When Winged Foot GC hosts the 120th U.S. Open in September, golf fans around the world will be watching to see if this year’s event proves as historically exciting as the preceding five. Every one of the previous championships at the Mamaroneck club has been a nail-biter, with quite a few under-the-headline local sidelights to ramp up interest.
The first U.S. Open held at Winged Foot GC was won by Bobby Jones in a playoff. Jones took the lead in the first round with a 69 and followed it with a 75 in the second. After a third-round 71, he held a three-stroke lead over Harrison native Gene Sarazen. Sarazen faded in the final round, and so did Jones, who triple-bogeyed the 15th hole and bogeyed the 16th to open the door for Al Espinosa. Jones threw the tournament into a playoff when he blasted out of a greenside bunker on 18 and sank an impossible 12-foot putt to tie Espinosa. He won handily by 23 strokes in a 36-hole playoff the following day to claim the title.
It was the third time Jones had won the championship. He claimed his first U.S. Open title at Inwood CC on Long Island in 1923, the year Winged Foot opened for play. He won that one in a playoff, too, over Bobby Cruikshanks, who later became head pro at Progress Country Club (the original name of Old Oaks CC), and the second in 1926, at Scioto CC in Ohio, where he defeated Joe Turnesa, a member of Westchester’s first family of golf.
Westchester Hosts the Very First “U.S. Open”
On Oct. 4, 1895, the first official U.S. Open Championship was conducted by the USGA on the nine-hole course of Newport (R.I.) Golf and Country Club. The USGA itself had been founded in December the year before, and the Open was somewhat of an afterthought to the first U.S. Amateur, also played that week on the same course. The winner was Horace Rawlins, 21, an English pro at the host course, who won $150 and a gold medal.
But there’s a backstory to the U.S. Open that begins at St. Andrew’s in Yonkers. The club had recently moved to Grey Oaks on the Saw Mill River, where it built a nine-hole course that hosted the first National Amateur Tournament in October of 1894, a few weeks before the founding of the USGA. L.B. Stoddard of the host club defeated Charles B. Macdonald of Chicago at the new St. Andrew’s course.
That same week, St. Andrew’s also hosted the first U.S. Open — at least that’s what it was called at the time. Four top professional golfers played a tournament of their own, competing for a first-prize gold medal and $100. The winner was Willie Dunn, the pro at Shinnecock Hills, who also designed the original Ardsley Casino course (now Ardsley Country Club) and became its first club pro when it opened in 1896.
Billy Casper’s phenomenal putting clinched the title for him at the 1959 U.S. Open at Winged Foot. The hall-of-famer took only 114 putts over 72 holes with 31 one-putts and just one three-putt during the four rounds.
Casper edged out Winged Foot pros Claude Harmon and Mike Souchak, who finished tied for third. Local favorite Doug Ford tied for fifth with Arnold Palmer. Ford was a perennial winner in Westchester, taking the 1956 Met Open title, as well as four Met PGA Championships, three Westchester PGAs, and the Westchester Open in 1961 and ’63. When he won the Met Open in 1956, Ford was at Putnam CC and, after stints at Tam O’Shanter and Vernon Hills, wound up his career as the head professional at the Spook Rock Golf Course when it first opened in the late ’60s.
Also in 1959, Charlie Sifford, the pioneering African American golfer, played in his first major championship at Winged Foot, finishing in 32nd place two years before the PGA of America allowed African Americans to play on the PGA Tour.
Amateur Jack Nicklaus, 19, played in his third straight U.S. Open in 1959 but missed the cut for the second time, with two rounds of 77. After 1959, Nicklaus made 25 consecutive cuts at the U.S. Open through 1984, also at Winged Foot.
Hale Irwin captured the 1974 U.S. Open championship by surviving what is considered the most difficult event in the tournament’s history. The penal rough, narrow fairways, and slick greens practically eliminated birdies, and not a single player broke par in the first round. Irwin won with a total score of 287, seven over par. His win was two strokes ahead of the battered field. The tournament became known as “The Massacre at Winged Foot.”
A young pro named John Buzcek, who had won the 1970 Westchester Open when he was an assistant pro at Winged Foot, was in the top 10 for the first two rounds of the 1974 U.S. Open. His 83-73 over the weekend led to a T-35 finish. Much later in his career, he would return to the county as Winged Foot’s sixth head professional, from 2006 to 2009.
Westchester Golfers Win the U.S. Open
Willie Anderson, a Scottish transplant who won the U.S. Open four times from 1901 to 1905, played out of the Apawamis Club in Rye. He’s the only man to have won three consecutive U.S. Open titles.
Alex Smith, who lost to Willie Anderson in a playoff for the U.S. Open title in 1901, won it in 1906 and 1910; he later became head pro at Westchester Country Club. Smith also won the Met Open four times.
Harrison native Gene Sarazen took the U.S. Open title in 1922 and 1932, two of his seven major championships, which included the 1923 PGA Championship played at Pelham CC. He also won the Met Open in 1925 and two Met PGA Championships.
Willie MacFarlane, the first head pro at Old Oaks CC, won the 1925 U.S. Open in a two-round playoff that he won by a single stroke over Bobby Jones. He also won both the Met and Westchester Opens three times each.
Tommy Armour, aka the Silver Scot, was secretary of the Westchester-Biltmore Club, the forerunner of Westchester Country Club, before turning professional in 1924 and winning the 1927 U.S. Open.
Johnny Farrell, head pro at Quaker Ridge at the time, won the 1928 U.S. Open in a playoff over Bobby Jones. His grandson, Bobby Farrell, has been head pro at Tamarack GC since 2003.
Craig Wood, head pro at Winged Foot from 1939-45, was the first golfer to win both the Masters and the U.S. Open in the same year, 1941.
Ben Hogan, who served as a teaching pro at Century CC in Purchase for two years, was a four-time U.S. Open champion.
Winged Foot’s fourth U.S. Open, in 1984, was again decided in a playoff, this one won by Fuzzy Zoeller over Greg Norman. In regulation play, Zoeller led Norman by three shots after the turn, but Norman evened the score by the time he reached 18. He airmailed his approach shot into the grandstand but saved par by taking a penalty-free drop and holing a 45-foot putt. Zoeller, who was waiting to play from the 18th fairway, thought he needed a birdie to win and waved a white towel of surrender in jest before making a par to force a playoff. Zoeller wiped up Norman the next day, posting a 67 to win by eight strokes. Norman waved his own white towel on 18.
The 2006 U.S. Open will forever be known not for who won but for who lost. In one of the wildest finales in tournament history, Phil Mickelson collapsed on the 18th hole. Often overlooked is the fact that Jim Furyk and Colin Montgomerie did the same, although not in quite as dramatic fashion. Mickelson missed the fairway off the tee, clipped a tree, plugged into a greenside bunker and double-bogeyed the hole to plunge into a three-way tie for second. Furyk missed a five-foot putt for par on 18, while Montgomerie left his approach shot short and in the right rough, then followed that with three putts on the difficult green. The result was a one-stroke victory by Geoff Ogilvy, who notched his only major title with the win.
Editor’s Note: The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the U.S. Open was undetermined at press time, but we present this coverage regardless, since the history of the event in Westchester and the wonders of the West Course at Winged Foot are of timeless significance.