5 biggest upsets in US Open history
One of the most famous upsets in golf took place at The Olympic Club. But that wasn’t the only one at the US Open.
And it was not the biggest.
The US Open often lives up to its name — open — meaning that everyone should have the chance to win golf’s second-oldest championship. Every now and then, an “anybody” does just that. It could be a 20-year-old amateur who puts golf on the front pages, an unheralded club pro who takes down one of the giants in the game, or even a 35-year-old from the Army who defies the odds.
Here are five of the biggest upsets in golf:
5. STEVE JONES
Steve Jones won four times in a span of 16 months before a dirt bike accident caused joint and ligament damage to his left ring finger, critical for the golf grip, and derailed his career. He missed most of three seasons, but returned in a big way.
First, he won a playoff in sectional qualifying just to get into the 1996 US Open at Oakland Hills. He opened with a 74, seven shots behind the leaders, and then rallied with a 66 to get back into the hunt. He never went away.
Tom Lehman had a tournament-best 65 in the third round to take the outright lead, and Jones joined him in the last group. For much of the final round, the attention was on Lehman trying to win his first major, and then Davis Love III making a move. Love took bogey on the 17th and had a 20-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole that he left 3 feet short. He missed that to make another bogey for a 69.
Lehman, tied for the lead on the 18th, saw his tee shot take a funny hop into the bunker, leaving him no chance to reach the green. Jones two-putted for par, and Lehman missed a 15-foot par putt that would have forced a playoff. Jones became the first US Open champion who had to qualify since Jerry Pate in 1976.
4. SAM PARKS JR.
Sam Parks Jr. was a club pro at nearby South Hills Country Club who had never won a US PGA Tour event. He prepared for the 1935 US Open by stopping by Oakmont every day for a month to play a practice round. The preparation paid off.
Oakmont was as severe as ever, and Jimmy Johnson opened with rounds of 73-73 to take the lead. Parks holed a 60-foot chip for eagle in the third round and shot 73 to tie for the lead, with 42-year-old Walter Hagen only three shots back and poised to win his third US Open.
The weather worsened for the last 18 holes, which made scoring so difficult that none of the top 20 players on the leaderboard broke 75. Parks closed with a 76, good enough for a two-shot win over Thomson. Parks was the only player to break 300 at Oakmont.
Hagen also shot a 76, and this turned out to be his last time in serious contention at a major.
Parks never finished in the top 10 at another major.
3. ORVILLE MOODY
Orville Moody was known as “Sarge” because of his Army career.
He won the Korean Open three times while in the Army, but there was little to suggest he would become a US Open champion. His best chance at winning came early in 1969 when he lost in a playoff at the Greater Greensboro Open.
He had to go through local and sectional qualifying that year just to get into the US Open at Champions Golf Club in Texas.
Moody was never really in the picture until the last day, when he trailed Miller Barber by three shots. Barber fell apart in the final round, closing with a 78. Sarge was steady and shot 72 to hold off Deane Beman (future US tour commissioner) and a pair of U.S. PGA Championship winners in Bob Rosburg and Al Geiberger.
It was the only US tour event Moody won. He later won 11 times on the Senior Tour.
2. JACK FLECK
Ben Hogan appeared to have won his record-setting fifth US Open when he closed with a 70 at The Olympic Club in 1955. NBC went off the air and proclaimed him the winner. Still on the golf course was Jack Fleck, a little-known club pro from Iowa who could hit it straight and had perfected his putting. It was a dangerous combination.
Fleck birdied the 15th, made par on the next two holes, and then hit 7-iron from a good lie in the rough over the bunker to 8 feet on the 18th. He made the birdie for a 67 that allowed him to catch Hogan and force an 18-hole playoff.
Fleck never flinched playing against his idol — he even used Hogan irons — and knowing the crowd wanted to see Hogan win another US Open. Fleck built a three-shot lead around the turn, but his lead was down to one coming to the 18th. Hogan needed a birdie to extend the playoff, but he hooked his drive into the rough, slashed at it twice to get it back in play and had to make a long putt for double bogey. Fleck won by three for his first victory.
He won only twice more on the US PGA Tour in the rest of his career. But while this was an upset of Olympic proportions, it was no fluke. There were only seven rounds in the 60s that week. Fleck had three of them.
1. FRANCIS OUIMET
Even though John McDermott became the first American-born winner of the US Open the previous two years, it took Francis Ouimet to put golf on newspaper front pages by beating two giants of the game.
The 1913 US Open was moved from June to September so Harry Vardon and Ted Ray could compete. Also in the field was Ouimet, the 20-year-old Massachusetts Amateur champion who had local knowledge of The Country Club because he lived across the street from the 17th hole.
It was his first major championship.
Ouimet, six shots behind after the first round, followed with rounds of 74-74 to share the 54-hole lead with Vardon and Ray, and he kept pace over the final round to match with 79s and force an 18-hole playoff.
In the tough, rainy conditions at Brookline, Ouimet played his best golf. He shot 72, while Vardon had a 78 and Ray shot 79. The gallery was among the biggest ever in America for a golf tournament, and it was hailed as one of the biggest upsets in sport. Before long, America began to replace the Old World in golf supremacy.