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.
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 over with.’
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 hole.
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 Hills.
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 female player.
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 final match.
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 email@example.com.