This year’s U.S. Open marks the sixth time the championship has been contested on the West Course at Winged Foot. As players continue to tee off on this A. W. Tillinghast brute (updated in 2017 by Gil Hanse), viewers should expect to see Winged Foot be every bit as difficult as in past championships there.
In 1929, Bobby Jones bested second-place finisher Al Espinosa in a playoff, but the win didn’t come easy. Jones only needed to play the final four holes in 3-over to win outright, but he triple-bogeyed 15, bogeyed 16, and had to get up and down from a greenside bunker and hole a 12-foot putt to save par on 18 in order to get into the playoff. Winged Foot will do that to you—even if you’re the best player in the world. In the 36-hole, stroke-play playoff that followed, Espinosa lost by 23 strokes. Winged Foot will do that to you, too.
In 1959, the leaderboards featured many of the day’s household names, including Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, and Sam Snead. At the end of the rain-delayed fourth round (the first ever played on a Sunday), Billy Casper prevailed by a single shot over Bob Rosburg, thanks in large part to his putting game. He needed just 114 putts on Winged Foot’s treacherous greens to get the job done. Notably, this was the first major that Charlie Sifford qualified for and played in—two years before African Americans were allowed to play on the PGA Tour—and he finished 32nd. Also of note: the ’59 Open was Jack Nicklaus’s third appearance in the event. He missed the cut following two rounds of 77.
Then came 1974—the so-called “Massacre at Winged Foot.” Just a year earlier, Johnny Miller had dismantled Oakmont with his final-round 63. That would not happen again at Winged Foot—not a single player broke par in the first round and only a handful of players broke par during any round. Larry Ziegler’s 2-under 68 in round two, the lowest score all week, must have felt like a miracle. A young Tom Watson led the event at +3 after the third round, but in the final round he bogeyed three of the first eight holes and six more on the back nine. In the end, Hale Irwin prevailed by two shots over Forrest Fezler, despite bogeying two of his last three holes. His final-round 73 (3-over) and total score of 7-over was good enough to earn him the first of his three U.S. Open titles.
When the Open returned to Winged Foot in 1984, Irwin continued his determined play there, leading the field through the third round, with Fuzzy Zoeller and Greg Norman nipping at his heels. Irwin ballooned to a 79 on the last day, though, while Norman saved par on the 72nd hole after hitting his approach shot into a grandstand and holing a 45-foot putt—at which point Zoeller, playing behind him, famously waved a white towel of surrender. Surrender Zoeller didn’t, though. He parred his last hole to force a playoff, and then blew Norman out of the water in the Monday playoff with a 67 to Norman’s 75.
Think about this…
Over 700 different players have teed it up in a US Open at Winged Foot.
Two have finished under par.
(Zoeller and Norman in 1984) pic.twitter.com/I5PanuxYpo
— GOLFTV (@GOLFTV) September 15, 2020
The Open wouldn’t return to Winged Foot until 2006, but once again, there was drama. Among those contending for the lead over the first three days were Colin Montgomerie, Steve Stricker, Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk, and Australian Geoff Ogilvy—the event’s eventual champion. But Ogilvy didn’t win it without a fight. Five different players held the lead on the final day—Furyk, Mickelson, and Montgomerie all could have won with pars on the 72nd hole, but each double-bogeyed. Ogilvy’s final score of 5-over was good enough.
A kinder and gentler Winged Foot West hosted the PGA Championship in 1997, when Davis Love III scorched the field with a finishing score of 11-under. It’s also been the venue for the U.S. Amateur twice, (1940—won by Dick Chapman, and 2004—won by Ryan Moore). Francis Ouimet captained the U.S. Walker Cup team to a 10–2 victory there over Great Britain in 1949.
1997 – Davis Love III, the son of a legendary PGA Teaching Professional, recorded back-to-back 66s on the weekend for an 11-under-par 269, the lowest of any champion in Winged Foot Golf Club’s storied history.#PGA100 pic.twitter.com/601XlxUsMv
— PGA Championship (@PGAChampionship) July 18, 2018
Not to be outdone, the club’s East Course has its own proud record of hosting majors. The U.S. Women’s Open has been contested on the East Course twice. In 1957, Betsy Rawls prevailed with a score of 7-over when apparent winner Jackie Pung signed an incorrect scorecard and was disqualified. In 1972, Susie Berning’s score of 11-over was just good enough to edge Judy Rankin, Kathy Ahern, and Pam Barnett.
Finally, the East Course also hosted the U.S. Senior Open in 1980, won by Roberto De Vincenzo.
— U.S. Women’s Open (USGA) (@uswomensopen) September 14, 2020
Who will be the last man standing after this year’s Open? Your guess is as good as mine. But you can rest assured that there will be drama—and that victory won’t come easy.
What is your favorite championship moment from Winged Foot? Let us know in the comment section.