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The final round of the 77th U.S. Open played last Sunday had all the elements of high drama associated with the showcase of American golf. An affable Alabamian named Hubert Green displayed the mettle of one of golf's great champions in shooting a final round of even par 70 to win his first major championship with a 278 total, only one shot ahead of runner-up Lou Graham.
This year's Open also had dramatic overtones more appropriate to the shootout at the O.K. Corral. Not only was the tournament played for only the second time in history at the Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma but the FBI bureau office in Oklahoma City received a death threat on Green's life.
Green had to nurse his stroke lead through the harrowing four concluding holes after learning of the possible assassination attempt. After a relatively nondescript front nine in which he birdied the third and fourth holes but bogeyed the ninth with a wayward chip, he buckled down to withstand the onslaughts on par by Graham and third-place finisher Tom Weiskopf.
Green appeared to have the championship in his back pocket when he went two shots into the lead by birdieing the par-five 16th. He rifled a wedge shot that to use one of his own favorite expressions "came down like a butterfly with score feet" within a yard of the flagstick.
Green could thus afford to bogey the 18th hole and still come away with the $45,000 prize for first place. His drive skipped through the bend in the fairway leading uphill to the 18th green and into the rough. He slapped his second shot into a steeply escaped bunker in front of the green and a semi-explosion shot left him 40 feet from the pin. Green bladed his second putt into the center of the cup to avoid a playoff and in so doing moved into the pantheon of golf's immortals.
Green's style does not evoke comparisons with the classical grace of many earlier Open winners. Yet he showed the same shot-making ability around the exquisitely manicured greens of Southern Hills that earned Tommy Bolt the championship there in 1958. One has to go back to the days of Leo Diegel to find a preeminent professional with such a knock-kneed and elbows akimbo stance.
Green's unorthodox style bespeaks his resolute individuality. Sir Walter Simpson in 1887 in his definitive The Art of Golf recognized the strengths of the unorthodox stylist: "Do I maintain, the reader may ask, that everyone ought to have the same style? By no means; on the contrary, for you or me to model ourselves on a champion is about as profitless as to copy out Hamlet in the hope of becoming Shakespeare."
Throughout the final day of play Green seemed jovial and even a little cocky as he hobnobbed with his caddy and stroked his putts confidently. His behavior brings to mind Bernard Darwin's depiction of Francis Ouimet winning the Open from British rivals Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in 1913. Ouimet's victory was a watershed in the history of the U.S. Open for it signaled the emergence of American golfers who were of the same caliber as their British counterparts.
Darwin wrote of that epic round: "The clearest picture that remains to me is of the youthful hero playing all those last crucial shots, just as if he had been playing an ordinary game. He did not hurry; he did not linger: there was a briskness and decisiveness about every movement, and whatever he may have felt, he did not betray it by as much as the movement of an eyelash. Yet he did not play as one in a dream, as people sometimes do at supreme crises: he was just entirely calm and entirely natural."
In the 1977 Open the "crucial shots" that determined the winner came in the last few holes played by Lou Graham and Hubie Green.
The taut excitement of these holes was provided by the methodical par-pummeling of Green's doughty scrambling. The winner of the Open title in 1975 at Medinah, Graham blazed to birdies on the 12th (which Ben Hogan has called "the greatest part-four, 12th hole in the United States") and on the 14th, 15th and 16th.
It seemed that Graham had found his Waterloo on the 17th, a short but heavily trapped par-four, when his drive hooked into a chute of trees at the crook of the dogleg on the left side of the fairway. He seemed destined for a certain bogey but instead hit a low, zinging iron that seemed to change direction in mid-flight. The ball skirted the bunker on the left side of the green and kicked to within six feet of the pin. Graham needed to hole out to drawn even with Green but his tentative putt was never on line. And so, for this season at least, Lou Graham will be remembered as "the bridesmaid but not the bride."
One factor that makes the Open the hallmark of every golfing season is the greatness of the courses on which it is played. Southern Hills is no exception. The course indirectly owes its origin to the discovery of oil across the Arkansas River from Tulsa at Red Fork. Before that Tulsa had been a small settlement that took its name from the Greek Indian word for council or tulsa.
In 1933 a group of oil magnates seeking recreation during the Depression and hoping to create employment commissioned Perry Maxwell to design Southern Hills. It was soon recognized as the premier test of golf in the Southwest and perhaps the most rigorous eighteen as far as driving goes in the nation.
The majority of the holes are doglegs and the Bermuda grass rough has been treated with a growth-inducing acid that makes it almost impossible to extricate a stray shot. In fact, Hogan had to withdraw from the 1958 Open at Southern Hills after injuring his wrist while slashing out of the rough. The finely powdered sand in the bunkers also makes accuracy a necessity. Instead of rough quarry sand, the bunkers contain sand known as "Number Six Wash" extracted from the bottom of the Arkansas River.
The enervating heat compounded by the hot dustbowl winds that strafe the course make Southern Hills an even sterner test of stamina. The course must be watered in the middle of the tournament and on a single hot day will soak up 400,000 gallons of water.
The difficult reflects itself in the scores. When Bolt won the Open at Southern Hills in 1958 he only missed 13 greens in regulation over four days of competition and still shot a three over par 283. Bolt's victory was a popular one since he was a favorite son from Haworth, Oklahoma. Although Bolt was an outstanding player, he was even better known for his tempestuous temperament, which earned him the label "Thunder Bolt."
The only other players who broke 290 in 1958 were Julius Boros and Gary Player, then making his first impression on American golf. This year Player was once again in the thick of contention. He faltered on Sunday but still finished only seven strokes off of Green's pace.
Another veteran Open champion who made a strong showing this year was Arnold Palmer, who shot four solid rounds to come in at 287.
Next year the U.S. Open will be played at Cherry Hill, where Palmer will try to recapture the brilliance of that June Sunday in 1960 when he won his lone Open there by making up seven shots to pass 14 other players Anyone who saw Palmer in his moment of glory remembers that final evanescent round just as an earlier generation remembers Francis Ouimet's final round. From now on, the courageous final round of Hubert Green will be remembered.
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