OAKMONT, Pa. (AP) — Tom Lehman placed both hands over his cap in disbelief when his shot into the 17th green at Congressional bounded off the side of the green and into the water in 1997, ending his hopes at a U.S. Open he never won.
It wasn’t for a lack of effort. A year later, Lehman became the first player since Bobby Jones to play in the final group at a U.S. Open four consecutive years. The difference was that Jones wound up a winner.
There is cause to feel badly for Lehman, though he’s not alone.
The long list of U.S. Open champions includes a healthy list of players who left heartbroken and who, like Lehman, never won a U.S. Open. Here are five to consider:
5. ROLAND HANCOCK
Roland Hancock was an obscure, 21-year-old pro from North Carolina on the verge of becoming a surprise winner of the 1928 U.S. Open at Olympia Fields. He led by two shots with two holes to play and needed only a pair of 5s to win. “Make way for the new champion,” someone in the gallery said. Hancock fell apart. He drove into mud behind a tree, topped his next shot into deep rough, took two more to get to the green and made double bogey. On the par-5 18th, he hit into the rough, chipped out, hit a spectator in the head and missed a 20-foot par putt to finish one shot out of a playoff between Bobby Jones and Johnny Farrell. Hancock played in six more U.S. Open and never made another cut.
4. COLIN MONTGOMERIE
One of the best players to never win a major, the U.S. Open should have been Colin Montgomerie’s best chance. He lost in a three-way playoff at Oakmont in 1994, and two years later he missed a 5-foot par putt on the 17th hole at Congressional and finished one behind Ernie Els. But nothing stung quite like Winged Foot in 2006. He was in the 18th fairway with a 7-iron in his hand, and with the most repeatable swing in golf, Montgomerie chunked it so badly that he exclaimed, “What the hell was that?” He three-putted for a double bogey and finished one behind Geoff Ogilvy. “I look forward to coming back next year and try another U.S. Open disaster,” he said.
3. SAM SNEAD
The U.S. Open was the only major Sam Snead never won, and perhaps the most memorable was in 1939 at Philadelphia Country Club when Snead needed a par 5 on the closing hole to win, thought he needed a birdie and chopped his way to an 8 to miss the playoff. Perhaps even more crushing was in 1947 at St. Louis Country Club when he faced Lew Worsham in a playoff. Tied on the 18th hole, Snead lagged to just over 2 feet and was about to tap in when Worsham asked for a measurement to see who was away. It was Snead, by a half-inch. “I was so mad I couldn’t see straight,” Snead said later. He missed and Worsham tapped in for the victory.
2. DUSTIN JOHNSON
If Dustin Johnson thought it was painful to shoot 82 in the final round of the U.S. Open with a three-shot lead at Pebble Beach, that didn’t compare with Chambers Bay last year. Johnson had a two-shot lead at the turn until he started missing putts on the dead, bumpy greens. But he hit his tee shot to 4 feet on the par-3 17th for birdie and, needing a birdie to force a playoff, he crushed a perfect drive and hit 5-iron into the par-5 18th to 12 feet above the hole. Make it and he wins. Two putts for a playoff. He three-putted for a bogey to lose to Jordan Spieth by one shot.
1. PHIL MICKELSON
No one has suffered more at the U.S. Open than Phil Mickelson, who holds the record with six runner-up finishes and lacks only this title to complete the career Grand Slam. He was beaten by Payne Stewart (1999), Tiger Woods (2002), Retief Goosen (2004), Lucas Glover (2009) and Justin Rose (2013). What haunts him is Winged Foot in 2006, when Mickelson had a one-shot lead going to the 18th hole. He sliced his tee shot off a corporate tent. That was OK. But instead of hitting back to the fairway and trying to win with arguably the best wedge game in golf, Mickelson went for the green with a 3-iron. It hit a tree and dropped down. His third shot plugged in a bunker. His fourth shot went across the green against the collar. Two putts later he had a double bogey, and Geoff Ogilvy had the U.S. Open trophy. “I just can’t believe that I did that,” he said. “I am such an idiot.”