100 Years Later, Shinnecock Still A
In 1986 Raymond Floyd set the mark as
the oldest winner of the U.S. Open, at 43 years old,
eclipsing Ted Ray by five months. (USGA Photo Archives)
Far Hills, N.J. -- Shortly after a successful Walker Cup in 1977,
there were overtures being made about Shinnecock hosting a U.S.
Open once again. The last Open held at the course was 1896 when
advances had not been made in equipment and there was no
television or radio coverage. That event had drawn 58 entries; an
Open in this era would attract 5,000-plus entries. And there
would be more spectators venturing out to Southampton than a
Said two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw:
"An Open at Shinnecock? It would be great. But there should be no
television towers. A U.S. Open at Shinnecock should be broadcast
on the radio."
As sentimental as those remarks were, it spoke
volumes about the layout of this historic venue. Shinnecock did
not have the infrastructure as other traditional venues such as
Oakland Hills, Winged Food, Oakmont or Olympic Club.
The club's remote location- it's more than a
two-hour drive from Manhattan - was one potential shortfall.
Getting thousands of spectators to the course would be a
challenge since only one road (Route 27) led into the site. Where
would everyone park? Where would corporate tents be situated? How
many spectators could the grounds hold?
Plus, many Shinnecock members were not around
during the winter months (also true to this day), which could be
detrimental to organizing the many volunteers required to run a
successful championship, especially an event with the magnitude
of a U.S. Open. The USGA still wanted to move forward. The first
proposal presented in 1980 could not produce an agreement, but
when the sides met again a year later, progress was made. In a
break from tradition, the USGA agreed to take over full
responsibility for the planning and operation of the Open,
something the Association now does on a regular basis. The club
Suffolk County agreed to spend $80,000 on the
construction of a footbridge that would enable spectators to
cross over Route 27 to the course. Attendance would be limited to
17,000 per day as opposed to the 30,000 a year earlier at Oakland
The Long Island Railroad ran express trains
from New York's Penn Station to the station at Shinnecock, which
was just a flip wedge from the course.
On the course, few alterations were required.
New tees were constructed to stretch the course from 6,740 yards
to 6,912 yards. The fairway landing areas were narrowed to 28
yards and the edges of bunkers were sharply defined.
When the competition concluded, the USGA
proclaimed the 1986 U.S. Open as one of the most successful ever,
something then-USGA Executive Director Frank Hannigan had
predicted from the start.
Strong planning and organization eliminated
potential traffic jams. Things were so calm that one of the
contestants, a PGA Tour player, passed right by the entrance to
the course and mistakenly entered nearby Southampton Country
Club. It was only after putting on his golf shoes that he
realized he had gone to the wrong site.
The course made a strong statement that it could host a U.S.
Open. The winner, 43-year-old Raymond Floyd, was the only
competitor to better par (1-under 279) over 72 holes. On the
first day, no competitor broke par (Bob Tway fired an even-par
70) while half the field failed to break 75.
|Corey Pavin won the 1995 Open as the only
competitor to shoot even par at Shinnecock. (USGA Photo
Said Tway after his round, which included
one-putts at 10 of 18 greens, "I have never played such a hard
course in such hard conditions."
Floyd, in fact, opened with a 75. The par-4
18th hole was the toughest, playing to an average of 4.91.
Reigning Masters champion and four-time U.S. Open champion Jack
Nicklaus lost a ball for the first time ever at a U.S. Open when
spectators and officials failed to locate his errant tee shot at
the par-4 10th. "If I had made the little putt at 18, I'd have
been happy with a 76," said Nicklaus, who survived the cut and
finished in the top 10.
Joey Sindelar established the competitive
course record in the second round with a 66. That day also
produced a record nine-hole score by Danny Edwards, whose
back-nine 30 would be bettered by Neal Lancaster in the final
The next three U.S. Open winners - Scott
Simpson, Curtis Strange and Hale Irwin - all failed to survive
the 36-hole cut.
Conditions remained ideal on Saturday for the
third round and 27 players posted rounds of par or better,
including Mike Reid and Hal Sutton, both of whom shot 66 to tie
Sindelar's course record. Greg Norman was preparing to run away
with the title until a disastrous double-bogey 6 at the 13th hole
moved him back to a share of the lead with Lee Trevino.
An overzealous fan unnerved Norman at the 14th
hole, which produced a confrontation between player and
spectator, but things eventually settled down. Norman, however,
continued his struggles on Sunday with a final-round 75 to tie
for 12th. Lanny Wadkins and Chip Beck both made a significant
move with 65s to surpass the course record by one. But Floyd
posted a final-round 66, which included a clutch birdie at the
par-5 16th to seal the victory.
That week, Floyd had replaced his 9-iron with
an extra wedge, a move that did not look so intelligent when he
faced a 118-yard approach shot into the wind that called for a
9-iron. Floyd went with an 8-iron, but seconds before executing
the shot, a clicking noise emanated through the gallery from an
aggressive photographer positioned directly behind Floyd. Floyd
backed off, stared down the guilty party and had him moved to the
side. His ensuing shot landed 8 feet from the flag, setting up
the birdie that made Floyd the oldest winner of the Open.
(Incidentally, Irwin would break that mark four years later.)
Floyd, a Shinnecock member, will again return
to the site of his 1986 triumph this summer as the USGA extended
him a special exemption to the 2004 U.S. Open, scheduled for June
Before that championship commenced, club member
Virgil Sherrill pronounced that it "will be many a year before
the next event is held here."
Sherrill didn't figure on the overwhelming
success of the 1986 Open, and nine years later, the USGA
Pavin was the only competitor to shoot par,
posting a 72-hole total of even-par 280 to best Greg Norman by
two strokes. Pavin's performance will be remembered for his 278th
shot of the championship, a 4-wood approach to the final hole
that stopped only a few feet from the hole. He missed the birdie
putt, but his 68 on that Sunday was good enough to win the
Corey Pavin never was considered the PGA
Tour's longest hitter or most powerful player, but his ability
to create shots made him one of the game's best. Many figured a
U.S. Open layout would be his best opportunity to win a major
and Shinnecock proved to be the ideal venue.
||A member of Shinnecock, Raymond Floyd
will play in this year's Open on a special exemption.
(USGA Photo Archives)
That year, the 36-hole cut came at 6 over par
and among those missing for the weekend were reigning U.S. Open
champion Ernie Els, four-time Open winner Jack Nicklaus and
three-time winner Hale Irwin. None of the three amateurs in the
field made the cut, either. Reigning U.S. Amateur champion Tiger
Woods injured his wrist hitting a shot from the rough during the
second round and was forced to withdraw.
Neal Lancaster produced the best stretch of
golf, carding a record 29 (6 under) on the back nine in the final
round. His 65 not only tied the course record held by Lanny
Wadkins and Chip Beck, but it also vaulted him 42 places and
earned him an exemption to the 1987 U.S. Open.
The course itself underwent very few changes,
although several trees and bushes were removed to create better
air flow and light.
The clubhouse went through some renovations,
including the addition of new furniture in several rooms and a
cedar-shingle roof and siding on the outside.
Shinnecock again proved to be the ideal locale
to help the USGA celebrate its centennial. Newport Country Club,
another one of the original five clubs, hosted the U.S. Amateur,
with Shinnecock getting the Open.
"The anniversary (U.S.) Open deserves to be at
a special place," said Hannigan, "and Shinnecock is a very
The 156 contestants who qualify for the 2004
U.S. Open certainly will find that out next June.
David Shefter is a staff writer for the USGA. E-mail him at
firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or comments.
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David Shefter is a staff writer for the USGA. E-mail him
with questions or comments.