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This Event Saves Worst Bounces for Best Players

The U.S. Open is not a tournament, it’s a hoodoo. It’s Hamlet with 9-irons. A pox not a play. A movie where everybody dies in the end.

Its coat of arms should be two black cats rampant on a field of block 13s. It’s 72 holes of hard luck. A losers’ wheel. The house always wins.

It is wicked, heartless, sardonic. It is Dracula, promising you romance while eyeing your neck. The Devil in cleats, Beelzebub in plus fours. At night, you can hear it howling with demonic laughter.

Its stock in trade is mockery. Its humor runs to practical jokes. Its patron figure should be the Marquis de Sade. It gets its kicks hearing people shriek, “My God, not over there!”

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It is a disaster masquerading as a game. It passes out tragedy at $5,000 a yard.

The U.S. Open is perverse, pitiless. Its job is supposed to be separating the men from the boys. It does this by chasing the men out. It is one event that runs the ribbon clerks in. It thinks this is funny. It has no conscience.

If it were human, it would have pointed teeth and ears, purple lips, eyes that glow in the dark, and it would howl in the full of the moon.

No one is safe, nothing is sacred. It is relentless. It pushes Ben Hogan’s ball in the rough. It trickles Arnold Palmer’s into the water. It beats Bobby Jones with Cyril Walker, Hogan with Jack Fleck. It tells Lloyd Mangrum to blow a bug off his ball and the U.S. Open with it.

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Reporting it is like covering an execution. A circus fire. Bring a handkerchief.

You have to steel yourself. It’s like a night in the morgue.

Take this year’s Open. You take one look at the rough out there in Oakland Hills, check those undulations on the greens, the water, the trees and you want to cover your eyes, say your prayers, try not to notice how much those guys look like Christians going to the lions. You know what to expect:

--Don’t look for any of the deserving players, the registered giants of the game, to win. Don’t look for Nicklaus to win, even though the first tournament he ever won as a pro was the 1962 U.S. Open. He’s won more than 70 tournaments since, but only three of them were U.S. Opens. So, the best player in the world, maybe in history, only wins one every seven years.

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But that’s better than Sam Snead. The man who deserved it most, who won more tournaments than any man who ever lived, never won even one Open. Arnold Palmer won only one Open. So did Tom Watson. They won 90 other tournaments between them.

The Open hates prowess and saves its worse bounces for the best players.

--Don’t look for the guy who wins it to go on to golf’s Valhalla or Hall of Fame. Of the guys who won the last six, one hasn’t won anything since and two others have won only once since. Winning an Open is like marrying an alcoholic. Or inheriting a haunted house. You may wish you hadn’t.

--Don’t even look for a recognizable name to win it. Four of the guys who won in the last 23 years were winning their first tournaments. One of them also was winning his last tournament. One winner was winning his second tournament ever, another his third. The guy who was winning his third still hasn’t won his fourth. And that was seven years ago.

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--Don’t look for any amateur to win it. The last to do so was John G. Goodman in 1933. Of the 5,274 guys who tried to shoot their way into this thing, about half were amateurs but only eight made the field and no doubt none will make the cut.

--Don’t look for a low round to hold up. Of the three 63s shot in Open play, only two of them won it. Of the three 64s shot, none of them won it.

--Don’t always look for “Unknown Leads Open” to turn into “Unknown Wins Open.” Thirty years ago, Lee Mackey Jr. opened with a 64. He shot an 81 the next day, and 75 and 77 thereafter. He won a hundred bucks.

Rives McBee’s 64 helped him to make the cut in 1966--he had a 76 opening day--but that’s about all. Tom Weiskopf’s opening-round 63 in 1980 helped him to finish 37th. Mike Reid’s opening 67 put him in the lead by three shots in 1976, but his 80-81-72 landed him in 50th place.

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David Canipe’s two 69s last year helped him to finish last after 81-83 on the last two days.

--Don’t look for great players to win any Opens. Snead is not the only super swinger never to make it. Weiskopf not only didn’t win it the year he shot 63, he never won it. Neither did Jimmy Demaret, Jackie Burke, Denny Shute, Dutch Harrison or Tony Lema.

Byron Nelson only won one. So did Gene Littler, although Littler won 29 other tournaments and Nelson once won 11 in a row and 19 in a year.

--Don’t look for a high number to throw a guy out of the tournament. Hogan shot an opening-round 76 in 1951 and still won by two shots. Hale Irwin shot a final-round 75 in 1979 and still won the cup by two shots.

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--Don’t bet that a winner will go on to fame and fortune. One of them died in the care of the Salvation Army. Another spent 40 years in an insane asylum. The Open probably ranks right next to pastrami sandwiches as a leading cause of ulcers in this country, and right along with the blonde next door as a cause of divorces.

Playing in an Open is not a privilege, it’s a penance. But then you have to remember that people fought to get aboard the Titanic, too. And drew straws to get to go with Custer.


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