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Sweet Sixteen
Rick Reilly
June 28, 1993
Lee Janzen clinched the U.S. Open with a clutch chip at 16
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June 28, 1993

Sweet Sixteen

Lee Janzen clinched the U.S. Open with a clutch chip at 16

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For three days last week, Almost nobody felt particularly lucky to be in New Jersey.

Lucky? The traffic getting into Baltusrol Golf Club to watch the first round of the U.S. Open turned nearby Route 78 into the world's biggest used-car lot. By noon that day and for the next three as well, all the parking spots near Baltusrol were gone. One entrepreneurial sort was charging people $12 to park on his street. Once inside the club, fans found pop and beer stands out of pop and beer by 5 p.m. This was not especially convenient considering that the temperature hit 102° on Saturday with suffocating humidity.

But then, on the fourth day, in a rented house near the club, a 28-year-old kid with a Wally Cleaver haircut woke up card-carrying lucky. In fact, he became the central clearinghouse for lucky. Clank a five-iron right through the branches of a tree without touching any of them? No problem. Chip in from a downhill lie out of rough you could lose your cat in? Easy. Slice your drive off an oak and watch it bounce back into the fairway? A cinch. Lucky Lee Janzen could have put a quarter in a pay phone and had it pay off 20 to 1. "Some days," said Janzen, holding the Open trophy with both hands, "you just feel destined."

Janzen not only won the first major of his life last week and saved a tournament in the same swoop, but he also tied Jack Nicklaus's record low of 272 for an Open, set at Baltusrol in 1980, and became the first man to shoot four rounds in the 60s at an Open since Lee Trevino did it 25 years ago. "I feel like the luckiest man alive right now," Janzen said.

It's a funny thing about destiny. The night before, it seemed that Janzen was destined to get a tag tied to his toe and have his body thrown in the big pile of Open unfortunates. He had a one-shot lead after Saturday's round, but the pleated pit bulls were at his heels: Tom Watson, Nick Price and Payne Stewart. Of the three, Stewart was the closest, at one shot back, and the hungriest. Seven times this year he had begun a Sunday within four shots of the lead, and all seven times he ended up shaking the winner's hand.

There are only so many hands you can shake with sincerity, and Stewart was determined to find his own greatness at Baltusrol. When he was victorious at Hazeltine in the 1991 Open, he resolved to make winning a habit. But a funny thing happened to Stewart on the way to becoming the next Watson. He didn't win again. Anywhere.

Still, you had the notion that Baltusrol belonged to Stewart. He was running out of ways to lose. Two weeks before, it had taken a miraculously holed bunker shot on 18 by his best friend, Paul Azinger, to beat him out of the Memorial championship. Stewart shook Azinger's hand bravely, then retired to the clubhouse, where he shoved peeled bananas into Azinger's loafers. Sweet revenge.

"If I win another Open, I'm going to enjoy it," Stewart said last Friday. He said it like someone who was going to enjoy it Sunday or die trying.

Janzen, meanwhile, was trying to find his nerve. The collywobbles were starting to annex his innards. Not only had he never contended in an Open before, he hadn't even made the cut in his three previous tries. Now, suddenly, he had owned the lead since Friday afternoon. That was when a 100,000-watt fan leaned over the rope and shouted to him, "Hey, Lee, you likin' Jersey?"

"Nice place to visit," Janzen said with a grin.

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