Tuesday, February 01, 2005

How I Played the 1992 U.S. Open - by Dalton Hammond

This is a long story but it has a cool ending so stay with it. -- D.H.

A few years ago my friend Mark and I decided to see for ourselves what it is like to play Tour golf, by playing the venue for the upcoming 1992 U.S. Open Golf Tournament, the world-class seaside Pebble Beach Golf Links in Monterey, California. We arrived just three weeks ahead of the world's best golfers.

Mark is a good player; he shot 74 at Spyglass Hill earlier in the week. I figured I'd be lucky to break a hundred, but at least we'd be playing the finest golf course in the world, just like the pros.

The first part of the round was just a blur as I wallowed in the ambiance of the golf gods who had played this majestic Valhalla before me. The waves of Carmel Bay lapped at my feet and the gulls and harbor seals sang in harmony as I tried to focus some attention to my golf game. I could almost smell then-Mayor Clint Eastwood's "For-A-Few-Dollars-More" steaks grilling at The Hog's Breath Tavern just down the bay in Carmel.

Coming out of my reverie a bit I realized we were nearing the end of the round and I needed to finish with a bit of a surge if I was going to break 100. Accordingly, I pushed my tee ball out of bounds on #16 and shouted for the caddy to forget going Golf at Pebble Beach after it. I teed up another ball and slugged it just hard enough to plop it over the bunker in the middle of the fairway and it rolled several yards down the hill toward the little gully that goes in front of the green, a perfect shot, lying 3. From 135 yards my full eight iron skipped past the hole a bit, circled around like in a bowl and stopped eight feet from the hole. Made the putt for an Out-of-Bounds bogey 5. My caddy Casey, a former California State Amateur Champion, applauded it.

The 17th hole is a par 3, about 168 yards from the white tee box and I hit a four-iron that skipped to the second plateau of the green, and after a disheartening three-putt I had my bogey. "Nothing to this game", I thought. Remember, at my level of play I'm glad to get bogeys. Especially at Pebble.

On the spectacular 18th hole at Pebble Beach the white tees were all the way back with the pro tees, as far back as possible. Two more feet and we'd be over a rail and in the bay. My point is, the pros don't have to hit it any farther than we did on that day. What you want to do is draw your tee shot fearlessly around a corner of the water to leave an easier approach to the par 5 green.

The bay never came into play as my well-struck tee shot failed to turn left and went straight into the fairway bunker. Now, this was exactly six weeks before the U.S. Open and there was fresh sand in all the bunkers, and the rough was up over my knees as I walked to my ball. I decided to just try to get it out onto the fairway with an eight iron. I got the ball out all right, half way to the fairway. When I finally found my ball sitting down in all that grass all I could do was take a huge swipe at it with a sand wedge and the ball chunked out to the fairway wrapped in a bale of fresh-hewn bermuda grass.

I hit the eight iron again onto the green and two-putted for a bogey six that felt like a twenty. Yet I played the last three holes, three of the toughest holes in golf, in three over par. I finished the day with a 95 and figured I had gone to heaven.

Three weeks later I had the TV on for the first time in months, watching the long-awaited U.S. Open being played.

In the Sunday final round, my favorite, Jack Nicklaus who was having severe hip problems, took a bogey on #16 and a double bogey on #17. He and I were both shaken as he stood on the tee at #18 and I'll be damned if Jack Nicklaus didn't put his tee ball in the exact same spot in the exact same fairway bunker I was just in three weeks earlier. Like me, The Master played an eight iron out of the sand that failed to make it to the fairway and, like me, he played a sand wedge out [of another of my divots] as the great man went on to get a double bogey on the hole. In later years Jack would undergo a hip replacement which would help him recapture much of the physical playing ability which abandoned him on this round.

Then it hit me. The Greatest Golfer In The World had just finished the last three holes five over par. Three weeks ago I had played the same three holes only three over par, meaning


--Dalton Hammond

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