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US Open Notebook: Strange still the last player to win back-to-back

By
June 11, 2014 |

PINEHURST, N.C. — Justin Rose can expect a phone call of congratulations from Curtis Strange if he were to successfully defend his U.S. Open title this week.

It’s just not a phone call Strange wants to make.

This is the 25-year anniversary of Strange winning at Oak Hill to become only the sixth player to win back-to-back in the U.S. Open.

No one has done it since then.

“Do I want to see somebody do it? Not particularly,” Strange said Monday. “But I’m not rooting against somebody.”

Strange won his first U.S. Open in 1988 at The Country Club, beating Nick Faldo in a playoff.

A year later, he was three shots out of the lead going into the final round at Oak Hill when Tom Kite stumbled to a 78 and Strange closed with a 70 to win by one shot.

He doesn’t know why it has taken so long for the next repeat champion. Tiger Woods won back-to-back at the Masters (2001-02), the British Open (2005-06) and twice at the PGA Championship (1999-2000, 2006-07). He is a three-time U.S. Open champion, but never came particularly close to repeating.

Ben Hogan won in 1950-51, so it was 38 years before the next repeat champion in the U.S. Open. Not even Jack Nicklaus won back-to-back. Strange never gave it much thought about winning two in a row until he shot 64 in the second round to take the lead.

“And then I didn’t play well on Saturday, so I was three behind,” he said. “So there wasn’t anything written on Sunday morning. And I played well on Sunday and prevailed, but there wasn’t a lot written that week. And then after the fact, there was a lot written. Then, they thought if I could do it, it can be done a bunch in the future.”

That hasn’t been the case.

Woods tied for sixth in 2009 at Bethpage Black in his most recent title defense.

Even so, the closest anyone came was Retief Goosen. He won in 2004 at Shinnecock Hills, and the next year had a three-shot lead going into the final round at Pinehurst. He closed with an 80.

Strange is at Pinehurst this week as an analyst for ESPN.

He is largely indifferent about whether Rose joins an exclusive club, but he made it clear he is not consumed with who wins. He mentioned how the Miami Dolphins celebrate each time an NFL team fails to complete a perfect season.

“I’m not drinking champagne Sunday night,” Strange said. “But I’ve also said if Justin would happen to do it this year, that would be the first phone call. That would be fantastic.”

___

OLD BATHROOM, NEW TEE: As if Pinehurst No. 2 wasn’t difficult enough already, there is a new tee on the par-3 sixth hole that plays about 240 yards. USGA executive director Mike Davis said it probably would be used twice this week.

Oddly enough, the new tee was not part of the plans except for the removal of a bathroom.

Bob Dedman, chairman of the company that owns Pinehurst, never liked the brick bathroom behind the sixth tee and he had it removed. Davis was at the golf course doing advance work when the absence of the bathroom gave him a different view. And he liked it.

All the par 3s are roughly the same distance. This gave Davis options in setting up the course.

“If you look back at ’99 and ’05,” he said of the two previous U.S. Opens at Pinehurst, “they were using the same clubs all four rounds. So two days we’re going to play it back, and then one day we’ll go 50 yards forward and use a front hole location. For one par 3, they’ll have to hit a long iron to a hybrid.

“And the whole reason is because he knocked the bathroom down.”

Davis said the hole location for the longer shot would be the back part of the green. That’s one of the few green at Pinehurst where being long is the best miss.

___

FIELD SET: The U.S. Open field was set at 156 players on Monday with the recent Official World Golf Ranking. The USGA had set aside five spots for players who moved into the top 60 in the world.

Kevin Na, who lost in a playoff at the Memorial, was at No. 40. Bernd Wiesberger of Austria, who lost in a playoff last week on the European Tour, moved to No. 60.

That allowed three alternates into the U.S. Open — Cameron Wilson, the NCAA champion from Stanford; Craig Barlow; and amateur Brandon McIver.

The USGA still does not publish a list of alternates in case anyone withdraws before the opening round Thursday. According to a USGA official, the priority ranking of the alternates depends on whether the player who withdraws was exempt or had to qualify.

___

GREENS ARE GONE: USGA executive director Mike Davis said the greens at Pinehurst No. 2 are as pure as he has ever seen them.

Enjoy them while they last — they’ll be dead in a month.

Pinehurst No. 2 several years ago installed a hybrid bent grass called Penn A1-A4. Davis said the resort will switch to a Bermuda grass after the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open.

“With a shorter season, it’s a much better surface to play, and actually is less expensive to maintain,” Davis said.

 

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