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Under Current Rules, Golf’s Most Memorable U.S. Open Playoffs Wouldn’t Have Happened

  • September 15, 2020

In 1913, a 20-year-old former caddie, Francis Ouimet, defeated two of the greatest golfers in the world, the Britons Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, in an 18-hole playoff at the Country Club, outside Boston, transforming golf from a game for the elites to one with populist and diverse appeal. Ouimet’s win set off the first big golf boom in America.

In 1929, in the first U.S. Open at Winged Foot Golf Club in Westchester County, N.Y., Bobby Jones — after dissipating a six-stroke lead with just seven holes to play — made a curling 12-foot putt on the 18th hole to force a tie. He went on to defeat Al Espinosa in a 36-hole playoff by a whopping 23 strokes.

Ben Hogan won an 18-hole playoff at Merion Golf Club, near Philadelphia, in 1950, 16 months after a horrific head-on crash with a Greyhound bus that almost crippled him. Red Smith immortalized Hogan’s performance, “Maybe once in the lifetime of any of us it is possible to say with accuracy and without mawkishness, ‘This was a spiritual victory, an absolute triumph of will!’”

But in 2018, the U.S.G.A. quietly changed the playoff format to a two-hole aggregate score, with play commencing directly after the conclusion of play on the final day. Sudden death would follow, if necessary.

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