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Monday, July 23, 2012

The Limerick Summary: 2012 Open Championship

Winner: Ernie Els

Around the wider world of golf: Dan Quinn won the American Century Championship celebrity event in Tahoe, which is interesting primarily because he'll be caddying for Ernie Els in Canada this week; Minjee Lee won the USGA's U.S. Girl's Junior over Alison Lee; Jenny Gleason won the Symetra Tour's Northeast Delta Dental International; Scott Stallings won the True South Classic, the PGA Tour's alternate event; and Megumi Kido won the JLPGA's Samantha Thavasa Ladies. The Constructivist has details on that one.

Ernie kisses the Jug

Oh my god!

Is there really any other phrase that's adequate to describe Sunday's finish at the Open?

Personally, I couldn't have been more wrong with my predictions. I thought Zach Johnson was out of it because, at -5 and T5 for the tourney, he was just too far back. Ernie Els was also T5.

I said all Adam had to do was shoot 68 to get the win. Ernie Els shot 68 to get the win.

I called it a two-man race between Scott and McDowell. And it was... a race down the leaderboard.

Who would have ever expected a four-shot lead with four holes left to just evaporate?

This finish will probably be debated for weeks. In the meantime, I'd just like to put what Ernie has done in perspective. GC pointed out a few things -- he became one of a handful of players to win majors in 3 separate decades, as well as joining Jack, Lee Trevino, and Gary Player as the only players to win a major after entering the Hall of Fame. But there was one accomplishment they mentioned that I don't feel they presented properly... and I think it's a much bigger deal than the others.

There were only five players (previous to Ernie's win) who had won both Opens more than once. (I've used "US" for the U.S. Open and "Br" for the Open Championship.) That list, from earliest winner to latest (the year shows the last year they won a major), now looks like this:
  • Walter Hagen: 2 US, 4 Br, 1929
  • Bobby Jones: 4 US, 3 Br, 1930
  • Lee Trevino: 2 US, 2 Br, 1984
  • Jack Nicklaus: 4 US, 3 Br, 1986
  • Tiger Woods: 3 US, 3 Br, 2008
  • Ernie Els: 2 US, 2 Br, 2012
In my opinion, winning both Opens more than once lifts you above all the other major champions because you have demonstrated the ability to win at both American and European styles of golf under varying conditions and on different courses. This is a big deal because, if you check, most players are good at one style or the other, but don't have a large number of wins -- even regular wins -- in both. (You could get lucky to win just one U.S. Open or one Open Championship. And to be honest, multiple winners usually win multiple Opens and just one U.S. Open. Ben Hogan is the exception with 4 US, 1 Br.)

But look at this list more closely and you'll see something interesting. The three players with at least three wins in both -- Jones, Nicklaus, and Woods -- were the dominant players of their eras. Of the others, Hagen was Jones's greatest rival and Trevino was one of Nicklaus's greatest rivals. And Els? Tiger has said several times that he expected Ernie to be his primary rival when he came on Tour.

I find myself wondering if Ernie might not be on the verge of a "second career" where he wins even more majors. Yes, the rumor has it that the belly putter may be outlawed in the coming months. I'll just point out what several commentators noted this week -- that Ernie's current belly putting setup looks remarkably similar to his regular putting setup from back when he was winning majors a decade ago. If this is true, I wouldn't be surprised if Ernie could change back and putt just fine!

In the meantime, this week's Limerick Summary pays homage to Ernie Els, his record-setting win, and the "oh my god!" moment of the golf season so far:
So… Ernie's four back near the end;
Four holes left; and you know it's been ten
Years since he won a major.
Would you take a wager
That he'd win the Open again?
The photo comes from the front page of PGATOUR.com.

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