If it were Ben
Hogan whom Curtis Strange were chasing, then Hogan he would be. He would be
stubborn, driven, unswerving, unsmiling. He would be steely and strict,
forceful and flawless.
A month before
the 1989 U.S. Open, Strange began to put on his Hogan face. When he was asked
to return the trophy he had won at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., last
year, Strange hesitated. He left it on display at the Kingsmill clubhouse in
Williamsburg, Va., where he makes his home, until the week before the
tournament. Why waste good money on Federal Express?
When play began
last Thursday at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y., Strange was
noticeably, Hoganly stoic: eyes straight ahead, emotions buttoned down. One of
his partners for the first two rounds, U.S. Amateur champion Eric Meeks, came
off the 18th green on the second day and said, "He sure doesn't talk
much." Even Strange's caddie, Greg Rita, chose his words carefully. "He
was focused," Rita said.
Strange caught a touch of Hogan, tying Bantam Ben's Oak Hill record with a
hard-edged 64, a round that included 10 threes and only one missed fairway. On
Saturday, he played poorly (73) and punished himself Hogan-style by beating
practice balls until it was dark. When he was asked afterward whether he would
rather be playing the final round with the two players he trailed—Tom Kite and
1987 Open winner Scott Simpson—instead of in the pair in front of them, Strange
smiled and said, "Definitely with 'em." Psych.
Sunday—Hell Day at the Open—Strange was Hogan. His eyes glaring and his face
immobile, he made par after golf-school par—15 in a row—as havoc reigned around
him. In one stretch of what is supposed to be the world's greatest golf
tournament. Jack Nicklaus hit a chip half an inch. Kite topped a four-wood and
missed an 18-inch putt to give up the lead, Greg Norman made three straight
double bogeys, and Mark McCumber missed a 2�-foot putt for a par that would
have kept him breathing hard on the leaders. Can't anybody here play this
Kite had a day
that was almost too painful to watch. After leading by one stroke over Simpson
going into Sunday, Kite self-destructed, scattering balls all over the place.
It was a good day for baseball—Kite had two doubles and a triple—but for golf,
it was awful. The most consistent player in the game had gone out with an Open
on the line and shot an eight-over-par 78. "It was one of those days you
pray never happens," said Kite's wife, Christy. "But it did."
Kite wasn't the
only one. Simpson was almost as bad, letting loose a 75 on a day when a simple
71 would have won. Sundays at the Open are like that. Only Strange, among the
top six players through Saturday, didn't go out and shoot his worst round of
the week. "I wanted to play a good round, for me," he said. "A very
When it was over,
Strange stood at two under par, exactly where he had started the day, only now
it was worth first place. Par may not get you much at the Pensacola Open, but
it can still buy you a nice chunk of history at the U.S. Open. His final-round
70 gave Strange a second straight Open championship, making him the first man
to repeat since 1950-51, when it was done by... Hogan.
Ben," Strange said when he walked into the pressroom on Sunday night.
"It was patience. To go as long as I did without a birdie, to hang in there
and do whatever it takes. I like to think of it as a lot of fortitude and guts.
Whatever you want to call it...you have to persevere."
It was definitely
a week for perseverance at Soak Hill. Perseverance or an ark. It rained all
through the practice rounds. It drizzled steadily in the opening round on
Thursday. It rained on and off Friday, and play was briefly suspended in the
afternoon. It rained so much overnight that not only was the Saturday start
delayed, but also the traditional twosomes were changed to threesomes and sent
off from both the 1st and 10th tees, the first time the USGA has done that in
the U.S. Open. "This is the worst string of days we've ever had," said
the USGA's aptly named P.J. Boatwright Jr. "I've never seen a course as
damaged as this one."