Last Monday I spoke with ’93 and ’98 U.S. Open champ Lee Janzen, mostly about his win the last time it was held at Olympic.. It was especially cool because the next evening I was channel surfing and came across Golf Channel’s replay of the ’98 U.S. Open, where Lee overcame a seven-shot deficit to beat Payne Stewart by a stroke.
What shot stood out to you most in ’98?
When people ask me what’s the best shot I ever hit, I tell them the Sunday second shot on 17, the 3 iron I hit onto the green, for all the circumstances. I doubled that hole Friday and Saturday from the fairway. Yeah, from the fairway. And it’s a hard fairway to hit. Sunday there I am in the fairway again, and it’s uphill, the wind was left-to-right, maybe slightly in. I carried a driver, 3 wood, 4 wood and then a 3 iron, so whatever yardage it was, to hit it onto the front of the green was absolutely the best 3 iron I could hit. And it was off a side hill, uphill lie, which isn’t great for guys that miss it their miss might be a hook. All that considered, it was as good a 3 iron as I could possibly hit. It landed right near the front, and it kicked and ran to the back of the green. I got it on the green and two putted for par, and that was the difference.
Now, Lee isn’t in the field for next week’s U.S. Open at Olympic, which is a shame. The USGA only gives a 10-year exemption to past majors and Lee is four years outside of that window. But he’s not just a two-time past champ — he won the last time it was at this venue. Personally, I think there should be an exemption for former U.S. Open champs who won at the host venue until they’re 60 (the British Open uses a system like this).
Lee played in the sectional qualifying in Memphis, but missed the playoff for the last spot by four shots.
The USGA doesn’t have black- and-white guidelines on its policy on doling out special exemptions. It uses its discretion. For example, it 2010 special invitations were given to Vijay Singh, winner of multiple majors but not the U.S. Open, and Tom Watson (out of sentimentality). Personally, I think Lee would have no problem making the cut at Olympic and could be competitive.
(Photo by Getty Images/Craig Jones)