1956 U.S. Open
It was unfortunate for Cary Middlecoff that the man chasing him for the 1956 U.S. Open championship was Ben Hogan.
Had it been anyone other than Hogan - who by the time he returned to Oak Hill for the East Course’s inaugural hosting of a professional major championship had become a living legend - Middlecoff would have dominated the headlines for the way he expertly negotiated a demanding layout that did not yield a single under-par 72-hole total, including his own.
But unfair as it may be, what is remembered most from that exciting tournament when Oak Hill flexed its muscles for all the world to see was not that Middlecoff won, but that Hogan lost, his quest for a record fifth U.S. Open title stymied by his miss of a 30-inch putt on the 71st hole.
Middlecoff, who began the fourth round clinging to a one-stroke lead over Hogan, finished an hour before Hogan and was sitting in the locker room watching on television as player after player failed to match his score of 1-over-par 281. Hogan came to the difficult 17th tied with Middlecoff for the lead, but he tapped his par putt just a bit too hard and it took a peak at the cup and kept going.
“It hit the hole and stayed out," Middlecoff said. "I appreciated that.”
Hogan failed to make a tying birdie at 18, and when the last challenger, Julius Boros, was unable to find one more birdie, Middlecoff celebrated the 37th victory of his career, one in which he never broke par-70 in any of the four rounds, prompting him to say “Nobody wins the Open. It wins you.”
Years after his victory at Oak Hill, World Golf Hall of Fame member Cary Middlecoff, who counted two Opens and one Masters among his 40 career victories, recalled the final stroke he made that week when he captured his second U.S. Open title. "I would say that was the greatest accomplishment I ever had on one particular, very important shot," Middlecoff said of the slippery four-foot slider he made for par at the 18th hole that ultimately clinched the championship. "That was the big shot of the tournament for me. I knew I was going to win if I could make it.”
It became apparent in the 1956 Open that the par-5 13th hole was going to become the East Course’s signature tournament hole because of the natural amphitheater that surrounded the green. Here, Bob Rosburg, known now as an accomplished golf analyst, chips to the green as a large gallery looks on.
Ben Hogan, who had one victory and a pair of runner-up finishes in the three tournament appearances he made at Oak Hill, takes a seat behind the 12th tee. In the distance is the recognizable leaning tree along the right side of the fairway.