What are the 5 greatest rounds in Pinehurst No. 2 lore? Historian Lee Pace examines
It’s difficult to compare golf scores on the same course over three-quarters of a century. The equipment changes too much, the agronomy and course conditioning practices evolve and new tees are stuck in the woods to lengthen the course.
The back-to-back 65s posted in the first two rounds of the U.S. Open by Martin Kaymer certainly rank among the finest rounds ever played on the course first designed by Donald Ross in 1907 and completed in its current configuration in 1935. Just look at all the history Kaymer has made in two days here.
Kaymer’s rounds came on a course more than 7,500 yards long with greens putting in the 12-plus neighborhood on the Stimpmeter. No one playing No. 2 in 1940s through the 1970s played a course that long or that slippery. But Ben Hogan and Tom Watson, authors of two great rounds in No. 2’s history, were playing with persimmon drivers and balls comatose by today’s standards.
Still, the exercise can be fun to compare rounds throughout the ages. Here, then, are five more of the finest rounds ever on Pinehurst No. 2:
Ben Hogan’s 66 in the 1940 North & South Open Hogan was starving for a win on the pro golf tour after eight years of being decidedly average. If he didn’t break through in 1940, he was resolved to repair home to Fort Worth and a club pro job. Hogan birdied the first hole of the first round of the 1940 North & South—at the time, one of pro golf top’s events—and followed that with birdies on 2 and 4. He holed out from a bunker on 11 for another 3 and went on to a 6-under 66, staking him to a lead he’d never relinquish in finally breaking through to the winner’s circle. That boost of confidence from winning a tournament lit the match that catapulted him to a Hall of Fame career.
Skip Alexander’s 8-and-7 win over John Panton in the 1951 Ryder Cup Alexander was only 14 months removed from surviving a plane crash and eight months from being released from the hospital for assorted bone breaks and skin burns. U.S. team captain Sam Snead paired Alexander in Sunday’s singles against the No. 1 player on Great Britain and Ireland’s team, and Alexander played with bleeding fingers only recently surgically repaired to allow him to grip a golf club. He won going away in the scheduled 36-hole match, and the victory helped the Yanks’ Sunday landslide as they captured a 9.5 to 2.5 victory.
The 62s by Gibby Gilbert and Tom Watson in the 1973 World Open Those were 9-under-par scores on a par-71 course during the PGA Tour’s one-off, 144-hole marathon event played in November. Those numbers remain tied for the course record, with another 62 coming from Hale Irwin in 1977. But Irwin’s round doesn’t have quite the cache since it was shot in the late-summer Southern heat. The bent grass greens installed in 1972 needed copious amounts of water and played, according to many, “like dartboards.”
Payne Stewart’s 70 in the final round of the 1999 U.S. Open Playing with the lead … on the final day … in the last pairing of the U.S. Open. That’s excruciating pressure, topped off by winning the championship with the final stroke of the week. Stewart single-handedly initiated the sleeveless rain-shirt industry by manually cutting the sleeves off his navy rain jacket prior to his round. He got comfortable with his clothes and his game, jauntily chewing his stick of gum and making four birdies and four bogeys. His score was level par as by the late 1990s the 16th hole was being played as a par-4. A 70 isn’t as extreme as the low 60s scores shot two decades earlier, but No. 2 by the 1999 Open had firm greens with excellent drainage, allowing the USGA to groom them hard and fast and healthy—something that was not part of the No. 2 equation a quarter of a century earlier.
One thing to ponder as the weekend shapes up for the 2014 U.S. Open: Which group will Kaymer join? Neither Watson nor Gilbert won the 1973 World Open (Who did? Wait for it…Miller Barber.) But Hogan, Alexander and Stewart all emerged with emotional and stirring triumphs on No. 2.
History will be made one way or the other on No. 2