San Francisco – I just emerged from Tiger Woods’s packed news conference at the Olympic Club, two days before he’ll tee it up and try to win his fourth U.S. Open. I always wonder why they call these confabs “news” conferences, because they rarely provide news. But they sometimes do provide insight into a player, and that was the case here.
The major takeaway, at least for me, is that Woods knows his golf history. He was asked why it’s rare for anybody to win back-to-back U.S. Opens, and he immediately reflected on how much of an accomplishment it was for Curtis Strange to win the 1988 and 1989 U.S. Opens. He even knew that Strange contended in the 1990 U.S. Open, nearly winning there before slipping in the final round. Woods was 14 in 1990 when Strange played the U.S. Open at Medinah Country Club near Chicago, where the Ryder Cup will be held this coming fall.
Woods was also asked why it is–as if he knows the answer to questions that are impossible to answer–that golfers who were considered underdogs have won the four U.S. Opens held at Olympic. Why so many upsets? In fact, The Upset is the title of Al Barkow’s new book about the 1955 U.S. Open, where Jack Fleck defeated Ben Hogan in a playoff.
Okay, that was indeed an upset, and Fleck, now 91, had been in the interview room 90 minutes before Woods came in today. But what about the 1966, 1987, and 1998 U.S. Opens at Olympic? Woods shrugged off the idea that they provided “upset” winners.
Billy Casper won in 1966, when he came from seven shots behind Arnold Palmer with nine holes to go to tie him, and won their 18-hole playoff the next day? An upset? Hardly, notwithstanding Palmer’s stature in the game then.
Woods pointed out that Casper won more than 50 PGA Tour events (51, actually, so Woods was very close). Woods added that his winning the U.S. Open couldn’t be considered “that big an upset.” He was smiling when he said that, and probably laughing inside. Casper also won the 1959 U.S. Open and the 1970 Masters. He was in the interview room with Fleck at Olympic, and mentioned that from 1958 through 1968 he had finished out of the top four money-winners on the PGA Tour only once. Casper could play the game.
As for 1987, Scott Simpson won there, and, Woods said he always played tough courses well. Lee Janzen won in 1998, and he was a U.S. Open specialist. He’d also won the 1993 U.S. Open. Woods went on to say that all the winners at Olympic knew how to shape the ball, that is, hit it left to right and right to left to keep it in the fairways that slant in a direction opposite to the way many holes play at Olympic.
Woods also said he was reading something and learned that Palmer liked to draw the ball, and that he had to learn to cut it to play at Olympic.
“He did all right, a seven-shot lead with nine to play,” Woods said.
The guy knows his history. One of his representatives has told me Woods reads everything about golf. He showed that in his “news” conference.
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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein