Fergus Bisset looks back on some memories from the US Opens contested through his teenage years in the mid to late 1990s.
US Open: 90s memories
When my father announced we were getting Sky TV early in 1995 I was about as excited as it’s possible for a teenager to be. Of course I didn’t display this outwardly, I just grunted and shrugged at the news. But inside I was dancing a wee jig. This ground-breaking acquisition meant great things – films, American TV shows, MTV2 and, of course, endless sport. ‘Surely,’ I thought, ‘This will provide a massive boost to my popularity; it’ll make me cool and probably even girls will like me.’
Unfortunately, it turned out that 100 odd channels, although fun, couldn’t give you the necessary skills to join a band, nor could they get rid of your chronic plooks. And, apparently, not many girls are interested in the second round of the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.
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I was though, and I absolutely loved watching golf coverage from the other side of the pond, particularly the Majors through the mid to late 90s. The first US Open I remember seeing decent stints of was the 1994 championship, held over last year’s host course at Oakmont. This was before we got our Sky TV so, either it was shown on the BBC in those days (I actually can’t remember) or I was round at a pal’s house…
Anyway, I was obviously supporting Monty as he battled “the Big Easy” and Loren Roberts down the stretch and through an 18-hole playoff. I can remember hurling abuse at the screen as Loren Roberts rolled in countless putts and was referred to as “the boss of the moss” about once every 45 seconds. But it was Ernie who eventually took the title to deny both Monty and Roberts. I remember Monty looking very, very hot and some superb sweat patches all round, plus Ernie is an extremely baggy shirt with a very big cap.
A clear memory I have is of the climax of the 1995 championship at Shinnecock Hills. I’d been supporting Greg Norman but he’d been struggling to get anything going in the final round.
Corey Pavin had snuck through the field using those offset Cleveland VAS irons that looked like something “George Jetson” might have in his rocket-powered bag.
Pavin held the lead with one to play but still needed to negotiate the testing home hole to secure the title.
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He wasn’t the longest hitter and required a 4-wood to reach the green on the par-4.
He played a typically gritty shot – landing it in the rough short of the green and bumbling it up to within feet of the cup.
I remember him dropping to his knees after playing it, realising what it meant. Even I had to concede, it was a hell of a shot.
1996 was a strange one and I remember I didn’t really care who won by the time the tournament reached the back nine on Sunday. Monty and Sam Torrance had been within a few shots of the lead after 54-holes but neither could make an impact in round four. It came down to four Americans – two of whom I didn’t know much about. I’d watched Tom Lehman finish third the year before and Davis Love III had won a few events I’d seen. But I didn’t know much about Steve Jones and John Morse… It turned out Jones had enjoyed some success on the PGA Tour at the end of the 80s but had suffered a motorbike accident and had struggled to recover from injuries. I recall him using a reverse overlap grip and putting with an Acushnet Bullseye putter with a tennis grip wrapped around the original grip. After he won by a shot I went out and bought a luminous green tennis grip and put it on my putter (a Wilson Patty Berg) – it didn’t make much difference.
1997 saw more disappointment for poor old Monty. Yet again it was Ernie Els who denied the Scot. But actually, I remember Tom Lehman blowing it at Congressional more than Colin being pipped to the post by Ernie.
Ernie Els, tips on ball-striking:
Lehman had a chance to win both in 1995 and 1996 but failed to do it. In 1997, he led by two through 54-holes and still had a chance with two to play. I always thought he was a solid player and loved his right to left shot shape, but on the penultimate hole he overdid it and dunked it in the water. I remember him pushing his cap down over his face and just looking inconsolable. I felt sorrier for him than for Montgomerie that year.
Lehman was in the mix again in 1998 and I was hoping he could finally get over the line. But he was trailing Payne Stewart with one round to play and I thought the man in the plus fours would probably seal it. But in the end it was Lee Janzen who produced a superb final round to win. I don’t think I bothered staying up to watch that one…
In 1999, Payne Stewart was there once more, but that one at Pinehurst turned out to be a thriller. With a round to play many of the best in the world were in the picture – Phil Mickelson trailed Payne Stewart by a shot and Tiger Woods, David Duval and Vijay Singh were all within three strokes. The finish was amazing with Stewart saving par on the 16th then holing an incredible putt for par on the final hole to win. Of course, I remember his iconic celebration, punching the air with his leg outstretched behind him. But I also remember the great sportsmanship shown on that green – Mickelson accepting defeat graciously and Stewart going straight to the younger man to commiserate with him. In his victory speech, Payne told Phil he would win in the future and that he may not get another chance… How sadly right he was about his own future. As for Phil, he’s still to win… maybe this year?