1. Ben Hogan, 1950 U.S. Open
Situation: Hogan needs a par to force a playoff with Tom Fazio and Lloyd Mangrum. He’s in the fairway, about 200 yards from the green. Hogan is playing through searing pain in his legs, the result of a head-on crash with a bus in February of 1949 that nearly killed him.
Result: Hogan selects a 1-iron and his shot settles on the green. Hogan two-putts for par and wins the playoff the next day.
2. Jack Nicklaus, 1972 U.S. Open
Location: Pebble Beach
Situation: Nicklaus comes to the 17th hole with a three-stroke lead over Bruce Crampton.
Result: The Golden Bear selects a 1-iron. His shot lands on the green, bounces, and then hits the flagstick for a kick-in birdie. Nicklaus wins the championship, the 13th major victory of his career.
U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, 71st Hole, 1-iron (at the 1:37 mark of this video):
3. Tom Watson, 1982 U.S. Open
Location: Pebble Beach
Situation: Watson is tied with Nicklaus, who’s in the clubhouse being interviewed by Jack Whitaker. Watson short-sides himself with his tee shot, and his ball is resting in thick rough. A bogey seems inevitable. Watson’s caddie, Bruce Edwards says: “As he was getting ready to play the shot, I came over and said, ‘Now get this close.’ Well, he looked up and replied, ‘To hell with getting it close – I’m going to make it.’”
Result: Watson holes the shot, birdies the 18th hole, and wins by two. “I remember the ball gets on the green and starts rolling. When it’s about a foot away from the cup, he looks up at me and says, ‘I told you so.’ Then the ball goes in and he turns to me again and says, ‘I told you so,’” Edwards says. “In my opinion, it was the best clutch shot he’s ever played. I mean, the U.S. Open was on the line, and with all that pressure. It was one for the ages.”
4. Bobby Jones, 1923 U.S. Open
Location: Inwood Country Club
Situation: After 17 holes of an 18-hole playoff with Bobby Cruickshank, they are tied. On 18, a long par four, neither Jones nor Cruickshank is in the fairway. The green is guarded by water and Cruickshank laid up.
Result: Jones has a 190-yard shot and selects a 2-iron. His golf ball comes to rest 8 feet from the hole. Jones two-putts to win the U.S. Open and start an eight-year run that would include winning the U.S. Amateur five times, the U.S. Open four times, the British Open three times, The British Amateur once, and The Grand Slam (all four in the same year) in 1930.
5. Corey Pavin, 1995 U.S. Open
Situation: Pavin is the leader by one shot over Greg Norman and Tom Lehman, who are playing the 16th hole.
Result: Pavin selects a 4-wood, the ball lands just short of the green and rolls to about 6 feet. In the TV booth, Johnny Miller exclaims: “That’s the shot of his life.” Pavin two-putts and wins the championship, the only major victory of his career.
6. Arnold Palmer, 1960 U.S. Open
Location: Cherry Hills
Situation: Entering the final round, Palmer trails the leader, Mike Souchak, by seven strokes, and 13 players stand between him and Souchak. The group of 13 includes Ben Hogan, an amateur player (Jack Nicklaus), Gary Player, Sam Snead, and Billy Casper.
Result: Palmer drives the 346-hole par 4 and birdies the hole, igniting a round of 65 that wins the championship, two strokes clear of Nicklaus. Here’s Dan Jenkins’s recollection of the tournament.
7. Hale Irwin, 1974 U.S. Open
Location: Winged Foot
Situation: The 1974 U.S. Open, known as The Massacre at Winged Foot, came one year after Johnny Miller posted a 63 in the final round to win at Oakmont. “The USGA said, ‘We’re not going to have that happen again,’” says Tom Watson. The course setup is the most difficult in Open history, at that time. The average score after the first round was 78, and nobody broke par.
Result: Irwin leads by two as he steps to the 18th tee. On his second shot, he hits a 2-iron to 20 feet to seal the victory, a 7-over-par total of 287.
8. Tom Kite, 1992 U.S. Open
Location: Pebble Beach
Situation: Kite says of the weather for the final round: “You talk to the players, and almost to a man they consider it one of the most difficult days they ever played golf, especially for those of us who went off late. The day got progressively worse.” On the 100-yard 7th hole, only one of the final players hit the green. Kite missed the green long and left.
Result: Kite selects a lob wedge and holes it. He goes on to win by two strokes over Jeff Sluman. Kite says: “The lob wedge is really the club that won that tournament for me. As most people who follow my career and the game know, I was the first one ever to use the L-wedge. I put it in the bag in 1980, long before anyone had ever tried it.” Video of Kite’s shot (scroll down to 1992)