15 Jul 2020 | Professional golf | Feature stories |
Great Australian Moments 23: Ogilvy's US Open
by Martin Blake
If Britain’s Open Championship is the oldest of the majors and the Masters the most hyped, then the US Open might be the toughest grind of the lot.
The United States Golf Association, which owns and runs the event, likes to make it so, much to the occasional chagrin of the pros accustomed to playing week-to-week events on the tours that they effectively own, such as the PGA Tour and the European Tour.
Even-par is often a winning score.
It’s a last-man-standing tournament and in 2006, Australia’s Geoff Ogilvy found himself on top after an utter dogfight at the fabled Winged Foot, near New York City. It was the first men’s major win by an Australian for more than a decade since Steve Elkington’s 1995 PGA Championship triumph, and the signature moment of Ogilvy’s outstanding career.
Melburnian Ogilvy did it in remarkable circumstances, shooting five-over par for the tournament, the highest-winning score against par since Hale Irwin, again at Winged Foot, shot seven-over to win in 1974.
It was enough to beat Americans Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk and Scot Colin Montgomerie by a shot.
Destiny called Ogilvy that afternoon, for he was still a shot off the lead until the last scorecards came in. Both Mickelson and Montgomerie appeared to have him covered but at the tough par-four 18th, each contrived to make calamitous double bogey sixes as the Australian sat in the clubhouse watching with his wife, Juli.
Both Mickelson and Montgomerie them threw it away and were left with regrets. Mickelson still has never won his national Open, and Montgomerie never won a major, despite his Ryder Cup heroics and domination of European golf.
The drama was unstinting. First, Montgomerie, uttering "what sort of shot is THAT?" faltered with a poor long iron shot that sailed into deep rough right of the green and took a six, leaving only Mickelson ahead of the Australian.
Then Mickelson, seeking his national title for the first time and a shot ahead coming to the 18th, carved his drive left into the trees and – characteristically it must be said – went for a miracle shot with his second. Eventually plugged in a greenside bunker, he needed to get up and down from the sand to force a playoff with Ogilvy. He could not manage it.
Alas, that Open has been viewed through the prism of other people’s failures rather than Ogilvy’s excellence. But there is no denying Ogilvy’s grit on that final day, highlighted by a chip-in from beside the 17th green to save par, right around the time when he realised that he had a chance of winning.
“It was in, or it was down in three,” he told Golf Australia’s Inside The Ropes podcast in 2019. “There was no down in two there. It was going 15 feet past, because that’s the way the green was.’’
That shot brought out a rare Ogilvy fist-pump but there were still more dramas to come for him. At the par-four 18th, he hit a pure drive down the middle only to walk up and find his ball nestled in a sand-filled divot, the most insane piece of ill-fortune when the timing is factored in. “Pretty disappointing after you’ve hit the drive you’ve waited your whole life for,” was how he described his feelings.
Ogilvy’s pitch with a nine iron must have had him wondering again if the Gods were down on him. Beautifully struck, he watched it laser at at the flag. “In the air, both ‘Squirrel’ (caddie Alistair Matheson) and I thought it was going ‘stiff’.’’
But the ball only carried only to the false front of the green and spun back off the putting surface. Another metre of carry and it would have been perfect. Back in the fairway, Ogilvy cursed.
The Aussie now had to confront a tricky up-and-down under immense pressure, now knowing that he was in the mix for the US Open. At his big moment, he hit the shot that he remembers most, a gorgeous, spinning chip with a wedge that grabbed and stopped just behind the flag, and then sunk the putt from just inside two metres.
He was almost devoid of outward nerves in making the four straight closing pars that were enough.
Mickelson had an idea how the ending would be judged. “Don’t feel guilty about it,’’ he told Ogilvy later, according to the Australian, who has spoken to the American several times about it. “He’s been really gracious about it,” said Ogilvy on Inside The Ropes.
Geoff Ogilvy, who grew up in the Melbourne sandbelt, riding his bike down to the nine-hole Cheltenham course after school and then caddying for adults at Royal Melbourne, ended up winning three World Golf Championship events and an Australian Open to go with the big one, the US Open.
Now living back in Australia after 20 years in the US and delving into his passion for course architecture, he carries the moniker of major-winner with grace. “It changes people’s perspective of you as a golfer,’’ he said. “You get a level of respect – whether it warrants it or not – people are different around you for a long time."
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