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Jun 1, 2018 12:11 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

A Look Back at the Players Who Mastered The Open at Shinnecock

Corey Pavin at the 2004 U.S. Open Championship.  PRESS FILE
Jun 5, 2018 10:50 AM

As the best professional and amateur players from around the world get ready to take a shot at a U.S. Open Championship at Shinnecock Hills next week, here’s a look back at the three players who claimed victory there in the modern era.

In1896, Scottish-American James Foulis actually was the first to win a U.S. Open title at Shinnecock, a three-stroke victory over Horace Rawlins of England after 152 strokes in a 36-hole event, which featured just 35 entrants at a time when golf was relatively new to America. It was the second U.S. Open contested by the USGA.

Raymond Floyd

It’s hard to define Ray Floyd’s win in the 1986 U.S. Open Championship at Shinnecock Hills as an upset—he had long before established himself as one of the top players in the game, with three majors under his belt (wins at the PGA Championship in 1969 and 1982, and a win at the Masters in 1976). But he entered the tournament just a few weeks shy of his 44th birthday, and no player of his age had ever won the Open.

Talent and experience, plus a natural affinity for the course, proved to be a winning combination for Floyd, who finally added a U.S. Open Championship to his resume after 18 previous attempts.

Floyd emerged from an extremely competitive final day by shooting a 4-under-par 66, the only player to finish under par that day, and a four-day total of 279. The mental game needed to be equally sharp for anyone who wanted to win that day: With nine holes left to play, no fewer than 10 players were within a stroke of the lead, a star-studded cast that included Greg Norman, Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Crenshaw and Lanny Wadkins, all players with major championships to their name.

But none was as masterful as Floyd—who entered the day tied for fifth—on the back nine.

When he birdied the 11th hole, he created a nine-way tie for the lead. Floyd got out of trouble on the 12th to save par, and then birdied the 13th hole. Another birdie on the par-5 16th set the table, and two excellent pars on the final two holes sealed the deal, leaving Wadkins—who figured he had the win after finishing with a 65—to settle for second place. Norman had a disastrous final day, shooting a 5-over 75 to finish tied for 12th place.

While he was at what many would consider an “advanced” age when he won the Open, Floyd continued to prove his staying power in years after the major win. Hale Irwin would later break Floyd’s record and become the oldest player to win a U.S. Open when he was victorious in 1990 at the age of 45.

At the age of 47, Floyd lost in a playoff for the Masters to Nick Faldo, and he had another tour win in 1992 at the Doral Ryder Cup. In 1993, at the age of 51, Floyd was the oldest American to ever play on a Ryder Cup team.

Floyd joined the PGA Senior Tour in 1992 and played competitively there for nearly two decades before retiring in 2010. He fell just short of a career grand slam during his time on the PGA Tour, with a second-place finish in the British Open. He had more than 20 PGA Tour wins, and 17 Senior Tour wins.

Floyd’s love of Shinnecock Hills was something that stayed with him. In interviews, he speaks of how he was immediately taken with the course after playing it for the first time on the Monday before the Open. He eventually became a member there, and owned a second home in Southampton for many years—one that he put on the market for $25 million last year.

Corey Pavin

When people talk about Corey Pavin and his victory in the 1995 Open at Shinnecock, the focus is always on the 4-wood shot on the 18th hole, from roughly 230 yards out. It was an uphill shot, and bounced near the front of the green, directly in front of the flag, and then bounced up onto the green.

Pavin two-putted for par to seal the championship, his first and only win in a major.

At the time, TV announcers called it “the shot of his life,” and the spectators on hand agreed. After Pavin hit the shot, he jogged up the fairway to get a look at where it had landed, then raised both fists in the air in triumph, as spectators chanted, “Corey! Corey! Corey!”

Pavin finished at even par for the tournament, beating Greg Norman by two strokes. As he did in 1986, Norman went into the final day in the lead, this time tied for first with Tom Lehman, but his short game let him down on the final day. Pavin birdied the 15th hole for a lead he would not relinquish.

Before the win, Pavin, who was 35 at the time of his victory, had earned the distinction as “the best player never to win a major,” and his victory at Shinnecock was his first Open title after 12 previous tries. Like Floyd, he speaks of a love of Shinnecock, saying in USGA interviews that even though he played “horribly” in 1986, he still loved the course.

Pavin was at the top of his game when he won the Open, having been ranked in the top 10 in the world for nearly a decade, from 1986 to 1995. He won another tournament on tour in 1996, but then did not win again for a decade, falling from the top rankings. He started playing on the senior tour (now called the PGA Champions Tour) in 2010, and, at the age of 58, is still playing on that tour today.

Retief Goosen

In the last U.S. Open played at Shinnecock Hills, in 2004, South African Retief Goosen was the winner, beating Phil Mickelson by two strokes with a final 4-under-par 276. Goosen also won the Open in 2001 at Southern Hills Golf Course in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Goosen did what everyone was trying to do on the final day at Shinnecock that year—survive. The wind had failed to be a factor during the week, and scores had been lower than usual for a U.S. Open. In an attempt to make the course hold up as a stiff test for the world’s best players, the greens were made faster—but on the final day, they were too fast. Several, most notably the seventh hole, were so dry that they were all but unplayable. The controversial choice was made to water that green after several players had already come through. Shinnecock recovered from the controversy, earning the 2018 Open, and another, set for 2026.

Goosen won the 2004 Open with a masterful touch on the greens, and his victory is regarded as one of the best putting displays in a U.S. Open Championship. Goosen, 49, still competes on the PGA Tour—but if he wants another shot at an Open title, he will have to make it through sectional qualifying, since he was not granted a special exemption by the USGA. He got a special exemption to play in last year’s Open, and only a small handful of the world’s best players have ever been handed a special exemption twice in their careers.

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