My First Major Championship- 1994 US Open
As a young kid I dreamed of playing Major Championships. Who didn't finish their practice routine with a putt to win The Masters?
My first Major was the 1994 United States Open held at the remarkable Oakmont CC outside of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. It was slight unexpected appearance as I pre-qualified for the event in the 36 hole shootout they hold the week before at venues all across the USA.
I had been invited to play The Kemper Open in Washington DC and stayed on the next day for the pre qualifying at Woodmont CC where I shot rounds of 64-69 to lead the qualifiers. A week later I would be heading to Pittsburgh for my first crack at a Major.
It really was an amazing week in many ways. I had heard many stories about how fast the greens were at Oakmont and got my first taste of that in Monday's practice round when I proceeded to hit my first putt from 20 feet away at least 25 feet past the hole off the green and into the rough!! I vividly remember holing out on the 7th hole during that same practice round with a 4 iron. The ball hit some 35 feet left of the hole but with the contours and the speed of the greens the ball slowly snaked it's way around to the right- and with the humongous crowd rising from a hum to a massive roar the ball finally fell into the cup.
I played a practice round with friend Frank Nobilo- who would go on to a great week in his first US Open also- where he would play in the final group with Ernie Els in the final round that Sunday. I also played the back nine on Tuesday with Jose Maria Olazabal who had won the Masters 2 months earlier.
The weather all week was brutally hot. 100 degree temperatures with stifling humidity- made even worse by the huge galleries who blocked the air flow from lining every fairway around the course.
After opening with rounds of 71-72 to be 1 over par I found myself in the top 10 after two rounds but a disappointing weekend where the fast greens finally got the better of me, I ended up 10 over par and in a tie for 37th place. Still a great week for my first taste of true Championship golf.
A couple of eventful things also occurred throughout the week. I managed to evacuate the hotel from cooking a steak in my room- and too much smoke from the grill turned the alarms on. Imagine playing your first Major and then causing most of the players such as Faldo & Els to remove themselves from their rooms until the hotel staff realized it was a false alarm.
I heard the loudest roar I had ever heard first hand in golf when siting in the upstairs locker room preparing for my first round I looked out the window and saw Jack Nicklaus- the Golden Bear himself- bomb a 40 footer side winding putt into the hole on the 18th green for an opening round 3 under 69.
Oakmont that year also marked the end of an era, as The King- Arnold Palmer- bowed out of US Open play, by finishing his career just down the road from where he lived and grew up in Latrobe, PA. I was fortunate enough to be able to sneak into the press room when he gave his final emotional speech- full of tears as his US Open chapter came to a close.
Monday also happened to be a three way playoff between Els, Colin Montgomerie and Loren Roberts for the title that was over shadowed by amazing scenes of OJ Simpson crawling down the freeways of Los Angeles in the white Bronco.
So there were many highlights on and off the course and what a great introduction to Major Championship golf.