Getting Their Due

Jones, Parks, Hogan Tasted Victory At Oakmont

By David Shefter, USGA

Far Hills, N.J. - Six years after Bob Jones lost to S. Davidson Herron in the U.S. Amateur final, Oakmont again played host to the championship. But by this time, Jones had become one of the game’s most dominant figures. He had already won the 1923 U.S. Open and was the defending Amateur champion. During practice, Jones routinely launched drives that approached 300 yards and he carded a 67. Also, the format for the Amateur had been altered. Criticized that the Amateur was too long, the USGA decided to trim the match-play field from 32 to 16, making all matches 36 holes as to eliminate “flukes.” The USGA believed this format would allow for the best players to advance.

It just didn’t count on some of the best players performing poorly in qualifying. Past champions Charles Evans, Francis Ouimet and former Oakmont member Herron (now a member at Merion near Philadelphia) failed to make the match-play cut. Nevertheless, Jones, 1924 runner-up George von Elm, 1921 winner Jesse Guilford and 1922 champ Jess Sweetser did qualify along with Jones’ young protégé Watts Gunn, a fellow East Lake Golf Club member from Atlanta.

Following the championship, the USGA abandoned the format and went back to a 32-player match-play draw. Some critics called the ’25 Amateur the dullest since the event began in 1895. Of course, they could have been talking about how Jones turned the competition into his own personal invitational. His match-play victories were by margins of 11 and 10, 6 and 5, 7 and 6, and 8 and 7 in the final over Gunn.

The event, however, didn’t just belong to Jones. Surprise medalist Roland MacKenzie, an 18-year-old from Washington, D.C., and a 1924 USA Walker Cupper, met his future wife, Louise Fownes, the daughter of 1910 Amateur champion William C. Fownes. While MacKenzie lost in the first round, he won a future companion, as the two eventually wed 15 years later.

The Proper Armour

With two successful U.S. Amateurs now in the books, Oakmont was clearly ready to host a U.S. Open. Some writers were calling the 1927 U.S. Open the greatest in 31 years of the championship. Oakmont had now been stretched to 6,965 yards (par 72) with 193 tantalizing bunkers. Two-time champion Jones sealed his fate in one of those bunkers in the first round when took three shots to get out of a hazard at the par-5 fourth hole. It led to a double bogey and a 76.

 
Armour

An amateur did garner early headlines, but it wasn’t Jones. Harrison Johnston of St. Paul, Minn., a two-time Walker Cupper (1923 and ’24) shot 74-73 to lead the Open at the midway point. He eagled the par-5 first in the third round before falling apart. He made three consecutive 6s en route to an 87.

Eventually the competition came down to two men: Scotland ’s Tommy Armour and Harry “Lighthorse” Cooper. The 22-year-old Cooper was given his nickname for his fast play, but he also had won the 1927 Los Angeles Open and Texas PGA . Armour was a 32-year-old World War I veteran who had enlisted in the British Tank Corps. He returned from the conflict partially blind in his left eye and with shrapnel in his shoulder. Some believed he would never play again.

Cooper, at 301, finished first and looked like the champion. Armour needed a 3 on the 72nd hole to forge a tie and 18-hole playoff. From 180 yards away, Armour unleashed a perfectly executed 3-iron approach that stopped 10 feet from the hole. He converted the ensuing putt and defeated Cooper the following day in the playoff, 76-79. The par-3 16th hole proved to be decisive. Cooper had made three consecutive bogeys to fall into a tie. At 16 he pushed his tee shot into a deep bunker. Shades of 1919 and Jones then appeared when someone yelled, “Down in front!” as Cooper was attempting his shot. He stopped his swing in time, but still made a double-bogey 5 to Armour’s 3. Both players birdied the short 17th before Armour added a 4 on 18 for the three-stroke win.

It was Armour’s first victory as a pro and would be a harbinger of things to come at Oakmont. Thirty-five years later, Jack Nicklaus won his first professional win at Oakmont in an 18-hole U.S Open playoff.

Hometown Hero

Prior to the 1935 U.S. Open all the focus was on greats such as two-time winner Walter Hagen, 1932 champion Gene Sarazen, Denny Shute, Jimmy Thomson and defending champion Olin Dutra.

Sam Parks Jr. was just another name in the small agate newspaper type. He was a local club professional at South Hills Country Club who worked the shop in the summer and played competitively during the winter months. You could say he was a major dark horse, the equivalent of a No. 15 or 16 seed winning the NCAA basketball tournament.

But Parks did prepare vigorously for this rare championship in his backyard. He went to Oakmont practically every day for a month to familiarize himself with the course. “I had a great deal of familiarity with both the bunkers and the very fast greens,” he said.

Parks opened the championship with an indifferent 5-over-par 77 to put himself in 17th place. A second-round 73 lifted him to 11th with 36 holes to play. In Saturday’s 36-hole finale, Parks chipped in for eagle at the par-5 ninth (third round) and added a clutch par save at the par-3 13th (fourth round). He moved into a tie for first with Thomson after the third-round 73, yet Parks wasn’t thinking about winning. He just hoped for a top-5 finish. His final-round 76, including a bogey at the 72nd hole, was good enough to beat Thomson by two strokes and the immortal Hagen by three.

 
A well-prepared Sam Parks admitted after winning the Open that the victory not only surprised the golf world but himself as well. (USGA Photo Archives)

“I was flabbergasted,” said Parks. “I had never planned on that.”

The difference was Parks’ preparation. He somehow mastered the treacherous Oakmont greens to the tune of just two three-putts over the 72 holes. His 11-over-par 299 winning total was the highest since Armour won at Oakmont in 1927, but he was the only player to break 300 on the difficult 6,981-yard layout.

Park’s victory stunned the golf world. It was the ultimate upset, akin to what Jack Fleck achieved against Ben Hogan at The Olympic Club 20 years later or Orville Moody’s win in 1969 at Champions. Parks would be forever known as the “Dark Horse.”

“It gave me a tag to my name that lives on,” Parks later said.

The 1935 Open was also the birthplace of a key instrument used at every golf course today. In the gallery was Ed Stimpson, a Harvard graduate and an avid golfer who was convinced the greens were simply too fast. But nobody could quantify just how slick the putting surfaces were. Stimpson eventually developed a device that would become known as the Stimpmeter. The distance the ball rolls off the device gives officials and superintendents the speed of the green measured in feet.

Willie The Wedge

Danny Galgano, a professional and a friend from back home in the New York City area, desperately tried to get Willie Turnesa to implement something new to Oakmont for the 1938 U.S. Amateur. The sand wedge had been developed by Gene Sarazen a few years earlier, but was still a novelty in the golf world. Galgano knew the wedge could help Turnesa defend himself from one of Oakmont’s biggest challenges. Other than the slick greens, the bunkers at Oakmont could wreak havoc on even the best player.

Turnesa planned to use his No. 9 iron for the sand, but Galgano warned him that club would not save him at Oakmont because the bunkers were furrowed and the ball sat down. This new club, which Galgano had received from sportswriter Lester Rice (Rice had gotten one from Sarazen), was the perfect implement for Oakmont. Turnesa reluctantly took the wedge and it likely helped him to the championship.

One of six golfing brothers, but the only one who was an amateur, Willie Turnesa managed to make his way through the draw, where he met part-time Hollywood actor B. Patrick Abbott of Altadena, Calif., in the final. Over the 29 holes of the scheduled 36-hole final, Turnesa found himself in a bunker on 13 occasions, yet he still registered an 8-and-7 victory. A hot putter also played a role, as he needed only 42 putts to secure the Havemeyer Trophy.

Turnesa never was intimidated by Oakmont’s greens, but he did survive a 20-hole third-round encounter with 1936 Amateur champion Johnny Fischer of Fort Thomas, Ky.

“Mr. [Henry] Fownes always saw to it that no one was going to burn up Oakmont,” said Turnesa, whose brother, Joe, was the 1926 U.S. Open runner-up. “The greens were so fast. But the greens never bothered me. I thought I could make everything – and I almost did.”

After the Amateur, the press awarded Turnesa the nickname “Willie the Wedge” for his prowess with that new technology he almost disdained.

Crowning Achievement

Only two players – Willie Anderson and Jones – had managed to win four U.S. Open titles. Both accomplishments came in the pre-World War II era. By 1953, Ben Hogan was the most dominant golfer of his generation. He had won three U.S. Open titles, two of which came after overcoming a near-tragic automobile accident in 1949. In 1953, Hogan had already won the Masters and now he was the clear favorite to win his second major title of the year.

The 40-year-old Hogan limped into Oakmont, still feeling the effects of the accident four years previous. At this juncture, the USGA had implemented a new qualifying system for the Open, one that it would scrap after the ’53 championship. Not only did players have to endure sectional qualifying, but the 300 qualifiers, including defending champion Julius Boros, had to go through 36 additional holes of qualifying to get into the final Open field of 157. Competitors played 18 holes at Oakmont and another 18 at nearby Pittsburgh Field Club. Hogan managed to qualify, but it did take a physical toll.

 
It was a minor miracle that Ben Hogan, pictured next to a crumpled mess of his car, survived a 1949 accident. (USGA Photo Archives)

Oakmont’s famous furrows also were a hot topic of discussion. Oakmont wanted to keep them, while the USGA preferred to smooth them out. Frank Magee, the grounds chairman at Oakmont, came up with a compromise. He introduced several rakes with teeth of varying sizes. The USGA chose a less-penal size, but the furrows remained in a modified form. The club had also removed some 60 bunkers from the layout because a severe fungus infestation had slowed them down. Even the greens were a bit slower than in 1935.

Despite the modifications, the 36-hole cut still came at 9-over-par 153. Two locals of note failed to qualify: Oakmont pro Lew Worsham, who had won the Open in 1947, and a 23-year-old amateur from the Coast Guard named Arnold Palmer. The Latrobe, Pa., native would make news a year later with his U.S. Amateur triumph, which was a springboard to a legendary professional career that included the 1960 U.S. Open title. Low-amateur honors went to Frank Souchak, a former University of Pittsburgh football starter and Oakmont member who shot 8-over 296.

Hogan, meanwhile, went wire-to-wire to make history with his fourth Open title, defeating perennial bridesmaid Sam Snead by a whopping six strokes. Snead was a four-time U.S. Open runner-up and it was the only major championship he failed to win. “I guess it’s not in the cards for me to win this one,” said Snead. “It’s predestination or something like that.” Like Palmer and the PGA Championship, Snead would have the same heartache with the U.S. Open.

Hogan went on to win the British Open at Carnoustie, becoming the first player to win three professional majors in one year. He might have won all four but he chose not to play in the PGA Championship due to the conflict with the British Open and his physical condition. Hogan only played in six tournaments in 1953 and won five. His three majors in one year would eventually be matched by Tiger Woods in 2000.

Hogan just missed the Open 36-hole record by a shot, firing a 5-under-139, including a first-round 67. He shot 73-71 on the final day for a 5-under 283 total, a competitive course record. Hogan never did win a record fifth Open, although he finished a disappointing second in 1955 and ’56, and tied for ninth at the age of 47 in 1960 when a bogey at the 71st hole cost him a chance at victory.

David Shefter is a staff writer for the USGA. E-mail him with questions or comments at dshefter@usga.org.