The 1994 US Senior Open – One That Got Away

Grainy footage from the TV coverage shows Graham Marsh and I on the 72nd hole.

As 1990 drew to a close, so too did my involvement in the dual role as caddy / assistant to Graham Marsh, a role which had involved caddying on the Japan Golf Tour amongst other business-related activities.

As Graham’s golf course design company, Marsh Watson, began to grow and secure more work, a larger structure was required to service that work but such matters can be akin to the chicken and egg syndrome, namely, which comes first?

Marsh and his then business partner, Ross Watson, expanded the company’s team but it would then become important to secure on-going work to justify the increased workforce.

A consultant was engaged to restructure the company and I was offered to role as Sales Manager for Marsh Watson which would involve a move from Perth to the company’s head office in Robina on the Gold Coast.

While disappointed to be giving up the caddying side of the role and the time in Japan I had been involved in for the previous 20 months or so, the position that had been created was particularly attractive in terms of my own future prospects.

I left for the Gold Coast in early 1991, took up residence on there and began my time sourcing work for the company by regularly traveling through Asia and the Pacific. I will go into greater detail on that role and my own view of the golf course design industry during those times in a later piece.

I caddied for Graham in a one-off event, The Four Tours Championship in Adelaide in late 1991, but that aside it would not be until 1994 when I would caddy again.

In late 1993 and just prior to turning 50, Graham, despite his significant success internationally, was required to go through the very difficult task of qualifying for the US Senior Tour and managed to secure one of the very few cards available for 1994.

I often chuckle when I hear golfers of all sorts of skill levels telling me that once they have reached the age of 50, they intend to play senior golf at a professional level. My experience has highlighted just how tough it was to even get a tour on which to play at that level and the exceptional standard of play required to survive once there.

Graham had, though, remained competitive on the Japan Golf Tour right through to the age of 50 and that would stand him in good stead for what lay ahead.

In his rookie season I expressed a desire to Graham that I would enjoy the chance to travel to the USA to take a few weeks off my role with his design company and caddy for him in a few selected events.

It was agreed and I left for Nashville in June of 1994 for events in Nashville, Dearborn (near Detroit) and finally the US Senior Open at Pinehurst in North Carolina.

The first event was at the Larry Nelson designed Gaylord Opryland Resort just outside of Nashville, Graham finishing 8th behind Lee Trevino.

We then headed to Detroit and, more specifically, Dearborn just outside that city, the home of the Ford Headquarters where a Jack Nicklaus designed layout, the TPC Dearborn, would host the Ford Players Championship.

Graham finished 14th that week behind the winner Dave Stockton and for me there was the thrill of being paired with Nicklaus himself in the final round. I recall it being in an era where caddies and players hardly exchanged pleasantries after a round, as is the case now, but Nicklaus made a point of doing so.

I had, admittedly, caddied in the same group as him previously and would again at Congressional Country Club near Washington DC the following year, but it further confirmed the high regard in which I held the then greatest player of all time.

From Dearborn we headed to Pinehurst in North Carolina, flying down to Raleigh and then driving the hour or so to the outstanding multi-golf course destination.

Graham and I leaving Raleigh for Pinehurst.

I had caddied at Pinehurst # 2 in 1979 in the then Colgate World Hall of Fame Classic, named because the Hall of Fame stood at the end of the 4th hole there. It has been more recently relocated to St Augustine in Florida and is now owned by the PGA of America.

My earlier visit, however, had been at a time in my life when my appreciation of golf course design was perhaps not at the level it was when arriving there in 1994.

On arrival and checking into the delightful Carolina Hotel nearby the golf courses, Graham indicated he would take the afternoon off and we would meet for dinner later. I said I would head out onto the golf course to refresh my knowledge of the layout and do the yardages for the front nine and complete the balance early the next morning.

The Carolina Hotel – more salubrious than some of my previous caddie digs

Once on the golf course, however, I simply fell in love with what I was seeing. This was the same layout later used for the 1999 and 2005 US Opens and was before the major alterations by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore in 2010.

I found a pay phone on the golf course (it was before the prevalence of mobiles) and called Graham to tell him that I might be a little late for dinner. So taken was I with the golfing environment and the golf course itself that I decided to stay on and do all 18 holes before heading back.

To use a term I often use when describing a golf course that moves me, it smelt of golf as indeed does the village of Pinehurst itself which thrives on golf tourism. While very different in their heritage there are similarities between what Pinehurst means to American golf and what St Andrews means to golf elsewhere.

I immediately had a great feel for the place and really felt it was the sort of golf course on which Graham could do well and so it would prove.

It was a week interrupted by the summer afternoon storms so prevalent in that particular region part of the US and on three occasions the field was required to return to the golf course in the morning to complete a round from the previous day.

By Sunday morning, after the completion of a delayed third round early that day, Graham trailed Zimbabwe’s Simon Hobday by six shots but was alone in second place and played with Hobday and American Jim Albus in the final round.

Hobday was feeling the pinch throughout and appeared to be falling apart at the seams with the prospect of winning such a significant title. By the time the trio reached the 18th tee on Sunday afternoon, Graham and Hobday were tied at 10 under par one ahead of Albus.

If these names seem a little unfamiliar to you, then a look at the first page of the leader-board which included the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Dave Stockton and Tom Weiskopf might help in assessing the quality of play needed to be in the position in which the leaders found themselves.

The video below captures the final stages of the dramatic day beautifully, but Graham drove first at the 18th and split the fairway although Hobday would also drive it well.

Video footage of the final hole

The par 4 last hole at Pinehurst plays uphill and, on this day, there was a stiff breeze into the players’ face as the trio were about to play their approaches.

Graham had 169 yards to the flag and, as we stood over the ball, he quizzed me by thinking aloud. This was in an era long before the dramatic increase in distances the last 25 years has seen come into the game. I was thinking a 5 iron and Graham appeared as if that was his thinking as well.

There were a couple of circumstances we perhaps did not think through enough. The breeze was sheltered a little by the clubhouse behind the green, the accepted rule of thumb, especially when under pressure, is to hit the lesser club (6 iron) in order to release the club properly and stay committed to the shot and the adrenaline factor needed to be considered.

As to where a shot with a different club might have finished we will never know, the approach by Graham finishing exactly flag high, admittedly, but it was a shot that was always right of the green as he perhaps eased off on the shot a little.

Hobday, who was by that time 4 over for the round, somehow found the green albeit some 35 feet behind the hole.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the television coverage – Hobday was comically showing the world the pressure he was feeling

I stood alongside the ball as Graham surveyed his shot. I really felt it was a pitch a run across the green with perhaps a wedge to negotiate a gentle tier some 20 feet short of the hole but echoing in my mind was a conversation Graham and I had had a couple of weeks earlier in Nashville.

When I had then asked him how things were going with the American caddies he had regularly on his bag he made the comment that they were good but there were times when they wanted to tell him how to play particular shots.

As he grabbed the 56-degree sand iron from the bag, I felt it was the wrong type of shot as to my mind he needed to get the ball running but I will admit, especially given his comment three weeks earlier, I was reluctant to say anything. He had not sought my advice and at this crucial moment I was not about to offer it without him asking.

As the video shows, the pitch from a slightly uphill lie was not struck well, failed to negotiate the tier and finished 12 feet short. He would miss that putt and, somehow, Hobday two putted while admitting himself to ‘choking’ as he referred to his own open and visible display of nerves.

Hobday shakes hands with Albus and Marsh

So Hobday had beaten Graham and Jim Albus by one. It was an opportunity lost as it was hard to imagine Hobday could have held on the following day in an 18-hole playoff.

I headed into the locker room and waited for Graham to finish his media commitments, wondering how he might accept what was a missed opportunity for a senior major in his rookie season. He had after all won in his rookie season on the regular PGA Tour in 1976 and this would have made a nice double.

“I think we might have hit the wrong club at the last,” was his comment (referring to his 5 iron approach) when he walked in to find me packing up the bag.

“Yes, and I think there were two wrong clubs hit on that hole,” I replied.

We dined together that evening at one of the many restaurants in the Pinehurst village and as we headed back to the hotel we walked past a noisy gathering in one of the other hotels. It was Hobday and a group of his friends and hangers-on having a great old time.

I suggested to Graham we should join them for a drink which we did and Hobday, as only Hobday could and in a light-hearted manner, told Graham that he thought it was he (Hobday) that was choking up the last.

He was of course referring to the fact that he had held on despite the pressure being applied and, in the end, it had been Graham that had stumbled at the final hurdle. It was all in jest of course and treated that way.

We stayed for a couple more drinks and the interlude had broken the ice on what had been a long and tiring day and ended my three weeks on the US Senior Tour with at least a bit of frivolity.

Simon Hobday kisses Pinehurst’s 18th green after winning

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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