The list of notable USGA champions crowned in Oklahoma
includes Tommy Bolt, Donna Caponi, JoAnne Gunderson Carner, Hubert Green, Gene
Littler and Babe Didrikson Zaharias, all of whom are enshrined in the World
Golf Hall of Fame. Others such as Bob Murphy, Jan Stephenson, Retief Goosen and
Scott Verplank enjoyed distinguished professional careers, while two others – Pearl
Sinn and Byeong-Hun An – were record-setters. And Cindy Scholefield claimed the
inaugural U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, which
is the site of three U.S. Open Championships.
Perhaps the most memorable USGA championship conducted in
Oklahoma was the 1977 U.S. Open at Southern Hills. It wasn’t just notable for
the winner (Green), but for what occurred during the final round. As he stepped
off the 14th green, Green was approached by USGA officials and a lieutenant
with the Tulsa police, who informed him that someone had phoned in a death threat.
Photos: USGA Championships In Oklahoma
“We had three options,” said Green, who was inducted into
the World Golf Hall of Fame 30 years after his Open victory. “We could stop
play, clear the course, and I could play without a gallery. They could stop
play and we come out the next day and finish up... or we could continue play. I
said: ‘Let's play. I can't be more nervous than I am right now. Let's get it
Although Green hit a wayward tee shot on No. 15, he was
fortunate that the ball hit a tree, preventing it from going out of bounds. He
managed a par, then birdied the 16th to take a two-stroke lead. He secured his one-stroke
win over 1975 champion Lou Graham by making a 4-foot bogey putt on the final
The 1977 U.S. Open was the first to have television coverage
of all 18 holes. It also marked the final Open appearance by Bolt, who won the
1958 championship at Southern Hills. Four-time runner-up Sam Snead and two-time
champion Julius Boros (1952 and 1963) also played their final U.S. Opens at
Southern Hills in ‘77.
Bolt, of Haworth, Okla., posted a wire-to-wire victory at
Southern Hills, besting Gary Player, of South Africa, by four strokes. Despite
the heat and strong winds, near-record galleries attended, with an estimated
34,500 people watching the three-day competition. Bolt shot 71-71-69-72 for a
3-over-par total of 283.
The U.S. Open returned to Southern Hills in 2001, where Goosen,
of South Africa, collected the first of his two Open victories. But it wasn’t
without some 72nd-hole drama. Mark Brooks, the 1996 PGA champion, three-putted
the final green to momentarily relinquish the lead. Then Stewart Cink, who was
in the final pairing with Goosen, overshot the green with his approach and
eventually had a short bogey putt. Thinking his chances for the title were
gone, Cink missed the putt and finished with a double-bogey 6.
Moments earlier, Goosen missed a 10-foot birdie putt that
would have given him a two-stroke win. But he, too, succumbed to the pressure,
missing his 2-foot comebacker for par and forcing a Monday playoff with Brooks.
Goosen played much more consistently the next day, shooting an even-par 70 for
a two-stroke win. He would win a second Open three years later at Shinnecock
That 2001 Open is also where Tiger Woods’ streak of consecutive
major titles ended at four, with a tie for 12th. Woods, who won the second of
his three U.S. Opens a year later, would have a triumphant return to Southern
Hills in 2007 when he claimed the PGA Championship for his 13th major title.
Two U.S. Women’s Opens have been staged in Oklahoma, the
first in 1970 at Muskogee Country Club, where future Hall of Famer Donna Caponi
edged Sandra Haynie and Sandra Spuzich by one stroke in the 25th Women’s Open.
It gave Caponi, who struggled to the finish with a final-round 77, her second
of back-to-back U.S. Women’s Open wins, and her 287 total matched Mickey
Wright’s scoring record at the time. The second U.S. Women’s Open was held in
1983 at Cedar Ridge Country Club in Broken Arrow, with Stephenson, of
Australia, prevailing by one shot over Carner and Patty Sheehan for her third
and final major victory.
As an amateur, Carner won the 1960 U.S. Women’s Amateur at
Tulsa Country Club, defeating Jean Ashley, 6 and 5, in the 36-hole championship
match. It was the first of five U.S. Women’s Amateur titles for Carner, who
claimed eight USGA championships over her Hall-of-Fame career, the most of any
The USGA returned to Tulsa C.C. in 2008 for the U.S. Senior
Women’s Amateur, won by Diane Lang. It was the third Senior Women’s Amateur
title for Lang, of Jamaica, who defeated Toni Wiesner, 6 and 5, in the 18-hole
Zaharias, a Hall of Famer and Olympic gold medalist, won the
first USGA championship held in Oklahoma, claiming the 1946 U.S. Women’s
Amateur at Southern Hills with an impressive 11-and-9 victory over Clara
Sherman. Zaharias would later add three U.S. Women’s Open titles among her 41 career
victories, which included 10 major championships.
The U.S. Amateur was held in Oklahoma for the first time in
1953, with Littler prevailing at Oklahoma City Golf & Country Club. He
defeated Dale Morey, 1 up, in the final match. Littler would go on to win the
1961 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
That same year, Rex Baxter Jr. won the U.S. Junior Amateur
at Southern Hills, defeating George Warren III, 2 and 1, in the championship
match. It also marked Jack Nicklaus’ first USGA championship appearance. The
future eight-time USGA champion, 13 at the time, advanced to the Round of 16.
The Junior Amateur returned to Oklahoma in 1967 at Twin
Hills Golf & Country Club in Oklahoma City. John Crooks defeated Andy North,
who would go on to win two U.S. Opens, in the championship match.
Southern Hills hosted the U.S. Amateur for the first time in
1965 and Murphy took the title with a
291 total, one stroke better than Robert Dickson, in the first year of an
eight-year stretch when the championship was conducted at stroke play. When the
U.S. Amateur returned in 2009, An, at 17 years, 11 months and 13 days, became
the championship’s youngest winner, surpassing the mark that had been set a
year earlier by Danny Lee at Pinehurst No. 2. An defeated Ben Martin, now a PGA
Tour member, 7 and 5, in the championship match.
The only U.S. Girls’ Junior held in Oklahoma was won by Carol
Sorenson in 1960 at The Oaks Country Club in Tulsa. A year later at Southern
Hills, Dexter Daniels claimed the U.S. Senior Amateur.
In 1988, Sinn captured the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links
Championship at Page Belcher G.C. in Tulsa. Two months later, Sinn, of
Bellflower, Calif., became the first female to win multiple USGA championships
in the same year when she claimed the U.S. Women’s Amateur.
The WAPL returned to Oklahoma in 2013, with Lauren Diaz-Yi
posting a 10-and-9 win over Doris Chen in the championship match at the Jimmie
Austin OU Golf Club in Norman. Four years earlier at the same course, Brad
Benjamin won the U.S. Amateur Public Links.
Verplank won the 1984 U.S. Amateur at Oak Tree National, this
year’s Senior Open site, by defeating Sam Randolph in the 36-hole final match,
4 and 3. Randolph would win the title a year later. Verplank went on to win the
1985 Western Open as an amateur, a few weeks before leading the USA Walker Cup
Team to a 13-11 victory at Pine Valley (N.J.) Golf Club. Verplank defeated
Colin Montgomerie of Great Britain and Ireland in the deciding singles match.
Montgomerie is also in the field for the Senior Open.
Verplank becomes eligible by turning 50 the day before the
championship begins, and he will debut on a course he knows very well. Verplank
and fellow members and 2014 U.S. Senior Open competitors Bob Tway, Willie Wood,
Danny Edwards and Gil Morgan are known as “The Oak Tree Gang.”
Will one of these players add their name to the great legacy
of USGA championships in Oklahoma? Over four days in mid-July, the 21st chapter
will be written.
David Shefter is a
senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.