The U.S. Open is a tournament anomaly. It has galvanized a few careers, ruined a handful of others. Oftentimes, the most likely winner is someone you least expect. Here’s a list of those champs, those players that came out of nowhere to win on golf’s biggest stage.
8. Andy North – 1978, 1985 Champion
Andy North has three wins on the PGA tour. Two came at the U.S. Open in 1978 and 1985. It is perhaps the strangest achievement in golf history.
7. Geoff Ogilvy – 2006 Champion
Oglivy topped Furyk, Phil Mickelson and Colin Montgomerie by one stroke to win his first and only major. He has won 7 PGA Tournaments since and established himself as solid pro for some time. However, he has been cut from the Open in three of the last four years and has not won a tournament since the Australian Open in 2010.
6. Angel Cabrera – 2007 Champion
Cabrera hung around and used a birdie on a historically long par-3 8th hole with a 20-foot put to win. He became the first Argentine golfer to win a U.S. Open and the second to win a major. If the nickname “the Duck” doesn’t make him an unlikely winner then I don’t know what does. Even he couldn’t believe it, saying at a post-match interview he “never thought this was possible.” Cabrera joked, “Well, there are some players that have psychologists, some have sport-ologists, I smoke.
5. Webb Simpson – 2012 Champion
The media ignored Simpson before the tournament — even during. It was only his second appearance at the Open. Then on the last day, he rattled off four birdies in five holes to close out the front nine. Even after that, no one thought Simpson could finish his day in the manner with which he started. Simpson finished ahead of Michael Thompson and previous phenom winner Graeme McDowell with a two-under 68 in the final round. He spent one week on top of the FedEx Cup standings. After that, however, Simpson fell precipitously from golfing grace. He missed three cuts in six tournaments including the Masters and Players.
4. Corey Pavin – 1995 Champion
Pavin won only one major, like many of the others on this list, though he had success winning much smaller tournaments. He won by two strokes with a 68 in the final round over Greg Norman. His 4-wood at the 18th hole is widely regarded as one of the most memorable shots in U.S. Open history.
3. Michael Campbell – 2005 Champion
Campbell was the Blind Melon of Majors. He was a U.S. Open one-hit wonder. It was the defining moment of his career. He had not and has not accomplished anything like it. Tiger Woods’ caddie at the time and fellow New Zealander, Steve Williams said back in 2005 that Campbell’s win was “the single biggest sporting moment in New Zealand history.” But Campbell hasn’t even made the cut for a major since September 2008. In May, he announced he would not return to Pinehurst because of an ankle injury and personal issues.
2. Francis Ouimet – 1913 Champion
Ouimet rejected the president of the United States Golf Association’s offer to play in his first Championship, which just so happened to be hosted at his home course in Brookline, Mass. The amateur golfer was eventually coaxed into playing, and he finished 72 holes of play tied with two of the best golfers in the world in Harry Vardon and Ted Ray. Ouimet won the next day in an 18-hole playoff in rainy conditions. The sport had been dominated by Brits and by beating the two best at the time, Ouimet’s win marked a turning point for American golfers. His win put golf on America’s radar.
1. Jack Fleck – 1955 Champion
Fleck made history by upsetting his idol, nine-time major championship winner Ben Hogan. Fleck holds the U.S. Open record for overcoming a nine-stroke deficit after the first round. He finished by defeating Hogan in an 18-hole playoff round. Hogan was also trying to be the first man ever to win 5 U.S. Opens, a feat yet to be accomplished. The upset is widely regarded as one of the best performances by a golfer, particularly by a player who had been an amateur only days earlier.