EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP - If pure talent was the only prerequisite for success, any one of the golfers who are teeing it up today in the third round of the U.S. Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco would have a good shot at winning.
But it takes more than physical ability to prevail in that tournament.
"The U.S. Open is the greatest test of a player's mental, physical and ball-striking abilities," Galloway National director of golf Mike Killian, who played in two U.S. Opens, said Friday in a phone interview. "You can't just go out there and drive the ball 300 yards and expect to win.The guy that hits the ball the best and controls his emotions the best will have the most success."
Two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw echoed Killian's sentiments Friday while celebrating the 10th anniversary of Hidden Creek Golf Club.
Crenshaw, who co-designed Hidden Creek with fellow course architect Bill Coore, competed in 26 U.S. Opens between 1970 and 1998, including two at The Olympic Club (1987, 1998). He tied for fourth place behind winner Scott Simpson in 1987 and missed the cut in the 1998 tournament won by Lee Janzen.
"I've only watched a little bit of the tournament so far this week, but man, it's so slippery," Crenshaw said with a smile. "No matter where it's held, the U.S. Open is a great test of golf."
Crenshaw, who won the Masters in 1984 and 1995, insisted the entire PGA Tour is more challenging now than it was 30 years ago. Courses have been stretched to their limits in an effort to keep pace with the advancements in equipment. The tour has more parity than ever. Money and TV exposure has increased the pressure.
Every wayward drive, every putt that lips out, is subject to slow-motion replays and critiques from TV analysts.
"To be honest, I think today's players have it much harder because they're under so much more scrutiny," the 60-year-old said. "Sure, we had leaderboards in my era, but nowadays, every shot, every move, the players make is analyzed. The players have to deal with a lot. The galleries are more boisterous and the money is much bigger.
"I earned my first win at the Texas Open in 1973 and I got $25,000. I remember playing the U.S. Open at Merion (Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., the site of next year's tournament) in 1981. David Graham won that year and I think he got something like $150,000."
Crenshaw collected 19 victories on the PGA Tour while competing with legends such as Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson. He took the '84 Masters by two shots over Watson and won again 11 years later by one stroke over Davis Love III.
He still plays in the Masters every year. In 2011, one of his playing partners was Michael Thompson, who led the U.S. Open after the first round Thursday.
"I thought he was kind of small, so I was surprised at how far he hit the ball," Crenshaw said with a laugh. "But I'm not surprised he did so well on Thursday. He's a sound player with a sound temperament and those two things help playing a tough course like that."
Killian, a native of St. Petersburg, Fla., fulfilled a lifelong dream by playing in The Masters in 1973. He also played in back-to-back U.S. Opens in 1975 and 1976 at Medinah Country Club (Ill.) and Atlanta Athletic Club (Duluth, Ga.), respectively.
"I qualified as the first alternate in 1975 and I got to play because Bruce Crampton hurt his back," Killian said. "I was at home in St. Petersburg when they called me on Monday night and I nearly died when they said I was going to get to play. That was the nicest phone call I ever received.
"I decided against trying to play on tour, though, and Ben Crenshaw is a big reason why. He's a good friend of mine and he beat me up on the golf course often enough to convince me that I needed to go in another direction."
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