For the second time in six years, Lee Janzen put a hurt on Payne Stewart to win the U.S. Open
by John Garrity
Posted: Wed June 24, 1998
Until last week, San Francisco's Olympic Club seemed to behave like a rebellious daughter whenever it hosted a U.S. Openthat is, it invariably picked the wrong man. Jack Fleck over Ben Hogan in 1955? Billy Casper over Arnold Palmer in '66? Scott Simpson over Tom Watson in '87? It was as if that city, famous for its fringe lifestyles, couldn't abide a conventional outcome or the establishment's choice. Tony Bennett four-putts from 10 feet, while Country Joe McDonald holes out from the fairway.
Janzen is not an emotive player. When he waves to the crowd, his elbow stays close to his body. His eyes seem a little wary, as if he expects something unpleasant to happen. But there were tears in those eyes after Stewart missed the tying putt on the 72nd hole. "I went out and played my absolute best," Janzen said, "and won the one championship I love more than any other."
There is no doubting that he was at his best on Sunday. He played the demanding Lake Course in two-under-par 68, while no other contender shot better than 73. He hit 11 of the 14 narrow, tilted fairways and 14 of the 18 tiny, parched greens. "Lee seems to play his best in the difficult tournaments, in difficult conditions," says his good friend and fellow Tour player Rocco Mediate.
Janzen proved that last fall, when he nearly saved the Ryder Cup for the U.S. with a gutsy one-up singles victory over Jose Maria Olazabal at Valderrama. He has struggled this year with his puttera malady treated last week by the Austin short-game doctor, Dave Pelz, who found that Janzen was aiming left of the hole on mid-range putts and aiming right on short onesbut Janzen does not fit the profile of the usual Olympic Club winner. He is neither unsung nor unloved.
Still, there was that history hanging over the tournament, so an inordinate amount of attention was paid to golfers who couldn't afford to stay at the luxury hotels on Nob Hill. You had 34-year-old Joe Durant, for instance, a fast-talking pro from the Florida panhandle who confessed that his short game was "very poor." You had Mark Carnevale, 38 years old and Stadleresque in build, who won the Chattanooga Classic in 1992 but has ridden the choochoo on the Nike tour for the past two years. And you had Lee Porter, a 32-year-old veteran of the Asian and South American tours.
Was one of them the next Fleck? No. But Durant shot an opening-round 68, Carnevale was in the top 10 after three rounds, and Porter lingered like Hogan's worst Olympic nightmare, holing his approach on 18 for an eagle on Friday and riding the leader board on Saturday.
Then you had Matt Kuchar, the 20-year-old junior from Georgia Tech who was bidding to become the first amateur to win the national championship since Johnny Goodman in 1933. Justin Leonard, for one, found two days with the always smiling youngster hard to take, complaining that Kuchar's caddie/father, Peter, was too boisterous in his appreciation of his son's touch on the greens. But then, Leonard was stumbling to 40th place, while the U.S. Amateur champion was making pars and shrugging happily on his way to a 14th-place tie. Not since the days of legendary hustler Titanic Thompson had someone so seemingly guileless played such cutthroat golf.
Another good story had its epicenter down the peninsula. Four former or current Stanford players were in the field, and two of themTom Watson and Tiger Woodswere among the pretournament favorites. But local knowledge didn't seem to help. Stanford junior Joel Kribel missed the cut by a bunch, Watson missed by a little, and Woods showed that he still has not learned how to avoid the ugly hole. On his way to 18th place he four-putted twice, looking like the man who spills coins and bills from his pocket while taking out his keys.
That left only one happy Cardinal, the celebrated Nike tour pro, Casey Martin, who made history as the first disabled playerthe first player, periodto ride a cart in a major championship. Martin got in through sectional qualifying and judicial fiat, but he proved he was no sympathy case. He finished tied for 23rd on a golf course known for its steep slopes and treacherous stances. "It's over," he said, hugging his brother, Cameron, afterward, but to the press he spoke only of beginnings: "I think I can play well enough to be a fixture out here."
Stewart had the most cause for complaint. His eight-foot sidehill putt for birdie missed by inches and then ambled downhill, taking 22 seconds to find a campsite 25 feet below the hole. "I was bordering on fuming," Stewart said.
Bordering, in fact, is an improvement. Stewart used to turn a petulant face to the public, to the point that in 1995 he apologized for what he called his rude behavior toward fans. He rarely had to apologize for his golfhe's been a member of four Ryder Cup teams and a Top 10 money winner four timesbut the construction of his Florida mansion a few years ago distracted him from his game and led to the suspicion that he would rather live like a pharaoh than go to work on the fairways.
Stewart says that after his Open victory in 1991, he was overreaching. "I put pressure on myself to be better than I already was," he says. For three rounds at Olympic he was better than anyone, going 66-71-70three under par, four strokes better than Lehman and Bob Tway and five better than Janzen and Nick Price.
But Sunday's portents were not good. The Lake Course is a kind of sanitarium for aged cypresses and arthritic pines, and in certain light the more twisted tree forms lend a haunted aspect to the place. Stewart drove into a sand-filled divot on the 12th hole, and that seemed to signal an end to his week of good bounces. The luck had already passed to Janzen, whose tee shot on the 5th hole vanished into a cypress and only plopped to earth as he was walking back to the tee to hit again. Instead of taking a two-stroke penalty, he wound up chipping in for a 4. "That was a pure gift from God," said Janzen's wife, Beverly.
As in '93 at Baltusrol, where he knocked a memorable five-iron through branches to the 10th green to make a crucial par, Janzen exploited his good break. He birdied 7, 11 and 13 and was walking onto the 15th green at even par when a roar went up from the scoreboard watchers: Stewart had bogeyed 12 and dropped into a tie with Janzen.
Janzen's last big challenge was the 17th, an uphill par 5 dressed up as a 468-yard par 4. He was five over par on the hole in the first three days, so he should have been spooked. But Janzen reached the green with two solid shots to make par. He then played the 18th like a man with no worries, taking two putts for parthe last about as long as his four-year-old son Connor's jammies.
Stewart's only hope of forcing a playoff was to birdie 17 or 18. He got his chance on 18, but his big-breaking 25-footer faltered at the last instant and slid a few inches by on the low side. "The putt on the 1st hole meant as much as that putt on 18," he said, hiding his disappointment behind a rueful smile.
The winner's expression was a little harder to read, it being the same grin he displays when his son jumps onto his lap. But Janzen said it plainly: "Winning the U.S. Open is the pinnacle for me." Winning it twicea feat accomplished by 17 other golfersis presumably like twin peaks.
No stunning upset at Olympic, not this time. Just a wonderful deja vu by the Golden Gate.
Issue date: June 29, 1998
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