U.S. Open

U.S. Open

The Mugging at Winged Foot

In 2006, ‘The guy who won is just the one guy who didn’t lose’

BY JOHN HUGGAN & DAVE SHEDLOSKI

 

What didn’t happen during the final round of the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot? The bizarre events of the day would have broken Twitter, but the social network didn’t launch until the next month. As the Open returns for a sixth time to the West Course in Mamaroneck, N.Y., where the unexpected is a huge part of the club’s championship history, let’s reset the scene from that memorable week:

Phil Mickelson had won the 2005 PGA Championship and the Masters earlier in 2006. If he had held on at Winged Foot, where he was tied for the lead after 54 holes, Mickelson would have gone to Hoylake with a chance to win the Open Championship and complete a version of the Grand Slam.

Five players had at least a share of the lead during the final round, and the lead changed hands 15 times as the contenders stumbled to the finish on a week in which the field scoring average was 74.99 on a par-70 layout of 7,264 yards (extended to 7,477 yards for this year’s championship).

The punishing conditions were deemed tough but fair, though the winning score of five over par induced flashbacks to the infamous 1974 Open recounted in author Dick Schaap’s minute-byminute classic, Massacre at Winged Foot. Hale Irwin won that Open at seven over par amid wails from indignant players about foot-long rough and unyielding greens, prompting Sandy Tatum, then the president of the United States Golf Association, to issue his famous rejoinder:

“We’re not trying to embarrass the best players in the world; we’re trying to identify them.”

Thirty-two years later, the 2006 Open produced two of the most searing soliloquies in golf history. “I am such an idiot,” Mickelson said after a double-bogey 6 from the trees on the final hole left him one shot behind winner Geoff Ogilvy. “You wonder sometimes why you put yourself through this,” Colin Montgomerie said after also doubling the 18th for his fifth runner-up finish in the majors—three in the U.S. Open—and a brief dust-up with one of the gendarmes on his unhappy walk to the scorer’s area.

Mickelson hit only two fairways in the final round, finding a trash bag off the tee at the 17th hole and a tent railing at the 18th that doomed him to the fourth of his record six runner-up finishes in the championship. As our Dan Jenkins wrote of Mickelson, “He gave away this Open after the worst driving exhibition since the Greyhound bus ran into Ben Hogan.”

Among the perhaps forgotten self-inflicted horrors: Jim Furyk three-putted the 15th and missed a four-footer for par at the final hole that would have gotten him into a playoff; Padraig Harrington missed by two shots after bogeying the last three holes (and tripling the 18th the day before).

It was also a trying week for Tiger Woods, who hadn’t played since the Masters and shot rounds of 76-76 to miss the cut in a major championship for the first time in 38 majors as a pro, the first he played after the death of his father the month before.

In a series of interviews from then and now, we take you back to that emotional week. Some of the bruises remain unhealed 14 years later, but don’t despair at all the despair: There’s a story of hope for all of us, courtesy of Ogilvy, one of the most introspective, candid thinkers on the challenges that face golfers at any level. Years earlier, Ogilvy’s teacher insisted that he learn a new shot—crazily enough, one that he ended up needing at the final hole of the final round at Winged Foot. (If you’re bedeviled by blading or chili-dipping chips and pitches, make sure you read on.)

Golf takes and takes and takes, but just when you expect it to take again, it gives back. That week at Winged Foot, at least one guy left happy.

 

BASKETBALL, ANYONE?

Denis Pugh (Colin Montgomerie’s coach at the time): I remember walking onto the first green with Monty during his first practice round. It was like concrete. Monty didn’t say anything, but he bounced a ball from hip height. You could have played basketball out there. The thought of Monty playing basketball is quite another thing, of course. [Laughs.] From that point on, we knew how tough it was going to be. When we got to the long par-3 third, it looked like a par 4. It was clear to me even then that over par was going to win.

Geoff Ogilvy (entered the week 50th in the World Ranking at age 29): At the U.S. Open, every hole is like the hardest you have ever played—72 times in a row. The guy who wins is always the guy who does the least bad stuff. So you don’t go get the U.S. Open—it comes and finds you.

David Howell (paired with Ogilvy for the first two rounds): Miss a green, and you made bogey—or at least I did. I made 16 birdies that week [to lead the field] and finished 11 over. I remember thinking as I walked off the 18th green in the second round that I’d played really well and Geoff had played horrendously. Yet I was eight over par, and he was one over.

Geoff Ogilvy I had won the World Match-Play Championship earlier that year, and as anyone who has gone deep into the Match Play will tell you, that week gives you more experience hitting shots under pressure than any other event—make that the rest of the year combined. I was T-16 at the Masters, but I was getting belief in myself at the majors [T-5 in the 2005 Open Championship at St. Andrews and T-6 in the 2005 PGA Championship at Baltusrol]. I knew I was going to be in contention as soon as I walked off the ninth green at the end of the second round [two shots behind leader Steve Stricker].

 


‘THAT WAS THE ONLY TIME I SAW MONTY CRY AFTERWARD. HE KNEW HE HAD BEATEN HIMSELF.’

SO CLOSE Colin Montgomerie made a 40-foot birdie putt at the 71st hole before double-bogeying the 72nd. Photograph by J.D. Cuban.

 

A DISAGREEMENT GOES PUBLIC

Alistair (Squirrel) Matheson (Ogilvy’s caddie): We birdied the 10th on Day Three and tied for the lead. Then the [par-5] 12th was strong downwind with a front-left pin. He had 296 yards to the hole, which seems a long way, but the wind was strong, and he could have threaded his approach between the bunkers and onto the green. But the opening was only five or six yards. I reckoned he had a one-in-four chance of hitting the green. So he’d make birdie and be one shot ahead on Saturday afternoon, which wins you nothing, really. But if he misses, he could easily make 6 and get a bit derailed. I thought a par would be nice. So I told him I thought we should lay up. I don’t think he liked that idea.

Geoff Ogilvy He didn’t argue with me; he waited me out. He knew I would at some point come to the conclusion that laying up was the best option. He never said, “Don’t go for it.” Instead, he pointed out where a 6-iron would leave me for the third shot—he gave me a positive message. And eventually I laid up. I didn’t make a birdie; I made par. But he eliminated the potential of me making a big number.

Dottie Pepper (on-course reporter for NBC): As Geoff and Squirrel went back and forth on the 12th, I was listening to Johnny Miller in my ear. As everyone knows, no one knows more about winning a U.S. Open than Johnny. [Laughs.] He had a beef about what Squirrel was saying. Walking with Geoff earlier in the week, I saw that things were not exactly harmonious at times between him and Squirrel, but that was normal for them. They’re both opinionated and knew what they knew. And maybe that’s what caught Johnny by surprise. Geoff is tough on himself and tough on those around him. For me, it was like looking in the mirror a little bit. [Laughs.]

Alistair (Squirrel) Matheson What I didn’t know is that my head was on every television right across America at that moment. Johnny Miller was giving me pelters. After Geoff did lay up and made par, Dottie came up and told me what Miller had been saying. It was horrific. Miller was telling the world I should let Geoff go for it; he was giving me lots of abuse. Geoff couldn’t win the U.S. Open on that hole, but he could have lost it. Geoff made bogey on the next two holes, which made Miller come down on me even more. But we parred in and were in the second-to-last group on Sunday.

Geoff Ogilvy I laugh now when I think of how the media focused on what went on there. Johnny Miller was saying I was never going to win because I was supposedly arguing with my caddie. All we were doing was having a conversation. John was saying I had lost it mentally, but that was so far from the truth. Look, who knows? I might have hit a 3-wood onto the green and made eagle. But what Squirrel knew was you don’t lose the U.S. Open if you lay up, but you might lose it if you go for it.

Alistair (Squirrel) Matheson All caddies will tell you that under pressure, players make the wrong decisions. So it’s up to us to change them. And that adds pressure. I can’t imagine what the players are feeling.

 


‘BY THE TIME WE GOT TO THE RANGE BEFORE THE FINAL ROUND, THE ABUSE WAS ALREADY UNBELIEVABLE. . . . TYPICAL NEW YORK STUFF.’

ATTENTION GETTER Ian Poulter chose pink clothes and a pink bag for the final round, keeping the gallery’s focus off Ogilvy, his playing partner. Photograph by Dom Furore.

 

THE LONGEST DAY

Phil Mickelson, who turned 36 that Friday, and Kenneth Ferrie entered the final round tied for the lead at +2, the first time 54-hole leaders at the Open had been over par since . . . 1974 at Winged Foot. Ogilvy was a stroke back at three over, followed by Montgomerie, Stricker, Ian Poulter and Vijay Singh at five over and Jim Furyk, Padraig Harrington and Mike Weir at six over.

Geoff Ogilvy One thing that has stuck in my head about the week is that the soccer World Cup was going on, and Australia played Brazil early on the final day of the U.S. Open. And yes, I neglected my preround warm-up because I was too interested in the match. I watched in the fitness trailer and rushed my warm-up. We were in the second-to-last group with Poulter, a dream pairing. It wasn’t going to be like playing with Phil in front of a partisan New York crowd.

Alistair (Squirrel) Matheson Mick Donaghy, a good friend of mine, was on Poulter’s bag. Poulter turned up with a pink bag and a pink outfit. He stole all the attention, which helped.

Mick Donaghy On the Saturday, he had a stars-and-stripes bag—red, white and blue. After the third round, I told him we should use the same bag in the final round, but he told me he was going to use a pink bag. I thought he was kidding. “This is New York, mate,” I said. “They will crucify you.” But he went ahead. By the time we got to the range before the final round, the abuse was already unbelievable. The boys had already been on the drink. Typical New York stuff.

Dottie Pepper You don’t give a New York crowd a reason to get on your case.

Ian Poulter A guy in the crowd shouted, “It’s Father’s Day, not Mother’s Day!”

Mick Donaghy Maybe 10 guys could have won that day, but Poulter lost it before we teed off. He struggled to make bogey on the first. He was shaking.

Geoff Ogilvy I was still a bit nervous, but I actually birdied the fifth and the sixth—I went into the lead when I birdied the sixth. That turned out to be my last red number.

Dale Lynch (Ogilvy’s coach at the time): I heard later that Johnny Miller said on air that at least Geoff could tell his grandchildren he had led the U.S. Open.

Geoff Ogilvy (who made bogeys at 8, 9, 11 and 14): Walking off the 11th green, I glanced back to see Phil hitting it close from the trees—again. He made birdie to get to three over par. After I bogeyed 14, I was two behind and experienced the moment that just about everyone experiences in any golf tournament: I realized I probably wasn’t going to win. Which sucked. Sometimes that moment happens on the second hole on Thursday. Sometimes it comes along on the eighth playoff hole on Sunday. But it always happens at some point. And that was my moment.

Just weeks before the Open, Mickelson told Golf World that he was changing his approach. “I’ve taken a step back and become conservative in some areas so I can be aggressive in others,” said Mickelson, who was 14th on tour in total driving at the time but 99th in driving accuracy. “Instead of bombing a driver off a par 5 and leaving myself a 3-iron from the rough, I’m better off hitting a 3-wood off the tee and leaving myself a 3-wood from the fairway.” Those words would not age particularly well.

Geoff Ogilvy “Extraordinary” is the right word for that last hour. It was incredible. Take Phil. He had been hitting it onto the greens from the trees all day. I can’t recall how many times I looked back to see the spectators running into the trees to find his ball. Then, on the next tee, we’d hear the cheer when he somehow found the green with his next shot. He did it all day. Amazing.

Rick Smith (Mickelson’s coach from 2001-’06): Everything we had been working on—posting up and getting on top of it, controlling spin, hitting a cut, hitting a shorter-shafted driver—it was all to stay in the fairway and stay in play. He was fighting it most of the day, but he was surviving.

Phil Mickelson Well, first of all, I have to say that it was the single greatest short-game performance of my career. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been anywhere near having a chance to win the tournament. I struck the ball terribly, and to still have a chance to win a U.S. Open is simply mind-blowing to me, even to this day.

I put a 64-degree wedge in for the first time a month prior, and I spent a lot of time working with it leading up to that week. And it had the old grooves in it, which made a world of difference in the ability to grip the golf ball. I was able to hit shots you would never be able to hit now with the groove change. I could control the ball out of the rough, get some spin on the ball, get it to land soft, and my touch was the best it’s ever been. I got up and down from some ridiculous places.

One shot that sticks out in my mind was at No. 10 [in the third round]. I had missed the green bottom right, and it was such a hard up-and-down, and I hit this shot to about a foot. I couldn’t believe it myself how good that shot was, but that was the kind of week I was having with my short game.

Jim (Bones) Mackay (caddie for Mickelson at the time): I’ve seen the guy hit 300 incredible flop shots in his career, and the one at 10 was easily top two.

Johnny Miller (on the air for NBC as Mickelson made a 5 at the par-5 12th on Sunday): If he doesn’t win, it will be because of the par 5s. [Mickelson made six pars and two bogeys on the two par 5s for the week, including a 6 at the fifth hole on Sunday—then a par 5 for the Open—when he swung under his ball in the rough and moved it only a few feet].

Dottie Pepper That was supposed to be the beginning of the newer, kinder USGA. For the first time, we had graduated rough [progressively deeper rough the farther players missed the fairway].

Phil Mickelson But I was hitting it so bad off the tee that it really didn’t matter. I was hitting it into the people anyway. And I hit it so far off line that I kept finding my ball in trampled-down areas, so that allowed me to hit some shots. This year there won’t be any galleries [at Winged Foot], so I’m going to have to hit it straight. [Laughs.]

Jim (Bones) Mackay He had such a great attitude throughout the day. He was almost lighthearted about it—not joking, but he just stayed positive as he was trying to just hold the round together on a very difficult golf course.

Ogilvy’s bunker shot at the 13th hit about a foot above the flagstick and dropped within an inch of the hole—one of three times he would save par from off the green in the final six holes.

Dottie Pepper The moment seemed to get to Padraig Harrington [who failed to get up and down at 16 and 17 and three-putted from the fringe at 18]. Yes, the finish was crazy difficult, but it got to him.

Padraig Harrington If I had made three pars to finish, I would have won the U.S. Open. What transpired after that is what made me win three majors. As I walked off the 18th green and through the bleachers to the grass beyond the clubhouse, Bob Rotella [sport psychologist] was walking toward me. I could tell by his face he was coming to ease my pain. But I told him this wasn’t a bad thing. It felt like winning was within my control. I could see the majors coming. [The next year, Harrington won the first of back-to-back Open Championships, and he added the PGA Championship in 2008.]

Kenneth Ferrie (finished T-6, three shots behind Ogilvy): Afterward, I was the only one in the locker room. Then someone tapped me on the shoulder. It was Padraig Harrington. He said, “I know you must be disappointed, but you should be hugely proud of what you’ve done.” He hadn’t finished so well himself, so it speaks well of him that he had compassion for me. What a legend.

 


‘YOU CAN’T WIN THIS OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP MISSING EVERY FAIRWAY BUT TWO.’

WHOOPS Mickelson’s club flew under the ball in the rough at the fifth hole, moving it only a few feet. Photograph by Darren Carroll.

 

THE FINAL FOUR HOLES: ‘THEY’RE IMPOSSIBLE’

Geoff Ogilvy Squirrel said just the right thing as we walked to the 15th tee after the bogey at 14. [Ogilvy had missed the green from 123 yards.] “It’s OK,” he said. “Let’s just go and par the last four holes. No one else is going to do that. They’re impossible. So let’s hit this fairway, go from there, and see what happens.” I did hit the 15th fairway. And a relatively easy two-putt for par from 20 feet or so. So far, so good. I drove into the right rough off the 16th tee. That was the one time all week I was hitting from the deep hay.

I hit one of those back-foot, full-swing, break-every-bone-in-your-body 8-irons to about 40 feet short of the green. The pitch finished four feet away, and I made it for par. I’m halfway to my target.

I wasn’t paying any attention to anyone else at that stage. I had a new target: parring the last four holes. I thought I could maybe make a playoff.

Dottie Pepper It was really a battle to see who was the best of the worst. Or who was going backward slowest.

Geoff Ogilvy For some reason, the 17th had done my head in all week. And it did again. [He blocked his drive right.] The worst place you can hit it in a U.S. Open is into the long rough and under trees—it’s like a quadruple penalty. I couldn’t hit my ball into a good place. All I could do was get to a better place. I hacked out, trying to go under the tree limbs, and it pulled up in the rough—as I knew it would—still maybe 100 yards from the green. After my third shot, which I had to play to the left of the hole because of a tree, stayed left instead of kicking toward the hole, I thought that was it. I was walking to the green thinking I was done. You don’t chip in at that stage of the U.S. Open. You just don’t.

Alistair (Squirrel) Matheson He was maybe 25 feet from the hole.

Geoff Ogilvy So I’m just a few feet off the green. Monty had holed a huge putt [a 40-footer for birdie at 17 to tie for the lead after clipping a tree branch on his approach] to get to four over. I was five over, and Phil was four over playing behind me.

Alistair (Squirrel) Matheson It was a tough up-and-down. Geoff said something like, “What am I doing now?” I went, “Just chip it in.”

Geoff Ogilvy All I was thinking about was landing the ball on my spot, a couple of feet in front of me. If I did that, the ball was going to go past the hole but have a chance to go in. Right after I hit it, I thought it was a good shot, but a second later I realized how fast the green was.

Mick Donaghy His chip was headed over the green.

Alistair (Squirrel) Matheson The ball was going to go maybe 15 feet past.

Ian Poulter But it hit the pin dead center.

Mick Donaghy And went in. He made par instead of double.

Geoff Ogilvy Holy shit. . . . I went from I’m not going to win to I could win! I flipped out for a while.

All my life I’d watched people do stuff like that in similar situations, and that guy usually ends up winning. I actually thought that.

The U.S. Open is different. You think you’re out of it, then you make two pars, and you’re right there again. Then you make a bogey and you’re out. Then another par, and you’re in again.

Ian Poulter When you look back at big events, there is always something that goes your way. And that was Geoff’s moment.

Geoff Ogilvy I have to mention Ian Poulter at this point. He had been out of it for seven or eight holes and was legendary in how he behaved. He got out of my way if he needed to. He kept it light. We had a laugh or two. He was perfect.

Ian Poulter It was game over for me.

Mick Donaghy My lasting memory is sitting in the car heading to the airport with Poulter.

“What did I do wrong this week?” he asked me.

I told him he had done everything perfect for 54 holes. Then on the 55th hole, he stood on the tee with a pink golf bag. In New York. . . . Massive mistake.

 

IT’S ALL HAPPENING (top): Mickelson saved par from a trash bag at 17; Mickelson’s reaction after his tee shot went left at 18. Photographs by Stephen Szurlej.

 

BAD THINGS HAPPEN

Johnny Miller (on the air before Montgomerie found the fairway with his tee shot at 18): If he can make 4 from here, I think it’s better than 50-50 right now that he’s going to win the Open championship.

Mick Donaghy Walking to the 18th tee, Squirrel was asking me, “What do we hit?” I have no idea why he was asking me, but I told him to give Geoff the driver, the one with the biggest face. “That would be a good idea; your man is probably feeling a bit nervous.”

Geoff Ogilvy We had a long wait on the 18th tee. There must have been 10 minutes between me chipping in and hitting my tee shot. Maybe more. We were stuck because Vijay Singh, Monty’s playing partner, needed a ruling up ahead [after hitting his tee shot left into the Champions Pavilion, which would be revisited two groups later]. But what it did was give me time to calm down a little. If I had hit the tee shot right away, I might have rushed it. Over the previous three holes, I had been feeling a bit of pressure, but now, all of a sudden, it was on—I could make birdie and win outright. I had all that to think about as I stood there looking at what seemed to be the narrowest fairway in the world. I did have something to watch, too. Off the 17th tee, Phil had driven into a rubbish bin.

Johnny Miller (on the air after Mickelson’s tee shot): Didn’t have to hit a driver. . . . I’d be going with the 4-wood if I was him at this point.

Mick Donaghy But Phil got the ball on the green [after a free drop from 181 yards] and two-putted for par.

Geoff Ogilvy Looking forward, I could see Monty doing what he always does when he’s held up. He was doing his impatient thing, his “teapot” impression [hands on hips]. He was walking around and twirling the club in his fingers. You could almost hear him thinking, Come on, let me get on with this.

 


MONTGOMERIE STARED AT HIS APPROACH SHOT TO THE 72ND HOLE, AND HE DIDN’T LIKE WHAT HE WAS SEEING: ‘WHAT KIND OF SHOT IS THAT?’

Montgomerie was in perfect position in the fairway at 18 before short-siding himself and making a 6. Photographs by J.D. Cuban.

 

Colin Montgomerie I was just having a Sunday game, just a game with Vijay, just a few thousand people watching, that was all. [Laughter.]

Geoff Ogilvy I thought, Monty’s on the fairway; he’s going to make a 4 or a 3. I started almost patting him on the back.

I have to think I wasn’t really relevant as far as the other two were concerned. Phil wanted to beat Monty, and Monty wanted to beat Phil. They probably weren’t thinking about a guy who was five over par. They were both four over and trying to get in on that mark.

Johnny Miller (on the air as Montgomerie switched from a 6-iron to a 7 for his approach to 18): I’m surprised he just switched clubs when you’ve had 10 minutes to figure it out.

Dottie Pepper Monty stood up on it and missed where you can’t miss [in long rough short right, short-sided to the flagstick on the right of the green]. It was ugly stuff, which is what I think most people remember of that whole week.

Dale Lynch I saw Monty duff it, which was a shock. That shot was made for him. From the middle of the fairway to a right pin—perfect for him and his little fade.

Geoff Ogilvy Because the 18th at Winged Foot is a dogleg, we had no idea where Monty’s ball had finished. We couldn’t see the green. We knew he hadn’t hit it close—that would have provoked a roar. But he could have been on the green, or just off the edge.

Colin Montgomerie It’s a very tricky hole, but it shouldn’t be that tricky from the fairway. I did the hard thing, hit the fairway. That’s my strength, normally. I hit the wrong club for my second shot. . . . I switched from a 6 to a 7 [from 172 yards]; I thought adrenaline would kick in. I usually hit the ball 10 yards farther in that circumstance. I caught it slightly heavy, and it went slightly right. It was a poor shot, no question about that.

Montgomerie ran his third shot well past the hole and then three-putted—missing an eight-foot comebacker— to make a double-bogey 6 and finish at six over.

Johnny Miller (on the air): This is sad.

Denis Pugh When Monty hit the fairway off the 18th tee, I thought he had won. He had said in practice that the only place he couldn’t go on 18 was short right. “It’s double bogey down there,” he said. And that’s where he hit it. And his prediction was correct. So that is my memory: watching Monty win, then lose the U.S. Open.

Colin Montgomerie As difficult as it gets.

Denis Pugh That was the only time I saw Monty cry afterward. He knew he had beaten himself. He handled it so well for 71 holes. But these things last 72 holes, not 71. That’s the harsh truth.

The New York State Police confirmed there was a “collision” between Montgomerie and an officer as the player entered the scoring area, but no charges were filed.

Denis Pugh Monty never really looked back on that week. Not with me, anyway. He never said much other than two things: He should have hit the quiet 6-iron, not the firm 7-iron on 18, and he should have played rather than wait for Vijay to get a ruling. He was ready to hit and should have done so.

Dale Lynch I got to the 18th green, where Furyk was taking an eternity over his par putt. I thought he was never going to hit it. Then he missed [and finished one stroke back].

Jim Furyk (on the four-footer after his tee shot had taken a hard bounce left into the rough): I didn’t hit a great putt, but I didn’t hit a bad one, either.

Dottie Pepper Geoff was the only one who hit the shots he had to hit on the 18th. His ball flight was exactly what was required—high, and always with the right shape. He wasn’t married to one shot, which you can’t be at Winged Foot.

Geoff Ogilvy In that situation, it’s hard to get the tee in the ground, hard to get the ball on the tee. Holding the club, you’re thinking there’s an outside chance you could miss the ball. My hands had no feeling in them. My stomach was weird. But when I hit the shot that I did, the level of satisfaction I felt was otherworldly. That shot is why I play golf.

My drive was as good as I could do. It is still the best drive I’ve ever hit, considering the circumstances. It was the hardest I hit the ball all week. It was solid, right out of the middle of the club. One of those drives that you hit and pick up the tee immediately. On a more practical level, making par on that hole is almost impossible if you don’t hit the fairway. So the hardest part was over. I only had 9-iron yardage to the green on a pretty long hole. That was the good news. The bad news was yet to come. Walking to my ball, I could see that it was in a divot hole, one filled with sand. I went from satisfied to crestfallen. It wasn’t the worst lie ever, but it added a complication you don’t want on the first hole Thursday, never mind the last hole of the U.S. Open.

 

HOW TO HIT THE SHOT THAT WON THE U.S. OPEN

Imagine being under the ultimate pressure: You have to get up and down from a tight lie on the 72nd hole to have a chance to win the U.S. Open—but knowing that specific shot had been a trouble spot requiring years to overcome.
That’s exactly what Geoff Ogilvy faced in 2006 at Winged Foot.
“Geoff grew up in windy conditions playing a ball that spun a lot, so he had a really low, spinning wedge game,” says Dale Lynch, his coach at the time. “He didn’t have the high, soft one you need in American conditions. I remember we were in Tucson in 2005, where the greens were small and elevated. He didn’t have the shots for that course. So we knew he had to change. From then on, maybe 75 percent of his practice was learning to hit that higher chip/pitch. It was frustrating at first. Eventually he got there, though.”

 

HERE’S THE TECHNIQUE, AND A TIP
“Hit the shot by using the bounce of the club more, the shaft close to vertical at impact,” Lynch says. “So he had the ball forward in his stance, and he wasn’t taking divots. It was a clip off the top, hitting the ball using the true loft of the club. Before, he had the ball back, the shaft leaning forward, which brought the leading edge into play too much. It was a big change.”
Ogilvy confirms it wasn’t easy. “For maybe two years leading up to Winged Foot, my first and last port of call on practice days was always the chipping green. Every day. Doing it the Lynchy way, you can hit the ground first or the ball first and still produce a decent shot. You’ve got about an inch in which to make contact. But when you do it poorly, you’re almost sure to hit the shot fat or thin. And, what is typical in golf, we all instinctively go the wrong way when we have a bad feeling. So when you duff a chip, your instinct says, Put the ball farther back in your stance. So you duff it again because the leading edge is more exposed. Then you thin one, and you’re well on the way to being lost. If you use the bounce properly, it’s almost impossible to duff the shot. So you eliminate the chili-dip.”
Then came the 72nd hole at Winged Foot. “He had the courage to pull it off,” Lynch says. “What was pleasing for me to see when he hit that shot was that the club finished on his shoulder on the follow-through. When you release the club properly, there is a much slower and longer flow-through. There is no ‘holding off.’ ”
In practice sessions, Ogilvy hit a lot of right-hand-only shots. “That helps get the club on plane and helps release the club as opposed to ‘dragging the hands,’ which delofts the club and exposes the leading edge to the ground,” he says. “This leads to contact issues, and a shot that’s flying low and too fast. On those little ones, I would often set up quite upright, with the heel slightly off the ground. This is an old-school remedy that pros have known about for years. It just seems to help contact and also helps discourage the hands from becoming too active. And on that shot at Winged Foot, I made my practice swing and got satisfactory contact with the ground. You always want that. I always make practice swings until I get that distinct thump that comes with proper contact. You should, too.” —JH

 

Kenneth Ferrie The last hole was a weird one. And a shame for Phil. He hadn’t hit many fairways [none on the final nine, and only 24 for the week to rank T-51 among the 63 players who made the cut]. A couple of times he hit into places where I thought he was knackered, but he wasn’t. He got up and down every time. He had clearly done his homework. He knew where to miss.

Mackay had asked for confirmation on what was happening up ahead, and he was told that Montgomerie had made a double bogey to finish at six over par, which was confirmed on the leader board near the 18th tee. At four over, Mickelson led Ogilvy by a stroke. Before Mickelson hit his tee shot, Ogilvy would hit his approach at 18.

Geoff Ogilvy When I got to my ball in the divot hole, I looked up to see Monty two-putt from 15 feet or so. He didn’t get a “good par” clap for his tap-in. So we figured he made bogey. It wasn’t until I got to the green that I saw the leader board and that Colin had made a 6.

My ball was in a thin divot hole that had been sanded, but probably a few weeks earlier. The grass had started to grow back. It wasn’t one of those bunkers in the middle of the fairway divot holes, but it made the shot so much more difficult. I wasn’t going to get away with anything other than a perfect strike. I actually had to hit the ball a fraction thin, just to make sure I didn’t contact any sand. If I got one grain of sand between the ball and the club, the shot might go only halfway.

Alistair (Squirrel) Matheson He had 145 yards to the pin, but he was on an upslope in a divot. It was 135 yards over the front, which was the key yardage.

Geoff Ogilvy The 9-iron looked perfect in the air. When I hit it, I looked up and thought, That’s the shot that wins the U.S. Open. I thought I was going to make birdie and win. As it turned out, it was maybe five yards from perfect [before rolling back, off the front of the green]. There must have been just enough sand to affect the flight that much. It ran back maybe 20 yards.

That put the attention back on Mickelson on the tee at the 450-yard dogleg-left 18th, which played to a stroke average of 4.471 for the week, matching No. 1 as the most difficult hole of the week.

Johnny Miller (on the air): This better be a 4-wood.

Roger Maltbie (walking with Mickelson’s group for NBC): Phil got up on the tee, and there was a little bit of a wait. He pulls out a driver, and I hit the button [to talk off air]. And I’m going, “Geez, what’s he doing?” And Johnny was saying the same thing. But he pulls out the driver, and you fear the worst.

 


‘IT LOOKED LIKE PHIL HAD AN OPENING. . . HE’S AGGRESSIVE, NOT STUPID. BUT THIS IS A SICK GAME, REMEMBER.’

AT A LOSS “I’m sorry,” Mickelson told the crowd. “I can’t believe I did that.” Photograph by J.D. Cuban.

 

Phil Mickelson I didn’t have a 3-wood. I carried only a 4-wood. I felt like if I hit 4-wood and missed the fairway, I’d be too far back to do any good, to be able to chase one down there. I just tried to go to that little bread-and-butter carve slice, like I used at 13 at Augusta and some other holes, and over-cut that, too. [The ball hit a railing on the Champions Pavilion and bounced right, ending up on a walkway of heavily trampled rough with trees impeding the path to the green.]

Johnny Miller (on the air): I tell you what, right now Ben Hogan has officially rolled over in his grave.

Rick Smith Phil tried to hit this cut-punch we had been working on as a fairway-finder. The swing was huge—two feet past parallel—but he was trying to hit a stinger. He made this long swing and tried to punch it, and the face was open, and his arms couldn’t catch up to it. It’s so hard to make that big swing and then essentially stop it.

Roger Maltbie Matter of fact, if the tent wasn’t there, you hit over there far enough, you’d have more room to get the ball up and over.

Phil Mickelson I don’t know if hitting the tent was a bad break. I mean, that drive was pretty far left.

Rick Smith But the tee shot wasn’t the one that cost him. It was the next one.

Geoff Ogilvy (on playing his third shot at 18 before Mickelson hit his approach): When I get to the ball, I realize it’s in a pretty filthy little spot. At that point I was, for want of a better phrase, shitting myself a bit. There are 10,000 people ’round the green, and it’s the culmination of 72 holes. The reality was that I was 25 or 30 yards from the hole, 10 feet below the level of the cup and chipping off a really tight lie. I had to fly it maybe 15 yards, then grab a little bit, then run out to the pin. It was a very tricky shot. The fringes that week were tightly mown bentgrass. It was like chipping off a green. And I had to go up a hill, over the hill, then down to the pin. Then the green sloped up again after the pin. Nothing about it was easy. Making solid contact was really difficult, too.

I’d hit a great drive into a divot hole. Then I’d hit what I thought was an amazing second shot and come up short because of the divot hole. Normally I’d be looking at the sky asking, What do I need to do here?

But I wasn’t like that. It was, I need to get this up and down now. Which is weird looking back, but I’ve heard similar things from guys who have won big events. They had a calmness that wasn’t normal. It’s a feeling I’ve spent the rest of my golfing life trying to re-create. But I think it has to find me, rather than me find it.

And now, when I get my first real chance to win a major, I have to get it up and down on the last hole by hitting the shot Lynchy had spent the previous three years telling me I needed. Probably the best chip shot of my life—it felt like the ball was on the face of the club for about 10 seconds.

Dale Lynch Two years before, he did not have that shot. Not even close.

Alistair (Squirrel) Matheson The sound was so pure. I looked at the lob wedge when he gave it back to me. There was some paint off the ball on the face. It was right in the middle. That’s how good he hit it. The putt wasn’t easy, either.

Geoff Ogilvy It felt like 12 feet, but it was probably five.

Dale Lynch The greens that week [a mix of bentgrass and Poa annua] were awful.

Alistair (Squirrel) Matheson They were bumpy [at a speed of 12 on the Stimpmeter]. That’s why five over won. Had the greens been better, level would have won.

Geoff Ogilvy I patted myself on the back before I hit the putt. I told myself I’d already had a great week, which took away some of the pressure. I wasn’t about to let the putt ruin a great week if I missed. As soon as I hit it, I knew it was in.

That left Mickelson, back behind the trees, as Ogilvy’s lone challenger. A par to win; a bogey for a playoff.

Roger Maltbie He’s got a decent lie. So now he starts looking at the corners and up the trees—go up and over.

Kenneth Ferrie Even the best players aren’t immune from pressure and making bad decisions. It looked like Phil had an opening there from the scruff. He’s aggressive, not stupid. But this is a sick game, remember.

Nick O’Hern (finished T-6, three shots back): All he had to do was pitch out and leave himself a wedge to the green.

Roger Maltbie (on the air ): I can’t imagine him pitching out, Johnny. I just can’t see it.

Johnny Miller (on the air): I always thought precision golf was the key to winning U.S. Opens, but I guess I’m gettin’ old.

Rick Smith He gets to his ball, and his pre-shot routine is so fast. I wanted to yell, “Slow down! Pick your start line!” His heart rate had to be 240, and there are a billion people milling around. Breathe, breathe, breathe. It epitomizes how important pre-shot [routine] is, when you can repeat something you rehearsed before.

Phil Mickelson The shot that cost me, that bothered me, was the second shot. That hurt, because I had a tight lie, a good lie. All I had to do was cut a 3-iron around the tree and get it somewhere near the green. I was playing for a par. If I would make par, I’d win the tournament. I just thought, I can slice this. I had 185 front, 201, I think, to the hole. I thought I’d just put the 3-iron on the green, or if not on it, around it, and get up and down. . . . I had to hit a big, carving slice around the tree and over-cut it, just like I over-cut the tee shot and some of the other shots. Obviously, in hindsight, if I hit it in the gallery and it doesn’t cut, I’m fine. I can still make bogey, even par. I ended up hitting the tree [the same tree that cost him a bogey on Friday; he birdied the hole on Saturday] and just over-cut it . . . right in the tree. . . . It hit a branch and went right back at me [not far from where he had just hit] in the rough, and that was a really tough place to be.

 

MICKELSON’S U.S. OPEN HEARTACHE

Record six runner-up finishes
1999 Pinehurst
2002 Bethpage
2004 Shinnecock Hills
2006 Winged Foot
2009 Bethpage
2013 Merion
Recent U.S. Open finishes
2014 Pinehurst (T-28)
2015 Chambers Bay (T-64)
2016 Oakmont (missed cut)
2017 Erin Hills (did not play)
2018 Shinnecock Hills (T-48)
2019 Pebble Beach (T-52)

 

Rick Smith My heart was in my stomach. It was the same thing: His arms were behind him and never caught up. It was a push-cut right into the tree.

Roger Maltbie After he hit that second shot, he had a decent lie again. But now he’s closer to the trees. And you could see the look on his face. To me, he kind of looked like, Oh, man, now I’ve really done it.

Johnny Miller (on the air): Looks like he aged five years on that shot.

Ian Poulter Geoff and I were in the scorer’s hut. He had his head down, and I was watching the television. When I saw what Phil had done, I nudged Geoff. He needed to see what was going on.

Geoff Ogilvy Poulter had a look in his eye: We’re looking pretty good here. At that point it became “we” because we had played together all day. It was like a team-spirit thing. So Poulter and I are having a little party in the scorer’s hut.

Rick Smith I would have bet everything I own that he’d make no worse than bogey— even after the tee shot. Hit it in the bunker, hit it in the grandstand. Either place, you’re making no worse than bogey. But it’s like the virtuoso boxer who makes one mistake and gets hit, and he goes down. Mistakes get punished. That’s why it’s the U.S. Open.

Judy Ogilvy (Geoff’s mother, who was in Australia): Sitting in our pajamas, [husband] Michael and I were watching at home on television. It was very early in Monday morning for us. We had Channel 9 knocking on our door. We wouldn’t let them in, but they kept knocking. And we kept saying no, because the golf was still going on. They were saying he was going to win. But I knew they were just saying that to get us to let them in.

Mickelson’s third shot, an 8-iron from 185 yards, splashed into a fried-egg lie in the front-left bunker, downhill to the hole on the right side.

Alistair (Squirrel) Matheson Geoff said, “He’s not getting that up and down.”

Phil Mickelson And that was it. If I had simply started that 3-iron another two yards to the right and the ball gets up by the green or possibly on the green, I’m fine. But I just needed it near the green, because with it being the best short-game week of my career, I’m pretty sure I would have gotten it up and down, or at worst, made bogey and been in a playoff.

Johnny Miller (on the air): This is a nightmare right here. Absolutely you couldn’t have worse decisions than he’s had, I think, on this hole. I don’t care who you are—I know you all love Phil—but come on, you just gotta make par on this hole. He could hit a 2-iron, 3-iron off the tee, another long iron onto the green and say, “See you later.” You don’t have to run down the last stretch on a white stallion. You know, you can limp in there and say, “Thanks for the trophy.” . . . Just crazy shot selection.

Phil Mickelson (on his fourth shot): It was buried. It plugged in the lip on 16 [leading to a bogey], plugged in its divot on 18. I don’t know what happened in those bunkers. I’ve never seen so much sand all week. I just had very difficult shots.

Alistair (Squirrel) Matheson Phil’s bunker shot ran over the green [into long rough]. He had a chip to tie, but he made a meal of the hole [running the shot past the hole before making a seven-footer for double bogey].

Johnny Miller (on the air): To be honest with you, one of the worst collapses in U.S. Open history, by Phil Mickelson. . . . You can’t win this Open championship missing every fairway but two . . . In that position, you just win ugly, baby.

Mick Donaghy I was upstairs in the clubhouse. The TV was on. All the locker-room attendants were desperate for Mickelson to win it. He’s known to be a generous tipper; I can only imagine how much their tips would have been. Anyway, I screamed “Yes!” when he made double. The locker-room guys weren’t too happy with me.

Rick Smith Phil has always had all the shots, and the confidence to play them. Ironically, if he had been a lesser player, it might have been easier for him to do what he needed to do on 18—hit a boring, stock driver, a safe approach, take the bogey and at worst get into the playoff. But I know he was on the tee saying to himself, I’m going to scorch this stinger down there and I’m going to make a birdie.

Roger Maltbie So now we’re at the end of the broadcast, and Tommy Roy [NBC producer] is in my ear, and he says, “We need you to get a word with Phil.” So OK, the scoring was in the pro shop. And he goes in, and he sits there with Amy. And I’m waiting, and I’m not allowed to go in there. And they sit, and they sit, and they sit, and Tommy said, “We need an interview. You got to get him; you got to get him.” What can I do? I can’t do a dang thing. So all of a sudden, he gets up out of the chair, and he walks out and says, “OK, I’ll talk.” But we had just committed to going off the air. He just had this really dazed look on his face. It would have been a wonderful interview to get, although those things are tough. I mean, I’m sticking a microphone and a camera in front of somebody’s face as their house is burning down. But we never got to do the interview. I looked at him, and I said, “Well, thanks for coming out, but we’re going off the air. There’s nothing we can do here.”

The most shocking thing about that round was, in whatever our mind’s eye is as to how you win a U.S. Open, that’s not it, right? I mean, that’s decidedly not it. David Graham at Merion [hitting 15 greens and the fringe three times in the final round in 1981], that’s how you win a U.S. Open. But Phil almost pulled it off in Phil fashion.

Dale Lynch Most of the crowd at 18 didn’t know that Phil had taken 6. We hadn’t seen his second shot. A murmur went through the gallery when they brought the trophy and the table out. They thought there was going to be a playoff.

Geoff Ogilvy I could hear people wondering if Phil had signed for the wrong score or something. My head was still spinning when they handed me the trophy. Juli [Ogilvy’s wife], who was pregnant at the time, was in a bit of a state, too. There was a lot of satisfaction, though. The evening before, I had been interviewed by Jimmy Roberts of NBC. He talked to anyone they thought might have a chance to win. But Jimmy had clearly decided who was going to win: Phil. Which pissed me off. I remember walking out thinking he didn’t think I had a chance. Screw that guy. I like Jimmy, but he motivated me with that interview. One day later, of course, I got a real sense of satisfaction out of sitting down with Jimmy again. That sounds petty, and it didn’t last long, but I definitely felt it.

Phil Mickelson This is a tournament that I dreamt of winning as a kid, that I spent hours practicing— I mean, countless hours practicing—dreaming of winning this tournament, came out here weeks and months in advance to get ready and had it right there in my hand, man. It was right there, and I let it go. I just cannot believe I did that.

Rick Smith We were one shot from being No. 1 in the world for the first time [a ranking Mickelson has never achieved despite 44 PGA Tour wins and five major-championship victories]. . . . Phil and I sat in the locker room together afterward, and it was just, “What happened?” And he got up and did the classiest thing I’ve ever seen. He went out and signed autographs for whoever wanted one.

Mickelson also sought out Winged Foot’s staff members, thanked them for their work, shook their hands, and discreetly handed each a wad of cash: $1,000 here, $1,500 there. Mickelson had made multiple treks to Winged Foot before that year’s Open—spending an entire day to play a practice round in late April—so he wanted to thank everyone. (“He made so many trips to Winged Foot,” wrote Golf World’s Bob Verdi, “he almost had to pay a state tax.”) It’s reasonable to estimate that Mickelson handed about $10,000 in tips to staff throughout the week, according to people who were there. But as he was driving away, Mickelson felt compelled to turn the car around. He realized he had forgotten to tip a handful of the locker-room guys, and he didn’t want to leave without taking care of everyone.

Tina Mickelson (Phil’s sister): In a career as long and successful as Phil’s, there also are going to be disappointments. I think the one at Winged Foot was the hardest for him. He isn’t one to dwell on setbacks, but that one stayed with him awhile. Wanting to help put it to rest, I thought of throwing a party. I was going to have a piñata made of the Winged Foot logo, and I was thinking we could all bash the piñata, and with it, that memory. But the maker of the piñatas didn’t get the concept, and the idea fell apart. Which is just as well. It was better to let the Winged Foot episode slowly fade away.

Phil Mickelson (in a Golf Digest interview a year after the loss): I might see a clip of Winged Foot every once in a while. I don’t mind seeing it over again. I don’t cover my eyes or anything like that. You learn from your mistakes, and my mistake there wasn’t hitting driver off the 18th tee on Sunday. No, it was the second shot that cost me. I had a great lie, and all I had to do was cut it around the tree. Instead, I just blocked it into the tree. It happens.

Dottie Pepper It was not a fun week. The course smelled bad because there had been so much rain and mud. It was like a farmyard. I can still smell that compound. It was disgusting. So the finish was what we should have expected. The irony is that, while everyone in America remembers what Phil did, it was actually Monty who came closest to winning.

 

STAT PACK

Ogilvy’s statistics and rank in each category among the 63 players who made the cut:
306.4 yards driving distance (6);
32 fairways hit (T-21);
42 greens in regulation (T-13);
118 putts (T-9).

The leaders in each category:
driving distance, J.B. Holmes, 316.3 yards;
fairways hit,
Jeff Sluman, 38;
greens in regulation, Sluman, 48;

putting, Jeev Milkha Singh, 113.

 

Geoff Ogilvy (on whether he’s ever discussed what happened that week with Mickelson or Montgomerie): Phil is not someone who carries regrets. He put it behind him pretty quickly. But we have had a few laughs about it over the years. Nothing serious. But other than a quick “well done” at Hoylake a month later, Monty has never mentioned it to me. But what can they say?

Phil Mickelson (on people assuming he’s tormented by the memories): First of all, there’s something about being in that position that’s exciting, win or lose. That’s why we play. Also, having won three majors before Winged Foot [and two more after Winged Foot, at the 2010 Masters and the 2013 Open at Muirfield], I think it wasn’t as devastating as it might have been. Obviously I want to win a U.S. Open. And I’ve come close. Now, if I never win a U.S. Open, I’ll look back at my career and wish I had.

Geoff Ogilvy (asked if he cares that many people don’t remember what he did, though they recall Mickelson and Montgomerie’s tribulations): Not even a little bit.

 

CELEBRATION Ogilvy and friends set up in a hotel lobby for hours to enjoy his win. Photograph by Dom Furore.

 

CELEBRATION AND REFLECTION

Adam Scott (Ogilvy’s fellow Aussie, on changing plans to fly to London on Ernie Els’ plane): When Geoff finished, I was about to get into the car and go to the airport from Ernie’s house. And Ernie wasn’t waiting. [Laughs.] We were staying quite close by. I was with Thomas Bjorn, who told me I should go back, which was no surprise. When I won the Players [in 2004], Thomas came back to the course to congratulate me. Just for the sake of someone being around.

Alistair (Squirrel) Matheson Geoff spent so much time with the media, I left. I should have stayed and gone out with them, but I didn’t. I spent the evening in White Plains on my own. I went out for something to eat, and no one knew me, of course. I had lost a major before—Parnevik should have won with me on the bag at Troon in 1997. That was hard. So this was special.

Dale Lynch We went back to the hotel in Westchester. We were all drinking in the lobby. Funnily enough, the chat was quite flat. Winning can be like that sometimes—the adrenaline is out of the system. What was cool was everyone coming over as they entered the hotel.

Adam Scott Geoff’s win certainly motivated me to win a major. I was jealous. Geoff made it possible for me, even if it took me awhile [winning the 2013 Masters]. We were/are close. So I did what a mate would do. He’d done the same for me at Lytham [when Scott bogeyed the final four holes in the 2012 Open Championship to lose to Els by a shot].

Geoff Ogilvy (on whether the championship at Winged Foot was won or lost): If you only watched the last two holes, that’s the only way to see the result. In the last hour, I didn’t win it as much as I survived the battle. I parred the last four holes. [Mickelson, Montgomerie, Furyk and Harrington played them in nine over par.] Over the 72 holes, I shot a score that was one shot less than the next-best guy. That’s what they ask you to do on the first tee on Thursday. And I did just that. Every shot is equal to every other shot, so maybe some other guys lost their chance to win on that first tee. We don’t know that. So you can look at this event in the same way you can look at every other event: The guy who won is just the one guy who didn’t lose.

Additional reporting by MATTHEW RUDY and GUY YOCOM

THE FINAL STANDINGS

+5 (285) Ogilvy 71-70-72-72

+6 (286) Furyk 70-72-74-70

+6 (286) Montgomerie 69-71-75-71

+6 (286) Mickelson 70-73-69-74

+7 (287) Harrington 73-69-74-71