The Open at Pinehurst

The 105th U.S. Open

June 9, 2005

When golf fans tune into the major championships, like this week’s 105th U.S. Open at Pinehurst, they hope for major drama, something exciting enough to make them sit up in the lazy boy. They want to see unforgettable shots like Tiger’s amazing, hang-on-the-edge chip at the 16th hole during the final round of this year’s Masters. They want to see records broken, grueling head to head battles, and Cinderella stories. They want something to talk about around the water cooler on Monday, and to feel like it was worth skipping their own Sunday round (not to mention a few household chores) to park it in front of the television.
Going into the final round of the 2005 Open, the stage was set for a number of potential thrilling finishes. There was Retief Goosen, seeking his third Open title in five years, and striving for the first back-to-back titles since Curtis Strange’s victories in 1988-89. There was Jason Gore, the overnight crowd favorite who looks like the keg delivery guy for Budweiser and who is about as highly ranked in the world standings. Gore started the day in second place. Then there was Mr. Television Ratings himself, Tiger Woods, the only person who can be said to be stalking the leader when he is six shots behind.

But the truth of the matter is that the U.S. Open at Pinehurst does not need larger-than-life dramatic performances from the players to be something special. This is Pinehurst, an impressive and comfortable resort in a classy little village that dropped straight from golf heaven onto the sand hills of North Carolina. This is the #2 course at Pinehurst, a collection of somewhat typical pine-lined golf holes made memorable by the undeniable sadism of a man named Donald Ross. It would be easier to putt on a moon-bounce full of kids than these greens that Ross designed. Of course, you have to figure out how to get a ball to stay on the green before you get to putt.

And this is a place full of golf history, the lore of which grew after the thrilling 1999 U.S. Open, which Payne Stewart won just four months before he died in an airplane accident. Now the eighteenth green is home to a bronze statue of Stewart in the fist-pumping pose he struck after the final putt, and the flag on that hole has a matching silhouette.

Pinehurst does not scream golf like other golf destinations. It is too subtle for that, whispering like the warm June breeze that stirs the towering pine trees here. This is a place that has hosted Ryder Cup Matches, prestigious amateur events, and aspiring duffers from around the world, all with southern charm and grace.

So the 105th U.S. Open came to Pinehurst needing nothing more than that arrival to make it a special occurrence in golf. It just so happens that Sunday provided some pretty good drama anyways. The three players who started the day atop the leaderboard (Goosen, Gore, and Olin Browne) shot 35 shots over par, cumulatively, in the final round. It was like putting on upside-down radar dishes. The meltdown of the leaders left Tiger Woods and a relative unknown, Michael Campbell, fighting to claim the second major of the season.

Woods made six birdies during the last fifteen holes, pulling within two shots of the lead, but his uncharacteristic bogies on sixteen and seventeen allowed Campbell to hold on for his first victory in the States. A golfing icon and a Cinderella story; a growing legend, and dreams come true.

The USGA only let six years pass between U.S. Open stops at Pinehurst. Obviously they feel the magic of this place. It is not hard to do.

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