"After I bogeyed the 2nd hole, it was all a blur," says Beard, who still had a chance until he bogeyed 16 and 17 after missing the greens with long irons. "I remember finishing and feeling somewhere between disappointment, relief and a sense of accomplishment. I'd finished third, and I hadn't finished anywhere near the top 10 in a tournament for about five years.
"But later when I looked back, it was terrible. I couldn't have asked for anything easier. For about two years I was thinking, Oh my god, if somebody had told me I could shoot 76 on Sunday—76—and win the Open, how happy I would have been. It was really a loss. I thought about it often."
Beard now says that the process of alcohol rehabilitation has given him the understanding to accept his Open failure just as he has accepted his personal shortcomings. "I didn't respond to pressure well," he says. "It had to do with other problems in my life. Pressure was a big thing in my life, and in the major championships it got worse. I didn't like being in the lead on Saturday. I tried to avoid pressure.
"That is what separates players. Nicklaus loved the pressure. Palmer loved it. They not only loved it, they rose to another level, while guys like me were seeking a level below, just trying to get out of there. It's the greatest gift a player can have."
It was the gift that made North the most opportunistic closer the Open has ever seen. As a player who has won only three official events in 23 years on the Tour, North was seriously in the hunt twice in the Open and won both times. When he won at Cherry Hills in 1978, he was the 36-and 54-hole leader. In 1985 North was lurking two strokes back after 54 holes and seized the lead for good when third-round leader T.C. Chen committed his infamous double hit and made a quadruplebogey eight on the 5th hole at Oakland Hills. In both final rounds North shot less than artistic 74s, but he knew how to keep it together at crunch time.
"Of course, leading during the final round makes you sick to your stomach, but to me having a chance to win the U.S. Open was what I'd lived all my life for," says North. "Any player who's real competitive wants that opportunity. The thing is, except for our absolute best players like Nicklaus, Trevino and Watson, who could win on skill, the Open usually goes to the guy with a lot of guts and intelligence. I always looked forward to the Open because I felt I had a better chance than anyone else."
Despite his youth in 1971, Simons was the same type of player. He had first qualified for the Open at 17 and had the kind of straight, consistent game that was suited to an Open setup. "I saw myself as a U.S. Open-type player," says Simons, who would go on to win three times on the PGA Tour but would never again seriously contend in an Open. "After Merion, people would see me and compliment me on how well I played, and I'd be pleasant and say thanks, but it wasn't what I was feeling. I'd had such a great opportunity to do something. I thought about it every day for a long time."
Although Simons had no big titles after his name in '71, he was, in his own mind, primed for victory. In the weeks before the Open he had been steeled by two pressure-packed events played across the Atlantic in horrible weather: the Walker Cup, in which the U.S. had been upset by Great Britain and Ireland; and the British Amateur, in which Simons lost to Steve Melnyk, a fellow U.S. Walker Cupper, in the final. Merion in June, says Simons, "felt like a walk in the park."
So while it was easy to say afterward that the young amateur had never had a chance, Simons knows otherwise. He held the lead as late as the 14th hole on Sunday and came to the 72nd only a stroke behind. After a bad kick took his ball into the deep rough on the 458-yard, par-4 18th, Simons, going all out for a miracle birdie, tried to hit a three-wood from the tangled lie and advanced the ball about 100 yards. Deflated, he took four more to get down.
"I was a little off on the last day, probably because of nerves," he says. "But everyone struggled that day, even Jack. I felt I could have, and should have, won it."