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Published: Sunday, 7/24/2011

U.S. SENIOR OPEN

Inverness adds to its rich history

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

The Inverness Club began crafting its prestigious place in American golf in 1920, when the U.S. Open was played on the now legendary and historic layout. This was the first major played at Inverness and it set a very high standard for attracting the game's greats to the Dorr Street course.

That 1920 U.S. Open had Bobby Jones, the most prolific amateur of all time, in its star-studded field. Just 18 at the time, Jones played the first two rounds of the tournament paired with Harry Vardon, an icon in the sport who was 50 when the Open first came to Inverness.

Vardon, who had won the U.S. Open a record six times prior to playing Inverness, was a dominant figure in golf. He won 62 tournaments in his career, including one stretch of 14 in a row. He made the 1920 U.S. Open at Inverness his final appearance in the Open, finishing second behind Ted Ray.

But Vardon had been poised to win a seventh U.S. Open when he came down the stretch at Inverness, leading by five shots with five holes to play. The veteran competitor fell apart on the final nine, putting a ball in the water on No. 17 and suffering through three three-putt greens.

Jones, who tied for eighth in that 1920 U.S. Open at Inverness, was joined in the field that year by an 18-year-old Gene Sarazen, who tied for 30th in the event, and Tommy Armour. Sarazen would win the Open two years later, while Jones captured his first Open title three years after visiting Inverness and Armour won the Open in 1927.

The U.S. Open would return to Inverness three more times. Billy Burke won the 1931 Open there, but not before taking part in a marathon battle of endurance and stamina with George Von Elm. The championship wasn't settled until the two had played 144 holes -- an amount equal to two full tournaments -- and the longest playoff in the history of American golf.

The pair had tied at 8-over par 292 after the regulation event, and engaged in a 36-hole playoff the following day, but were tied again at 7-over 149. With another 36-hole match the following day, again contested during a July heat wave, Burke was a 148-149 winner.

Dick Mayer won the 1957 U.S. Open at Inverness, defeating Cary Middlecoff by seven shots in an 18-hole playoff after the two finished tied following 72 holes. The title in the 1979 U.S. Open at Inverness went to Hale Irwin, who beat runners-up Gary Player and Jerry Pate by two strokes.

Irwin, who will compete in the 2011 U.S. Senior Open at Inverness this week, expects the course to offer unique challenges once again, much like those presented by the recent 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional in Maryland.

"Well you certainly look at how the course is prepared, whether it is Congressional or Inverness. They are two different golf courses but they each speak volumes about the quality and the kind of golf you have to play," Irwin said.

The parade of golf majors contested at Inverness also includes the 1973 U.S. Amateur won by Craig Stadler, the 1986 PGA Championship won by Bob Tway and the 1993 PGA won by Paul Azinger.

Tway won his Inverness title by holing out from a greenside bunker on No. 18 and became the first player in the modern era to win the PGA crown with a birdie on the final hole. Azinger won his only major championship here by defeating Greg Norman on the second hold of a sudden death playoff.

The U.S. Senior Open made its first visit to Inverness in 2003, and Bruce Lietzke won the event with a 6-under score of 207. He bested runner-up Tom Watson by two strokes.

Inverness, which has also played host to the 2009 NCAA Division I men's golf championship, is expected to offer this year's field of senior players a stern test once again.

"You know the golf course is one of the most difficult and historic courses in the country, so you know you're going to need to be able to play a lot of shots," said Peter Jacobsen, who was tied for 28th in the 1993 PGA Championship at Inverness.

"You also know that the greens will be hard, fast and difficult to putt and that the green surroundings will have thick rough which will make chipping and pitching tricky. Keeping your approach shots below the hole locations is imperative."

Contact Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6510.



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