South Africa's Ernie Els has four Major wins under his belt. Picture:
South Africa's Ernie Els has four Major wins under his belt. Picture:

The three South African golfers who have triumphed at the US Open

By Jacques van der Westhuyzen Time of article published Jun 18, 2020

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THE 120th US Open scheduled for Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York, this week, and set to have teed off on Thursday, has been postponed to September 17-20 because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Gary Woodland is the defending champion.

Just three South Africans have captured the US Open title and here golf writer Jacques van der Westhuyzen looks back at those triumphs.

1965: Gary Player at Bellerive Country Club in St Louis, Missouri

Somewhat surprisingly, South African great Player won only one US Open title, beating Kel Nagle of Australia in an 18-hole playoff after both men finished on a score of 282, 2-over par.

Player was tied fourth following the first round after an opening 70 and then jumped into a one-stroke lead with another 70 in the second round and that was followed by third and fourth rounds of 71. Player was the first foreign born winner of the US Open since 1927, the victory completing his career Grand Slam at 29.

Two interesting facts about the tournament are: 1) the 1965 tournament was the first US Open to be broadcast on television in colour, and 2) it was the first time the US Open was scheduled for four days, with the final round on Sunday. Previously, the third and fourth rounds were both played on the Saturday .

1994: Ernie Els at Oakmont Country Club in Oakmont, Pennsylvania

A young Els, just 24, won the first of his four Majors after beating Loren Roberts on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff, after Colin Montgomerie had been eliminated in the 18-hole playoff.

All three men had finished their four rounds on a score of 279, 5-under par. Els opened with a two-under 69, and followed it up with a 71 to be at 2-under at the halfway mark - four off the pace set by Montgomerie.

A stunning third round 66 saw Els jump into a two-shot lead and he followed that up with a final round 73 to find himself having to play against Roberts and Montgomerie in a playoff on the Monday. The tournament was golfing great Arnold Palmer’s last as a participant.

1997: Ernie Els at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland

Three years after triumphing at Oakmont, Els was back in the winner’s circle, this time at Congressional for his second US Open title, and again it was Colin Montgomerie who came up short.

Els won with a score of 276, 4-under par, one stroke better than Montgomerie. The Scotsman opened in sensational fashion with a 5-under par 65, while Els shot 71 to be outside the top-10 after round one. Els then shot a 67 to move into contention after the second round, while Montgomerie slipped back after a disappointing 76.

Els then shot a third round 69 to be two back from leader Tom Lehman with a round to go, while Montgomerie’s 67 moved him into fourth place. 

Both Els and Montgomerie fired final round 69s, while Lehman went round in 73 blows, giving the “Big Easy” his second Major win by one stroke from Montgomerie. 

2001: Retief Goosen at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Oklahoma

The easy-swinging and laid-back South African won the first of his two US Open titles after a two-stroke victory in an 18-hole playoff on the Monday, against Mark Brooks. Both men finished regulation play on the Sunday of the tournament with a score of 276, 4-under par, after both had three-putted for bogey on the 18th. 

In a topsy-turvy playoff, Goosen made three birdies and three bogeys to finish even, while Brooks made two birdies and four bogeys.

Goosen was placed first, or tied-first, after every round; his 66 in the first round setting him up for the tournament. Brooks fired an opening round two-over 72, but roared back into contention with a second round 64.

The tournament was notable for ending  defending champion Tiger Woods’ run of four consecutive Major championship wins, the “Tiger Slam”. He finished seven strokes back in a tie for 12th. Woods reclaimed the US Open title the following year and won the PGA Championship at Southern Hills in 2007.

2004: Retief Goosen at Shinnecock Hills in Shinnecock Hills, New York

Three years after capturing his first US Open title, Goosen won a second, this time doing it in regulation, two strokes better off than Phil Mickelson, who was the Masters champion.

In a thrilling final back nine, Goosen birdied the 16th hole, while Mickelson double bogeyed the par-three 17th to swing the tournament the way of the South African.

Goosen struggled early on and shot an even-par 70 in round one, while Mickelson fired a solid 68. Both men registered impressive second round 66s to be well placed at the halfway point and then in round three Goosen’s 69 and Mickelson’s 73 saw the South African open up a handy lead at the top of the leaderboard. Ernie Els was tied third with Mickelson going into the final round following his third round 70, two off Goosen.

Goosen and Mickelson fired 71s on the Sunday allowing the South African to win by two, while Els fell away badly with a disastrous 80 to finish tied ninth and 11 shots off the pace.


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