From the beginning it was a golf tournament that begged to be forgotten, one that was called everything from the Sauna Bath Classic to the Lost Ego Invitational, so it was probably appropriate that last Monday, on still another steamy afternoon in Chicago, a rather invisible journeyman professional named Lou Graham finally brought this U.S. Open championship to a merciful conclusion. Being the last human being alive out there on the damp, insufferably humid premises of the Medinah Country Club with all of its inconvenient forests, Graham became the Open winner by beating young John Mahaffey in an 18-hole playoff, doing it with the nonchalance and lack of bother that had accompanied his performance throughout the week. The best thing about Graham winning is that whenever he captures a tournament, as he has twice before, it gets canceled. And if the U.S. Open is now going to turn into the kind of event that was on display at Medinah, it might be better remembered as a relic of the past.
There can be no doubt that the main reason a Lou Graham and a John Mahaffey got into the playoff in the first place, after tying over the regulation 72 holes with the uninspired three-over-par total of 287, is that, if nothing else, they are straight hitters off the tee. Graham has a kind of flippy swing and just keeps hitting low shots out there a safe distance, never very far off line, except on rare occasions when he happens to remember he is in an Open. And Mahaffey, while being a slightly more stylish swinger, is nonetheless one of the PGA tour's most accurate hitters.
In the Monday confrontation they each played exactly as they had during the previous four rounds. Steady, unspectacular golf. Down the fairway, on the green. After three holes they were tied at one over. Graham then made two straight birdies and after four routine holes he made another. So with eight holes to play he had a three-shot lead and it was only a question of whether he could keep forgetting this was the Open, because Mahaffey wasn't making any putts. He had not made any all week.
With a minimum of drama, Graham did exactly what he needed to do. Oh, he staggered a bit with a couple of bogeys on the last five holes, but he was headed for an even par 71, and Mahaffey could do no better than a 73.
Graham is what you would call a "good old country boy" from Nashville. At 37, and after 12 years on the tour, he had won only a thing in Minnesota and a Liggett & Myers Open nobody saw, and both have since disappeared.
Mahaffey, by contrast, is one of the tour's young turks who is going to be around a long time. He's a University of Houston guy, an NCAA champion, a kid who swept out the shop for Jimmy Demaret and Jack Burke at Champions, and he has played in skin games with Ben Hogan and a few rich oilmen—and won. He is known as the "waggle leader" on the tee, and he's a good mimic of the other players. Not that there was much to mimic at Medinah.
"This course was never as difficult as the scores looked," Mahaffey said. "I agree with everybody who said it was the easiest Open in history to have won. At least 10 guys could have won it by five shots if they'd played golf."
But in the end, as the pack of contenders—most notably Jack Nicklaus, Frank Beard, Tom Watson and Ben Crenshaw—collapsed, only Mahaffey and Lou Graham played golf at Medinah.
In many ways it is fun to watch a group of 18-handicappers play a $100 Nassau, as much fun as there is in the annoying game of golf. You can laugh as they work their hooks around and through the trees, hot-line their sand shots into access roads and get headaches limping after their putts, which slide onward and downward away from the cup, or pull up woefully short. But to have witnessed it in the U.S. Open from a collection of the world's finest shotmakers on a course that should never—never, ever—have been that difficult was an experience not soon to be forgotten.