T.C. Chen, the golfer who became a one-hit wonder because of a double-hit and a double eagle, planned to return yesterday to the scene of both the most sublime and suddenly sad time of his professional career.
Chen, 54, is competing in this week’s U.S. Senior Open at Indianwood Golf & Country Club, located 21 miles north of Oakland Hills Country Club, the site of the 1985 U.S. Open. That’s where Chen made his claim to fame by nearly winning the national championship. That he didn’t win, falling a stroke shy to Andy North, is not as noteworthy as how it came to pass.
"You know, I know somebody will ask me about the two‑chip," said Chen, making the second start of his Champions Tour career and first in the U.S., in his opening remarks to the media Tuesday afternoon in an attempt to preempt the inquisitions. "The two‑chip at that time probably bother me a lot for a while, but not anymore.
"When I see … think back to '85, without the double-hit probably nobody knows who I am right now. So maybe double-hit making me more famous."
Chen’s first name is Tze Chung, but he was known simply as T.C. Chen upon becoming the first Chinese golfer to secure his PGA Tour card in 1982. After the ’85 Open, he had secured the ignominious moniker of Two-Chip Chen.
A native of Chinese Taipei, Chen led for most of the 85th Open, tying the course record with a first-round 65 highlighted by the first albatross in championship history. Because he was a late starter, few fans saw him hole out from 256 yards with a 3-wood. Chen didn’t see it either.
"I not even see the ball went in the hole because No. 2, it was uphill," he said.
When he followed with consecutive 69s, the second amid a downpour, Chen had set the 36- and 54-hole scoring records.
But his chances at victory unraveled on the par-4 fifth hole in Sunday’s final round. Chen pushed his 4-iron approach into the gnarly rough and tried to finesse his recovery shot onto the green. The club got stuck in the thick grass and then released, catching up to the ball and striking it again about thigh high. It finished in the rough again, and after another chip, two putts and a one-stroke penalty, Chen had suffered a quadruple bogey.
North, who began the final round two strokes back, went on to win his second U.S. Open, beating Chen, Dave Barr and Denis Watson by a stroke. Chen captured one PGA Tour title, the ’87 Los Angeles Open, but then mostly retreated to tours in Asia and Japan, where he won 14 times.
Though his family lives in California, Chen still plays mostly in Asia. His only previous Champions Tour start came in 2008 at the Senior British Open, where he missed the cut. Battling a wrist injury that required surgery last year, Chen has not yet been able to break through as an exempt member on the Champions Tour.
"I've been trying for the last three years. Just couldn't get in," he said. "It's very tough to get in here, they are so good."
Likewise, he has gone through sectional qualifying for the U.S. Senior Open each year since he turned 50. Last year he was an alternate, but didn’t make the field. His last U.S. Open appearance was 1988.
"I don't have that much pressure this week, because this is my first tournament, and actually I don't expect too much. I just try to play my game and try to enjoy myself this week and enjoy with my son," Chen said.
Chen’s son, Jason, 23, is on his father’s bag this week, just as he was for sectional qualifying at Annandale Golf Club in Pasadena, Calif., where he tied for medalist with a 70.
"I've only caddied for him in the qualifiers and in some tournaments in Taiwan, but never in this kind of big stage as the U.S. Senior Open," said Jason Chen. "And this is where he 20‑some years ago qualified, too, and he almost won the championship.And to be here, maybe have a chance to walk him through four days of tournament, game, it's going to just be awesome to be next to him."
Chen had not been back to Oakland Hills since that painful near miss in 1985, but he was planning to visit later in the day Tuesday. He seemed ready to embrace the memories, good or ill, mostly to share them with his boy, to show him where he made his mark in golf, to point out where ‘X’ marks the spot.
"My son, he was born in 1988. So '85 he not even know who is T.C. Chen. So now he is just going back to see the double hit No. 5 and double eagle on No. 2," the father said.
Said the son: "Growing up I saw videos. I even went to Wikipedia to search about my dad …what went wrong on the last round. And double chip, everybody knows about it. And I didn't have the chance to – I didn't have the privilege to see it. And like he said, it's what make him more famous. It would just be great to be there on the fifth hole to see it."
Jason was asked if he would try the shot. "Yeah, maybe," he replied. "But I won't make a double chip. I don't think so."
"It’s tough to do it," the elder Chen interjected.
Tough to forget, too.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.