1989 U.S. Open
After a 21-year hiatus, the USGA brought its premier event back to Oak Hill, and as it always had, the East Course held up fabulously as Curtis Strange’s winning score of 278 was higher than Nicklaus’s 274 in the 1980 PGA and Trevino’s 275 in the 1968 Open.
For Strange, it was a historic Sunday in the blazing June sun as he became the first man since Ben Hogan in 1951 to win back-to-back Opens. Strange followed up his triumph at Brookline in 1988 with a marvelously steady final-round 70 that featured 15 straight pars, a clutch birdie at No. 16, and a bogey at 18 when he safely three-putted in order to protect a two-shot lead.
“Move over, Ben,” Strange announced in the press tent afterward. "It's not so much what Hogan did. It's what others have not done. The great Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson have not won back-to-back Opens.”
And no one has done it since.
The week began with an Open-record 21 players breaking par-70 led by the matching 66s recorded by Payne Stewart, Bernhard Langer and Jay Don Blake, but Strange leaped into the lead with a brilliant second-round 64 that matched the East Course’s competitive record set by Hogan in the 1942 Times-Union Open.
Strange and Kite played side-by-side on a soggy, rain-delayed Saturday and Kite was the undeniable winner, shooting 69 to Strange’s 73. But on Sunday, Kite made a disastrous triple-bogey at the difficult 406-yard fifth hole and never recovered. While he continued his meltdown with bogeys at Nos. 8 and 10 and double bogeys at 13 and 15, Strange was playing mistake-free and beating back all challengers.
When he rolled in a 10-footer for birdie at No. 16, it gave him just enough of a cushion to hold off Chip Beck, Mark McCumber and Ian Woosnam over the final two holes to secure what became, rather remarkably considering his stature in the game at the time, the 17th and final PGA Tour victory of his career.
Hometown hero, Oak Hill member, and 1988 PGA champion Jeff Sluman played for the first time in an Oak Hill major championship, but he was unable to display the full range of his game because six weeks before the tournament he underwent an emergency appendectomy. Sluman, in a star-power threesome that included past Oak Hill major winners Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino, struggled to rounds of 75-71 and missed the cut. “I can look myself in the eye and say I did the best I could," Sluman said. “But considering what happened to me health-wise, I think I'm fortunate just to have been able to play.”
Tom Kite had already established himself as a world-class player when he arrived at Oak Hill for the ’89 Open, but the one blight on his resume was the absence of a major championship. When Kite took a three-shot lead to the fifth tee on the final day, it was looking as if his long-awaited coronation was going to take place a few hours hence. Instead, he pushed his drive into Allen’s Creek, went on to score a triple-bogey 7, and imploded from there, shooting a 78 to tie for ninth. He did go on to win the 1992 Open at Pebble Beach.
One of the most amazing feats in the history of golf occurred in the early-morning hours of the second round when, in a two-hour span, Doug Weaver, Mark Wiebe, Jerry Pate and Nick Price aced the 167-yard sixth hole. “Unusual, exciting, historic – any of those words sum it up,” said Pate. Later in the day, Fred Funk made a birdie-2, turned to the gallery and said “I can’t believe you’re clapping for a birdie.”