When it comes to the toughest competitors and most analytical course managers ever to play, Hale Irwin is near the top of the list.
Irwin’s distinction was excelling when the conditions were toughest, and his three victories in the U.S. Open attest to a sharp mind, a solid game and an iron will. It was never more apparent than at the 1974 U.S. Open, when Irwin persevered to win the so-called “Massacre at Winged Foot” with a score of seven-over-par 287. In perhaps the most difficult conditions a U.S. Open has ever been played under, Irwin shot rounds of 73-70-71-73 to win by two strokes.
Five years later at Inverness, on another punishing U.S. Open layout, Irwin shot even par to win by two. The scenario was quite different in 1990 at Medinah Country Club. Irwin was 45 and had not won on the PGA TOUR in five years. He received a special exemption to get into the championship. Lurking, but never in the thick of it until the final nine holes, Irwin made a 50-foot birdie putt on the final green that tied Mike Donald. The next day he fell behind but drew even when Donald bogeyed the 18th. Then, in the first sudden-death finish ever in the U.S. Open, Irwin birdied the 19th hole to win. Irwin became the oldest winner of the championship.