My Top 5 Most Inspiring Memories From the U.S. Open

Last Updated Jun 18, 2011 3:33 PM EDT

This is U.S. Open week on the PGA Tour. I didn't qualify but I'll be watching the tournament tomorrow on TV (the way I usually do). I could write about how Tiger won't be playing, this year's course, or the players that make up the field. Instead, I'm going to give you my all-time favorite moments from the U.S. Open.

But the headline of this post is a little misleading. There are so many great U.S. Open moments that I'm just going to focus on the most inspiring ones that happened in my lifetime.

First, a little background. The U.S. Open is unlike any other tournament on the PGA Tour for several reasons. It's open, for one thing, which means that the field of players is more unpredictable -- you could play terribly all year and then wind up at the U.S. Open. Plus, almost every year the field includes five to 10 amateurs who qualify. And second, the U.S. Golf Association is notorious for making the course as difficult as possible, meaning you're going to see a lot of hard and fast greens, brutal pin placement, long rough, and some very frustrated players.

Will those players be able to top these five moments?

1. Tiger Woods's win at Pebble Beach in 2000
This will go down in history as the greatest performance ever at Pebble Beach. Tiger blew away the field by 15 strokes -- that was unheard of at the U.S. Open, where most players struggle to play even par.

The lesson: This was the most impressive sporting event ever, in my mind. The way that Tiger built his lead -- keeping his foot on the gas for a full 72 holes -- is something that I will never forget. No matter how big his lead, every single shot got his full attention.


2. Tiger Woods's win at Torrey Pines in 2008
Another performance that I'm sure few will forget. A limping Tiger (he had a broken leg and a torn ACL) trudged around the course between pitiful shots to miraculous shots, made a tremendous putt on the 72nd hole, and then won in a playoff over Rocco Mediate.

The lesson: Even when you're not at your best, if you want it bad enough you can make it happen. Everyone had counted Tiger out. I mean, who wouldn't? The man hardly was in a condition to play. He didn't count himself out, which made all the difference.


3. Phil Mickelson at Winged Foot in 2006
This tournament will be forever linked with the phrase, "Did you see what Phil just did?" Well, that and Phil's own comment: "I am such an idiot." He had a one-shot lead coming into the 72nd hole and chose to hit a driver off the tee. That choice got him into trouble, which then lead to five minutes of the some worst decision making in golf history. He wound up with a double bogey, and lost by one stroke to Geoff Ogilvy.

The lesson: There are so many. One, understand the situation you are in. Phil could have made a bogey and still gotten into an 18-hole playoff, but he decided to hit some kind of hero shot instead of pitching out from long rough and playing more conservatively. Two, as much as I thought he had made a poor decision, at least he owned up to it. He never once blamed anyone else other than himself and was available for questions after the round. This was a true testament to the idea that golf is a gentleman's game. Hats off to Phil for the way he handled it and for going on to win two Masters jackets after all of that.


4. Payne Stewart's win at Pine Hurst #2 in 1999
Payne Stewart picks up his caddy after his 1999 win
Payne Stewart won the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst with a 15-foot par putt on the 72nd hole. His celebration afterwards was probably the best ever in U.S. golf.

The lesson: Payne was not a bomber. He was straight and percise with his game. He had a plan and stuck to it all the way to the end. Everyone will remember his putt to win but few will remember his decision to lay up on the last hole of the tournament from a questionable spot in the rough. This was the first time I had seen someone simply make up his mind in a situation like that, react to it, and move on to the next shot. He was going to win the U.S. Open his way.

5. Lee Janzen's win at The Olympic Club in 1998
After Tiger won the Masters in 1997, I was hooked and I never missed a major on TV. This one was no less inspiring. Lee played great and putted even better. He overcame a 5-shot deficit -- the most ever in U.S. Open history -- on Sunday to beat Payne Stewart.

The lesson: His golf was great. There is no questioning that, but the thing I took from it was the grace with which he spoke after the round. He thanked everyone who was involved and said that he could not have done it alone. That was in my mind the best post-round I have ever seen. He was a great champion.

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