fields. He led by two shots with two holes to play and needed only a pair of 5s to win. He drove into mud, topped his next shot into deep rough, took two more and made double bogey. On the par-5 18th, he hit into the rough, chipped out, hit a spectator in the head and missed a 20-foot par putt to finish out of a playoff between Bobby Jones and Johnny Farrell.
Colin Montgomerie lost in a three-way playoff at Oakmont in 1994, and two years later he missed a 5-foot par putt on the 17th hole at Congressional and finished one behind Ernie Els. But nothing stung quite like Winged Foot in 2006. He was on the 18th fairway with a 7-iron in his hand, and chunked it so badly that he exclaimed, “What the hell was that?”
He three-putted for a double bogey and finished one behind Geoff Ogilvy.
In 1939 at Philadelphia Country Club Sam Snead needed a par 5 on the closing hole to win, thought he needed a birdie and chopped his way to an 8 to miss the playoff. In 1947 at St Louis Country Club he faced Lew Worsham in a playoff. Tied on the 18th hole, Snead lagged to just over 2 feet and was about to tap in when Worsham asked for a measurement to see who was away. It was Snead, by a half-inch. “I was so mad I couldn’t see straight,” Snead said later. He missed and Worsham tapped in for the victory.
Dustin Johnson had a two-shot lead at Chambers Bay last year until he started missing putts. But he hit his tee shot to four feet on the par-3 17th for birdie and, needing a birdie to force a playoff, he crushed a perfect drive and hit 5-iron into the par-5 18th to 12 feet above the hole. Make it and he wins. Two putts for a playoff. He three-putted for a bogey to lose to Jordan Spieth by one shot.
No one has suffered more at the US Open than Phil Mickelson, who holds the record with six runner-up finishes and lacks only this title to complete the career Grand Slam. What haunts him is Winged Foot in 2006, when he had a one-shot lead going to the 18th hole. He sliced his tee and went for the green with a 3-iron. It hit a tree. His third shot plugged in a bunker. His fourth shot went across the green. Two putts later he had a double bogey, and Geoff Ogilvy had the US Open.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved