The road to the U.S. Open, Part Two - Local players

Posted May 30, 2016 - By Mike Dudurich,
Freelance writer and host of The Golf Show on 93.7 The Fan Saturday mornings from 7-8 AM
Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeDudurich

Arnold Palmer & Rocco Mediate at the 1994 U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club

Getting into the U.S. Open has never been an easy proposition.

While it is the most democratic of golf’s major championships, hence the name “Open,” the task is still formidable. Local qualifying of 18 holes is followed by 36 holes of sectional qualifying for those lucky enough to advance. Competition is much tougher at the sectional level with the addition of PGA and Tour players.

It hasn’t always been so difficult to get into the national championship. In the early years, it was much more open. One thing that has always been difficult is getting into a U.S. Open when it’s been played in your backyard. Having a chance to live a life-long dream ramps up the pressure and multiplies the degree of difficulty.

Take 2007 for example. Jim Furyk was a Western Pennsylvanian for a brief time and Jon Mills, a Canadian who played golf at Kent State, got married and moved to Indiana, Pa. were the only two players with ties to the area.

Furyk had a chance to win, but bogeyed the 17th to finish second behind Angel Cabrera. Mills shot 73-78--151 to miss the cut.

That was the lowest number of Western Pennsylvanians to participate in any of the first eight U.S. Opens that have been held at historic Oakmont.

Here’s a look at those who have been fortunate enough to play at an Oakmont Open.

1927: The championship was won by Scotland’s Tommy Armour. Local participants included Bobby Cruickshank, who posted rounds of 77-78-76-78--309 to finish T9 and earn $55. Perry Del Vecchio of Greensburg tied for 15th after rounds of 79-79-76-76--310. He took home $50.

The other participant was Larry Nabholz of Sharon. His rounds of 75-81-78-79-313 gave him a T23 finish.

Sam Parks, Jr., 1935 U.S. Open champion

1935: Pittsburgh’s one and only U.S. Open champion, Sam Parks Jr., was crowned this year. Vincent Eldred of Highland Country Club finished T12 with scores of 75-77-77-79--308. Del Vecchio tied for 41st this time after rounds of 80-81-77-80--318.

1953: Ben Hogan stole the show this year, winning with a five-under par total of minus-5. A trio of local players played four rounds in the championship.

Frank Souchak of Oakmont tied for ninth with rounds of 70-76-76-74-296. Lionel Hebert of Verona finished with a 303 total after rounds of 80-71-80-72. Johnny Bulla, also of Verona, tied Hebert with rounds of 74-77-79-73.

Arnold Palmer played in his first Open that year and missed the cut after rounds of 84-78.

Missing the cut were Andy Gaspar of Pittsburgh (77-83), Jim Coleman of Oakmont (82-76), Raymond Cerar of Pittsburgh (85-72), Lew Worsham, the golf professional at Oakmont (78-78), and Russ Sherba of Canonsburg (70-80).

1962: This Open featured the largest number of local of participants. Leading that group, of course, was Arnold Palmer. He was on a mission to win the championship in his backyard but his putter failed him as he three-putted 11 times and lost to Jack Nicklaus in a playoff.

Charles Garlena of Galitzin, with rounds of 74-72 made the cut, but went 82-81 in the last two rounds and finished in a tie for last.

None of the other locals made the cut, but they were able to say they competed in an Open at Oakmont.

They included: Mike Pavella, Beallsville (88-76); Tommy Smith, Greensburg (81-80); Ray Graboski, Phillipsburg (84-74); Ed Furgol, Export (78-78); Tom Blaskovich, Irwin (73-82); Frank Souchak, Oakmont (74-81) and Frank Kibaly, Latrobe (77-74).

1973: Johnny Miller shot the lowest round ever in a major championship, 63, in the final round to win in 1973. Arnold Palmer was in contention, but his total of 71-71-68-72ó282 got him just a T4.

Jim Simons from Butler struggled to rounds of 81-76 and missed the cut.

1983: Larry Nelson made a 62-foot birdie putt on the 16th hole with his first shot of a rain-delayed final round that concluded on Monday. He hung on to beat Tom Watson to win the title.

Oakmont golf professional Bob Ford set a bit of history by not only qualifying for the championship, but became the first host pro to make the cut since Claude Harmon did so in 1959 at Winged Foot. Ford posted rounds of 76-73-75-72 to finish T26.

Arnold Palmer did not have a great Open with rounds of 74-75-78-76 and finished T60.

1994: It took 19 extra holes but Ernie Els outlasted Loren Roberts and Colin Montgomerie to win a very hot U.S. Open.

It was Arnold Palmer’s last U.S. Open at his scores of 77-81 didn't really matter as golf’s most impactful player was given an emotional sendoff.

Bob Friend of Oakmont missed the cut with rounds of 78-73--151 and while Rocco Mediate of Greensburg made the cut with scores of 76-70, he had to withdraw after a third-round 79. Mediate was battling back issues that would require surgery in the fall of 1994.

Of course, the most prolific U.S. Open competitor in Western Pennsylvania was Arnold Palmer. He won it just once, the historic comeback in 1960 at Cherry Hills when he drove the first green on the way to a final-round 65.

But the man from Latrobe was a runner-up in the national championship four times. He lost in 1962 at Oakmont in a playoff to Jack Nicklaus and in 1963 came up short in a playoff against Julius Boros.

His playoff luck continued to fail him in 1966 and 1967. Billy Casper overcame a last-round deficit in the first and Palmer lost to Nicklaus by four in the second.

Jock Hutchinson came up two shots short of Chick Evans in 1916 and was one short of Ted Ray in 1920.

Bobby Cruickshank also had a shot to win twice, but both times finished as runner-up. In 1923, he lost in a playoff to Bobby Jones and in 1932, lost by three strokes to Gene Sarazen.

In the modern era, Greensburg native Rocco Mediate took Tiger Woods to the limit at Torrey Pines in 2008, but lost in a playoff. Woods was playing injured, with a torn-up knee and a fractured bone in his leg. But he persevered and won a major championship for the last time.