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Caulton Tudor

Strange start right in line with No. 2 history

Posted June 12

In his enduring book “My Place at the Table," gifted author John Derr reminds us on pages 105-107 of something often said about this part of the world. “Strange things happen at Pinehurst” is a phrase you’ll hear a good deal through the weekend.

I was reminded of those words first thing Thursday morning when Matthew Fitzpatrick, a 19-year-old amateur from England and freshman at Northwestern, birdied two of his first three holes (Nos. 10 and 12) at the No. 2 Course and for a few minutes had the lead in the 114th U.S. Open golf championship.

The magic soon faded somewhat when Fitzpatrick, in his last amateur event, bogeyed Nos. 14 and 15 to drop back to even par and eventually to a still-impressive 1-over 71 for the round.

But that start reminded me of the “Hogan? Who’s Hogan?” chapter in Derr’s book.

Derr, then on the sports staff of The Greensboro Daily News, recounted the story of distant longshot Hogan’s win in the 1940 North-South event at No. 2.

The newspaper’s headline that was supposed to read “Hogan Captures North-South Open” instead came out “Hagen Captures North-South Open” – a misstep reference to the popular, immensely successful golfer Walter Hagen.

Derr caught the error after only a few papers had been printed, made the correction and then went immediately to the typesetter who made the change.

“Can’t you read English?” Derr shouted. “It’s supposed to be Hogan, not Hagen.”

The response Derr got was about the same as he would have heard from even those followed golf closely at the time. “Who’s Hogan?”

Then in his late 20s, broke and about to give up the tour, Hogan used that win at No. 2 as a springboard to what would be one of the most successful careers in golf history. It was one of the reasons why Hogan expounded the virtues of No. 2 throughout his life.

Jack Nicklaus later echoed Hogan’s respect for the course, as did Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino and countless others.

Nicklaus once called the Donald Ross course “the most architecturally perfect design” in the world.

Those voices helped save the course and for that matter, much of this part of North Carolina.

Through a run of ownerships, budget stress, weak economies and inconsistent leadership, the resort and its signature possession dangled on the brink of peril for many years in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

As the USGA locked in on old courses with more financial stability, better upkeep and locations closer to major cities to host Opens, Pinehurst became an endangered relic.

As late as the mid-1980s, there seemed no chance whatsoever that North Carolina would ever land an Open even though the state had as many exceptional courses as any other.

Then strange things started to happen.

New owners, new blood and a new vision took hold and, although there were ups and downs, experiments and gambles, the new owners set their goal on a U.S. Open and finally succeeded in 1999.

Payne Stewart’s sensational win over Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh and Steve Stricker was such an instant classic Open that one big show led almost immediately to another.

The USGA picked No. 2 for 2005 with such suddenness that it caught the golf world by surprise. And when long, long shot Michael Campbell held off Tiger Woods on the back nine Sunday, strange things happened yet again.

Although it’s not yet a topic of steady discussion, there’s every reason to believe No. 2 will get its fourth Open in 2022 or shortly thereafter.

The Open run is set for the near future with:

2015: Chambers Bay, Wash. (1st Open)
2016: Oakmont, Pa. (9th)
2017: Erin Hills, Wis. (1st)
2018: Shinnecock Hills, N.Y. (5th)
2019: Peeble Beach, Calif. (6th)
2020: Winged Foot, N.Y. (6th)
2021: Torrey Pines, Calif. (2nd)

And if there is that fourth Open, a popular question that will be asked is what will the No. 2 Course look like when the next one starts?

Remember strange things.

Nothing in recent U.S. Open golf history is like the course being played this week. Unlike almost every Open during the past 75 years, No. 2 is void of deep rough.

As Mickelson, who opened with an even-par 70, said earlier this week, “It looks strange, but it still looks great.”

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