8 Unexpected US Open Winners

Eight men who upset the form book to win the US Open

(Image credit: Rob Tringali)

Here we take a look at eight players who came out of left field to upset the favourites and become unexpected US Open winners.

8 Unexpected US Open Winners

The US Open has been won by most of the greatest golfers to ever play the game, however in some tournaments, lesser known players shock the world and collect the trophy.

We take a look at eight of the most unexpected winners throughout the history of the tournament.

1913 – Francis Ouimet

The name of 20-year-old amateur Francis Ouimet barely received a mention in the build up to the 1913 US Open at Brookline in Massachusetts, perhaps a few locals would have recognised him as a former caddy at the club. Most of the attention centred on British professionals Harry Vardon and Ted Ray who had made the journey across the pond with the express intention of winning the US Open title.

Francis Ouimet

Francis Ouimet

Things looked to be going according to plan, with the two men from Jersey tied for the lead with a round to play. But they had unexpected company at the top of the board from Ouimet. Most expected the more experienced men to blow away the upstart in the final round, but he kept pace and the three were all still tied after 72 holes. An 18-hole playoff would be required to separate them.

Again, the general consensus was that Ouimet had no chance. But, with the assistance of his 10-year-old caddy Eddie Lowery, the young local dispatched the British challengers with something to spare. He fired a fine 72 in the Saturday playoff compared to Vardon’s 77 and Ray’s 78.

1955 – Jack Fleck

Jack Fleck

Jack Fleck

With fans favourite Ben Hogan safely in the clubhouse, two clear of little-fancied Jack Fleck, almost everyone had given “The Hawk,” the 1955 US Open title. NBC television finished their coverage before Fleck had completed his round, ending with a shot of Gene Sarazen congratulating Hogan on another US Open title.

But Fleck still had four to play. He birdied the 15th and 18th holes to fire a 67 and tie Hogan at the top. The following day, Fleck beat the great champion in an 18-hole playoff.

For many years after Fleck’s surprise victory at Olympic Club, his triumph was dismissed as a fluke. He was portrayed as a club pro or journeyman, a one-hit-wonder. It’s true he didn’t exactly become a world-beater, but he won twice more on the PGA Tour, recorded 41 top-10s on the circuit and made the cut in 261 of the 271 tournaments he entered.

Fleck drove for 49 hours from his home in Iowa to San Francisco in June 1955. He opened his U.S. Open campaign with a 76, nine shots worse than leader Tommy Bolt. But he bounced back with a 69 to be in contention with two rounds to play. His closing 67 was one of the great Major rounds and his playoff win over the world’s best player was a phenomenal display of ability and self-belief.

1969 – Orville Moody

Orville Moody

Orville Moody

14-year army veteran Orville Moody came through local and sectional qualifying to earn his place in the 1969 US Open at the Champions Golf Club in Houston.

With the likes of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and defending champion Lee Trevino in the field, Moody was hardly considered one of the favourites. The 35-year-old had never won a PGA Tour event.

But after rounds of 71, 70 and 68 “Sarge” as he was called by fellow players because he rose to the rank of Sergeant in the army, was just a shot back of Miller Barber with a round to play.

On the final day, Barber fell away and Moody moved ahead. Despite pressure from a number of players, Moody held on to win by a shot from Deane Beman. The U.S. Open victory was the only PGA Tour title of his career and he remains the last player to win the year’s second Major coming through local and sectional qualifying.

1976 – Jerry Pate

Jerry Pate

Jerry Pate

Pate had won the US Amateur of 1974 but, as a PGA Tour rookie without a win on the circuit, not many gave him much of a chance at Atlanta Athletic Club in 1976.

Most felt it would be one of the usual suspects: Jack Nicklaus who had won the the Tournament Players Championship, Masters winner Ray Floyd, Hubert Green who won three tournaments in a row in March or Johnny Miller – twice a winner at the start of the season.

But Pate hadn’t read that script. He came to the final hole with a one shot lead over Al Geiberger and Tom Weiskopf – both of whom were safely in the clubhouse on one-under-par. Pate found the rough from the tee on the 18th and faced a testing shot from 191 yards. It had to carry to the green over water, and Pate had just watched playing partner John Mahaffey fail to make it from a similar spot. Pate took a 5-iron and proceeded to hit one of the best shots in US Open history. It flew to the green and came to rest just three feet from the cup. He knocked it in for a two-shot win.

1996 – Steve Jones

Unexpected US Open Winners

Steve Jones

Jones had turned pro in 1981 and enjoyed some success on the PGA Tour at the end of that decade – winning four tournaments in 1988 and 1989. Then, in 1991, Jones suffered a separated shoulder, a sprained ankle and ligament damage to his left index finger in a dirt bike accident. The injuries left him side-lined for three years but he made his comeback in 1995, playing with an improvised, reverse overlap grip.

He had a few decent results in the first half of 1996 but was still a significant outsider at Bloomfield Hills in Michigan. He had made it to the event through sectional qualifying.

After two rounds, Payne Stewart led with Ernie Els and Greg Norman just behind. It looked likely this event would be fought out between some of golf’s biggest stars. But Steve Jones finished with a pair of 69s as the more fancied players faded. Jones won by a stroke from Tom Lehman and Davis Love III.

2005 – Michael Campbell

Unexpected US Open Winners

Michael Campbell strides down the 18th at Pinehurst in 2005. He would win by two (Getty Images)

Campbell had first come to the golfing public’s attention in the 1995 Open Championship at St Andrews; he led through 54-holes but slipped back into a tie for third behind John Daly and Constantino Rocca after a closing 76.

His form after that was patchy, although he did pick up six victories on the European Tour between 1999 and 2003. In 2005, he enjoyed some decent results in the first part of the season but still had to qualify for the US Open at European sectional qualifying at Walton Heath.

The New Zealander opened with a 71 at Pinehurst to share 17th spot. He continued to fly under the radar until the final round. Most of the attention on Sunday was on Retief Goosen – the two-time champ led by three shots from Olin Browne and Jason Gore. Campbell was a further shot behind.

But all three of those ahead of the Kiwi crumbled over the closing 18. Goosen fired an 81, Gore carded an 84 and Browne an 80.

Campbell posted a fine 69 to win by two shots from Tiger Woods. He won again later in 2005 – the HSBC World Match Play, but that was his last victory.

2009 - Lucas Glover

Unexpected US Open Winners

Big-hitting Lucas Glover has always been known as an excellent ball striker but had failed to live up to his early potential.

However, that all changed at the 2009 US Open at Bethpage Black where he beat Ricky Barnes, David Duval and Phil Mickelson by two.

It was a wet week in New York with plenty of suspensions to play. The final round took place on the Monday with 54-hole leader Barnes bogeying five of his first nine holes.

Whilst everyone around him was faltering, Lucas Glover took charge in the latter stages with a birdie on the 16th hole and two closing pars to finish at four under par.

It was his first and only major to date and just his second win on the PGA Tour up to that point. He would collect a third at the 2011 Wells Fargo Championship.

Graeme McDowell - 2010

Unexpected US Open Winners

The very next year we saw another surprise winner in the form of Graeme McDowell.

G-Mac kickstarted the Northern Irish revolution which saw Rory McIlroy prevail at the 2011 US Open and Darren Clarke win the 2011 Open.

McDowell ended the week at Pebble Beach at level par to pip Gregory Havret by one. Marquee names like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els were all within three.

Dustin Johnson, who had won the Pebble Beach Pro-Am in 2009 and 2010, began the final round with a three stroke lead but had a nightmare on Sunday.

DJ triple-bogeyed the 2nd and then doubled the 3rd on his way to an 82. McDowell's closing 74 on the tough Pebble Beach was a superb final round capped off with a clutch par on the last.

Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and the history section of "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin , also of Golf Monthly. 

Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?