Through the decades, Oak Hill Country Club has established itself as Rochester's crown jewel of sports venues-the Flower City's version of Fenway Park, Lambeau Field and Augusta National. And the 10 major tournaments it has hosted are a major reason its lush, tree-lined East Course has become one of golf's most revered.
Since teeing off with the U.S. Amateur in 1949, Oak Hill has staged three U.S. Opens, two PGAs and a Ryder Cup. This is the course where Jack Nicklaus proved he was still the Golden Bear rather than an Olden Bear; where Lee Trevino, the Merry Mex, scored his breakthrough victory; where an obscure golfer named Shaun Micheel hit one of the most memorable approach shots in major golf tournament history; where Arnold Palmer whiffed on a pivotal one-inch putt, costing him the U.S. Senior Open title, and where the Europeans scored a dramatic come-from-behind victory on the final day of the Ryder Cup.
As Oak Hill prepares to host the PGA Championship a third time, we look back at some major moments at the course designed by famed golf architect Donald Ross.
1995 Ryder Cup
When Corey Pavin chipped in for birdie to win the last best-ball match and give the United States a 9-7 lead heading into the final day of the tournament, it appeared the Americans were in complete control. There were 12 singles matches still to be played, but the matchups seemed to favor the United States. Someone, however, apparently forgot to tell the European players they were in dire straits.
Ultimately, it came down to a match between Curtis Strange and Nick Faldo. Strange, who had experienced the greatest moment of his golf career six years earlier when he won the U.S. Open on this same course, bogeyed the final three holes. Faldo, meanwhile, rolled in a knee-knocking, four-foot putt on No. 18 to cap one of the most riveting comebacks in the storied history of the biennial matches that began in 1927.
It marked only the second time the Europeans had won the coveted chalice on American soil. "I really didn't think they could win today," a teary-eyed Strange lamented after the match. "I honestly thought we were too good. But that's what makes the Ryder Cup so exciting."
After playing a practice round at Oak Hill, Micheel's modest goal was to make the cut. But after scoring four birdies in the final five holes of round two to climb atop the leaderboard, the 169th-ranked golfer in the world was forced to adjust his goals. During the last two rounds, he found himself in a dogfight with the persistent Chad Campbell, a young golfer Sports Illustrated had dubbed "The Next Big Thing."
Micheel finally slammed the door on Campbell and clinched the victory when he hit a 7-iron to within two inches of the cup on the 72nd and final hole of the tournament. "I can't really believe this has happened to me," Micheel said in the news conference after his 4-under, two-stroke victory. That's when he admitted he wouldn't have bet a nickel on himself after his difficult, pre-PGA practice round.
"Making the cut-that was my goal," the 34-year-old from Memphis, Tenn., said, stealing a glance at the nearby Wanamaker Trophy. "I probably would have been happy with that."
Most of the field was tamed that week by Oak Hill, including Tiger Woods, who finished tied for 39th at 12 over par. It marked the first time since 1998 that he had completed a season without winning at least one major.
Nicklaus endured his worst year in 1979, and because he had just turned 40 many were writing that his reign was over. But predictions of Big Jack's demise proved premature. Nicklaus rebounded at the 1980 U.S. Open, winning the tournament with a then-record, four-round score of 272. At the 18th hole, following that victory, the electronic leaderboard proclaimed in large letters: JACK IS BACK!
Nicklaus emphatically underscored the point later that summer at Oak Hill by winning the PGA in record fashion. His 274 total-which featured three rounds in the 60s-enabled him to outdistance the field by a then-record seven strokes.
The win was Nicklaus' fifth PGA title, tying him with Rochester native Walter Hagen for most victories in that major.
1989 U.S. Open
Strange opened his victorious press conference with the words: "Move over, Ben." The reference was to the legendary Ben Hogan, who was the last golfer before Strange to win consecutive Opens, 38 years earlier. In the second round, Strange also tied Hogan's single-round Oak Hill record score of 64, which Bantam Ben established during the 1942 Times-Union Open.
Strange shot a 2-under 278 to edge Chip Beck, Ian Woosnam and Mark McCumber by a stroke. Strange had ballooned to 73 in the third round, but made his move on the final day after leader Tom Kite triple-bogeyed the fifth hole. A birdie at 16 proved to be pivotal.
"It's great to win the Open, obviously our national championship," Strange said. "But to win on a grand, old course with great history, great tradition, great champions, it means more to you."
1968 U.S. Open
Two years before his first trip to Oak Hill, Trevino was an assistant pro in Dallas, struggling to support his family on $30 a week. But his fortunes began to change in 1967, when he won $90,000 on tour. Still, despite his success, he remained a relatively obscure figure.
"We figured he was just another fellow who wouldn't make the cut," recalled Paul Kircher, who arranged for Trevino to stay in his Pittsford home the week of the '68 Open. "We weren't prepared for what happened."
What happened was one of the biggest sport stories of the year as Trevino shot four rounds in the 60s to win the Open by four strokes over runner-up Nicklaus. The man known as the Merry Mex captured the fancy of sportswriters and fans with his outgoing personality and self-deprecating sense of humor.
"It was an unforgettable week for me," he said. "Rochester will always have a special place in my memory."
After attending his post-tournament news conference and a few parties, Trevino returned to the Kirchers' house to find a big lawn sign congratulating him on his breakthrough victory. He was obscure no more.
1956 U.S. Open
Following a practice round with Cary Middlecoff the day before the Open, fellow pro Jimmy Demaret told him: "If anybody beats you on this course, they'll be cheating." Nobody cheated and Middlecoff made Demaret look like a prophet. The non-practicing dentist from Memphis, Tenn., shot a 1-over-par, 281 to edge Ben Hogan and Julius Boros by a stroke.
Two shots proved decisive. The nervous, chain-smoking Middlecoff made a difficult, downhill, four-foot putt to save par on the final hole, then waited an hour in the clubhouse to see if his score would hold up. It did, thanks to a missed 30-inch putt by Hogan on the 71st hole. Had Hogan, in search of a record fifth Open title, converted, he would have forced an 18-hole playoff with Middlecoff the next day.
The Open was a much more grueling test in those days because the final 36 holes were played on Saturday. The tournament didn't go to a four-rounds-in-four-days format until 1962.
1984 U.S. Senior Open
It appeared Arnold Palmer's bad luck at Oak Hill was finally over when he took a one-stroke lead into the final day of the Senior Open. But disaster struck on the 15th hole when Palmer whiffed on a one-inch putt and took a double-bogey. The golf icon finished two strokes behind Miller Barber. "The cheers I got on the 18th, some people play a lifetime and never get something like that," said Barber, whose nickname was Mister X.
1998 U.S. Amateur
Defending champ Matt Kuchar and future PGA Tour star Sergio Garcia were the pre-tournament favorites, but Hank Kuehne emerged victorious, holding off 42-year-old Tom McKnight in the 36-hole final day. It was an emotional win for Kuehne, a recovering alcoholic, who just three years earlier had nearly died in a car crash.
2008 Senior PGA
Thirteen years after losing a costly Ryder Cup match and five years after missing the cut at the PGA, Jay Haas returned to Oak Hill and vindicated himself with a one-stroke victory over European Bernhard Langer. The biggest galleries of the week followed Greece native Jeff Sluman, who was in contention until shooting a final-day 78 to finish four strokes back.
1949 U.S. Amateur
Amateur golf was a much bigger deal then than now, and the U.S. Amateur carried the same prestige as the professional major tournaments. Charlie Coe wound up defeating Rufus King, 11-and-10, in the final match to capture the '49 title. It was the largest margin of victory at the Amateur in 54 years. The following year, in Minnesota, East Rochester's Sammy Urzetta would win the U.S. Amateur and receive a hero's welcome upon his return to the Flower City.
8/2/13 95th PGA Championship special supplement (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.