This week’s visit to Oak Hill and the PGA Championship represents a couple of personal milestone for this reporter. This will be my fourth visit to Oak Hill, more than any other major golf course other than Augusta National. It also represents the 100th major that I will have attended as a reporter for KMOX. So allow me a few brief reminiscences leading into the week.
The 1989 US Open at Oak Hill was only my fourth Open for the station, but it came as the middle leg of three remarkable years. Curtis Strange had won the year prior at Brookline where I scooped the entire press tent with word of Greg Norman injuring his wrist and withdrawing from the tournament. (Jim Holder was reluctant to let me report that information because he could find nothing about it on the wire at the time.) Hale Irwin won the year following Oak Hill with his win at Medinah.
Speaking of Holder, my first reports at that time came during the noon news hour hosted by Bob Hardy (still one of the best programs ever on the station). Friday morning we had an early hole in one on the par 3 6th hole, and I made note of it to use at noon. Very shortly after we had another ace at the same hole. Then in a short span we had a third hole in one, and the entire press tent was buzzing. After a brief gap, the fourth hole in one was recorded, and whoever was leading the championship became secondary.
I called Holder and said I realized I wasn’t scheduled to do anything until midday but Doug Weaver, Mark Wiebe, Jerry Pate and Nick Price had all recorded holes in one on the same hole in a span of less than two hours. I then went out to the sixth and talked to one of the volunteer marshals. He told me the atmosphere had turned into a circus and the galleries were mocking the players when they only hit it “close.”
Ordinarily I don’t have access inside the ropes as a broadcaster (that right is reserved for the writing press) but I borrowed an armband for the day and walked the back nine with Curtis Strange. Like the, four aces, Strange was authoring his own piece of US Open history trying to go back to back for the national championship.
The eighteenth at Oak Hill is a great finishing amphitheater, and the galleries were massive as Strange teed off. His lead was so secure that when he successfully put his approach on the putting surface his walk to the green was a thunderous continuous victory ovation from the galleries. Clinging the rope line, but soaking up the atmosphere, I thought what an indescribable sensation that must have been for Strange.
My next visit to Oak Hill was the 1995 Ryder Cup. This was the first Ryder Cup in the States since the infamous War by the Shore at Kiawah four years earlier. The US had won at the Belfry in 1993 and was looking to make it three straight and reestablish their dominance in the event.
The weather was miserable for the event with heavy rains having someone rename the course “Soak Hill.” Riding in one morning on the press shuttle we passed under and arc of water being pumped by fire trucks off the course. I noticed the spectators already positioned in the bleachers at the eighteenth and suggested to the writer next to me that they could be their all day in this weather and never see a shot played in match play. They say two matches reach their hole.
The Americans had a comfortable lead heading into Sunday, but the Europeans rallied early with a dramatic win by Howard Clark over Peter Jacobsen featuring a hole in one at the 11th. In the middle of the round the Euro’s rolled off five straight wins to seize control.
Bellevile’s Jay Haas was the second to last player out for the US against little known Philip Walton. With Phil Mickelson playing anchor, and winning his match, it came down to Haas and Walton at 18. He had rallied from three down on the back nine and a win at eighteen would secure the Cup for the US.
Since he was a home towner I made certain to be out there and saw Haas from the fairway hit a horrible pop up off the tee that was not only short but left into the tree line. He chipped out into the fairway and hit what looked like a great recovery into the green but the ball gripped the softened surface and spun back to the apron. He went on to bogey the hole and halve the match with Walton for a European win.
On my return flight to St. Louis Curtis Strange’s twin brother Alan was a passenger. For the week, Strange, a controversial Captain’s pick by Lanny Watkins was a non-competitive 0-3. I don’t know if people knew Alan was only a look-alike for the Captain’s choice, who just lost the Ryder Cup, but he heard a few comments from other passengers. To this day I blame Lanny and not Haas for that momentum changing loss by the US.
The 2003 PGA Championship at Oak Hill was remarkable for how ‘unremarkable the week was. Phil Mickelson Opened with a four under 66 but since Mickelson at that time always gave away majors he didn’t generate mush confidence of a wire-to-wire break through.
The remaining three days featured a roster of leaderboard names that lacked any luster much less major championship history. If you ask anybody what they remember about the PGA that year at Oak Hill they will say “the shot.”
Standing in the short rough on eighteen, and holding a one stroke margin over Chad Campbell, Shaun Micheel pulled a seven iron from the bag at 175 yards. When he hit the shot his caddie was heard to beg “be the club.” It was. The ball safely landed on the green and rolled toward the cup looking like an eagle and major championship history. It stopped two inches short but the birdie was good enough to make Micheel a comfortable major winner. It was his only win in his career to date. This year he has played in three events and missed the cut each time.
What will this week bring?