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What Have Been The Toughest US Opens

By: | Wed 15 Jun 2022

From its earliest beginnings, the US Open has long been defined by the brutal examination that it presents to the world's most skilled golfers. 

Length is often a factor, but typically we see narrow fairways, thick rough and terrifyingly fast greens. The challenge in America's national championship is as much psychological as it is merely a test of execution through the bag. Courses are taken to the edge of conventional playability by the USGA - and sometimes that line has been crossed.

But what have been the toughest editions of the event? Well, it's rare to find one that hasn't been difficult, but there are some through the generations that were strikingly testing for a variety of reasons. 

Here are just ten standouts from the post-WWI era - but you could have easily identified more!


Venue: Oakmont

Winning Score: +13

Cut Line: +19

Detail: The last time that the US Open was won by a 72-hole score greater than 300, Scotland's Tommy Armour defeated England's Harry Cooper in a deciding playoff after tying on 301 (+13) for the week.

Just one round under 70 was shot in this championship - a 69 by Al Espinosa - and neither of the leading two players managed to break par during any round at Oakmont.


Venue: Oakland Hills

Winning Score: +7

Cut Line: +12

Detail: There were just two under-par rounds shot during this championship, including a winning 67 by the great Ben Hogan, who successfully defended the title. The Texan's 287 total was +7 in relation to par with 55 of 160 players making the cut that fell at a staggering +12. 

The first of the 'Open Doctors' Robert Trent Jones had revamped the course beforehand to enhance the difficulty, something that would become a USGA trademark.


Venue: The Olympic Club

Winning Score: +7

Cut Line: +15

Detail: Municipal course pro Jack Fleck created the biggest upset in US Open history by defeating Ben Hogan in a playoff, denying the great man a fifth title.

Fleck's final two scores (including the 18-hole playoff) of 67 and 69 defied the challenge of a layout that resulted in the highest cut line total in the post-war history of the championship.


Venue: Southern Hills

Winning Score: +3

Cut Line: +14

Detail: Tommy Bolt's +3 total was enough to win by four strokes in Tulsa, with brutal heat and wind terrorising the field. 55 players made the cut that fell at 154 (+14) with none of the field shooting under-par in the opening round.


Venue: The Country Club

Winning Score: +9

Cut Line: +10

Detail: 43-year-old Julius Boros defeated Jacky Cupit and Arnold Palmer in a playoff to win, but their 72-hole total of 293 (+9) remains the highest in post-World War II US Open history.

Windy conditions at Brookline contributed to a final round scoring average of 77.4.


Venue: Pebble Beach

Winning Score: +2

Cut Line: +10

Detail: Jack Nicklaus survived a punishing final round on the Monterey Peninsula, with the gusty breeze resulting in a Sunday scoring average of 78.8, the highest in post-war US Open history.

Nicklaus's winning total of 290 is a lofty number that hasn't been matched since.


Venue: Winged Foot

Winning Score: +7

Cut Line: +13

Detail: The "Massacre at Winged Foot" is what this championship became known as. No one broke par during the final round, but Hale Irwin did enough to lift his first of three US Open titles by finishing on 287 (+7) after four days of attrition. 

The cut fell at +13 and was missed by the likes of Tony Jacklin, Billy Casper and Lee Trevino.


Venue: Shinnecock Hills

Winning Score: -4

Cut Line: +6

Detail: The first two days of this championship were comparatively straightforward - but that all changed on the weekend. Taking the greens across the edge of playability, the USGA was forced to water them between groups on Sunday, but that didn't prevent a final round scoring average of 78.7.

Remarkably, Retief Goosen shot 71 in those conditions to win his second title.


Venue: Winged Foot

Winning Score: +5 

Cut Line: +9

Detail: Most recall this US Open for the disastrous finishes of Phil Mickelson and Colin Montgomerie, who both threw away opportunities to win on the final hole. Tiger Woods missed the cut for the first time as a professional, but it was Australia's Geoff Ogilvy who clung on for a memorable victory.


Venue: Oakmont

Winning Score: +5 

Cut Line: +10

Detail: Oakmont was characteristically unyielding at this US Open, with Angel Cabrera posting a brilliant final round of 69 to give him the clubhouse lead at +5 that Jim Furyk and Tiger Woods couldn't match.

Cabrera's high winning total of 285 (+5) hasn't been matched in any championship since.

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