Nick Bonfield runs through golf's 10 best underdog stories, from Francis Ouimet to Shaun Micheel
Golf’s 10 best underdog stories
Francis Ouimet – 1913 US Open
A former caddie at the Country Club in Brookline – host venue of the 1913 US Open – 20-year-old Francis Ouimet defeated Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, two of the finest golfers of their time, in an 18-hole play-off.
Ben Hogan – 1950 US Open
You might wonder why a nine-time Major Champion is featured in this list? Well, some 16 months before his victory in the 1950 US Open at Merion, he almost died in a car crash. A blocked vein in the aftermath meant he had difficulty walking, let alone playing golf, for the rest of his life.
Jack Fleck – 1955 US Open
Jack Fleck – a municipal club pro – produced one of the biggest upsets in the history of professional golf at the 1955 US Open. After the first round, he was nine shots off the lead, but he battled back to tie Ben Hogan after 72 holes. No one gave him much of a chance in the 18-hole play-off, but he denied his idol a 10th Major and a record-breaking fifth US Open.
Charles Coody – 1971 Masters
Charley Coody wasn’t a bad player by any stretch of the imagination – he was a two-time PGA Tour winner before the 1971 Masters – but Johnny Miller and Jack Nicklaus were in a different bracket all together. Still, reputation means nothing on the back nine of a Major Sunday, and Coody birdied two of his final four holes to finish two clear of his compatriots.
Larry Mize – 1987 Masters
No one expected Larry Mize to prevail in a play-off at the 1987 Masters as he was going up against Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros. Even fewer saw it coming after he leaked his approach to the treacherous par-4 11th right of the green, leaving a 140-foot downhill chip towards water. We all know what happened next. Mize didn’t win again on the PGA Tour for six years.
John Daly – 1991 USPGA Championship
John Daly was ninth alternate for the 1991 USPGA, but he decided to drive to Crooked Stick in Indiana nonetheless. He was informed late on Wednesday he had a tee time for the following morning and he didn’t waste his opportunity, producing one of the finest driving displays ever en route to the Wanamaker trophy.
Ben Curtis – 2003 Open Championship
No one had won a Major en debut since Francis Ouimet in 1913 before Ben Curtis pitched up at Royal St George’s for the 2003 Open Championship. He was the 396th-ranked golfer in the world at the time, but he putted his way to victory to leave the golfing world in shock.
Shaun Micheel – 2003 USPGA Championship
The year 2003 was arguably the most unpredictable in the modern Major era. At Oak Hill, Shaun Micheel – 169th in the world at the time – hit his approach to the 72nd hole to three inches to finish one clear of Chad Campbell. It remains his lone PGA Tour victory.
Todd Hamilton – 2004 Open Championship
Todd Hamilton had spent most of his career on the Japan Golf Tour, but he finally earned a PGA Tour card in 2004 at the age of 38. He won the Honda Classic in March, but no one expected him to feature on his debut at Royal Troon. He did just that, finishing tied with Ernie Els on 10-under-par after 72 holes before seeing him off in the resulting four-hole play-off.
YE Yang – 2009 USPGA Championship
Prior to the 2009 USPGA Championship, Tiger Woods had never relinquished a 54-hole lead in a Major and a player born in Asia had never got over the line in one of golf’s big four. That all changed on a enthralling Sunday at Hazeltine National, where Yang outdueled the 14-time Major Champion and produced one of the best shots ever on the par-4 18th to close out the tournament.
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Nick Bonfield joined Golf Monthly in 2012 after graduating from Exeter University and earning an NCTJ-accredited journalism diploma from News Associates in Wimbledon. He is responsible for managing production of the magazine, sub-editing, commissioning and feature writing. Most of his online work is opinion-based and typically centres around the Majors and significant events in the global golfing calendar. Nick has been an avid golf fan since the age of ten and became obsessed with the professional game after watching Mike Weir and Shaun Micheel win The Masters and PGA Championship respectively in 2003. In his time with Golf Monthly, he's interviewed the likes of Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Jose Maria Olazabal, Henrik Stenson, Padraig Harrington, Lee Westwood and Billy Horschel and has ghost-written columns for Westwood, Wayne Riley, Matthew Southgate, Chris Wood and Eddie Pepperell. Nick is a 12-handicap golfer and his favourite courses include Old Head, Sunningdale New, Penha Longha, Valderrama and Bearwood Lakes. If you have a feature pitch for Nick, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with 'Pitch' in the subject line. Nick is currently playing: Driver: TaylorMade M1 Fairway wood: TaylorMade RBZ Stage 2 Hybrid: Ping Crossover Irons (4-9): Nike Vapor Speed Wedges: Cleveland CBX Full Face, 56˚, Titleist Vokey SM4, 60˚ Putter: testing in progress! Ball: TaylorMade TP5x
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