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Rick Reilly
June 27, 1988
America's Curtis Strange defeated Nick Faldo of England in an 18-hole playoff at the U.S. Open
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June 27, 1988

Strange Finish

America's Curtis Strange defeated Nick Faldo of England in an 18-hole playoff at the U.S. Open

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No wonder Curtis strange looks like the wrong half of a Grecian Formula ad. He could always win the Houston Opens. He has cashed more checks than a Safeway. But he had to wait and worry and watch his hair turn gray for 12 years, 90 holes and one long, pillow-punching night in Boston before he had what his heart burned for—a major championship.

It finally happened for Strange on Monday at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. He used the simplest shot in golf—the putt—to defeat Her Majesty's Secret Weapon, Nick Faldo of England, 71 to 75 in an 18-hole playoff for the U.S. Open.

And when he clinched it—when Faldo missed a putt on the 17th hole to give Strange a three-shot lead—Strange's throat became thick with gladness. "This is the greatest thing I've ever done," he said, wet-eyed and half-voiced. "This is the greatest feeling I've ever had."

It was not just Strange's moment. With one daylight ride on his fearless putter, Strange gave American golf a hypodermic of confidence. If Faldo, the reigning British Open champion, had jumped happily on the Concorde Monday night, he would have taken with him the third win by a non-American in the last four majors. So turn out the lights in the Old North Church. The British may not be coming after all.

Not that the win was purely for pride and place. Strange won $180,000, an eyedropper to a swimming pool compared with what he'll probably eventually realize, considering that three of his endorsement contracts just happen to expire this year, and others are negotiable. Hello, Hertz? My caddie says your bag is getting awful heavy for him.

But it was not the wallet in the blazer that had Strange choked up. It was what was underneath the wallet, his heart. "What does this mean to me?" he said. "It gets me to the next level. It means it's my first major, and that gets all of you [the press] off my back. It means what every little boy dreams about when he's playing golf late in the afternoon by himself, with four balls. One of them's Snead, one of them's Hogan, one of them's Nicklaus and one's Strange. It means that 99 percent of people's dreams never come true, but mine did. It means all the work I've done over all the years has paid off.... And maybe it means Curtis Strange will be looked at now in a different way."

Over the extra 18 holes, Strange slowly and calmly wrapped his putter around Faldo's neck. Strange had nine one-putt greens, including a six-footer to save par on the 1st hole; a 10-footer for birdie at the 5th; a six-footer to save par on 6; a 20-footer for birdie on 7; a seven-footer for par on 9; and, the killer, a 30-footer for birdie on 13. He hit only eight fairways and as many greens. He had to putt well. Said an exhausted Faldo, "Yesterday seems like a long time ago."

Strange couldn't get rid of yesterday fast enough. He had three-putted the 17th on Sunday to give Faldo life, and that blunder gate-crashed his dreams. "I didn't sleep much last night," he said.

When the one and only pairing of the day was ready to play at 2 p.m. on Monday, Strange took off. He didn't always lead, but he never trailed.

The margin swung from Strange one shot up to Strange no shots up until the 11th, where Faldo bogeyed, giving Strange a two-shot lead. Strange gave a little back on the par-4 12th, the diabolical mountain known as Boston's new Heartbreak Hill, where he made bogey. One-shot lead. But on the next hole, Strange's lucky 13th, the Open was finally closed.

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