I remember it like it was yesterday.
I had just graduated from high school and a small reward from my father was a ticket to the 1975 United States Open Championship at Medinah Country Club’s No. 3 course in suburban Chicago.
The U.S. Open, in my hometown! The best in the world on a demanding golf course, and I would get to see it with my own eyes. All of the greats of the day were in the field … Nicklaus, Palmer, Trevino, Player.
Upon arrival on the first day, I ran to see my hero, Arnold Palmer, so as to be able to say that I saw the King play in a U.S. Open.
Palmer would post a top-10 finish that week. Journeyman Lou Graham would go on to win the tournament, defeating John Mahaffey in an 18-hole Monday playoff.
The Open would return to Medinah for the third time in its long history in 1990, when Hale Irwin won for the third time, becoming the oldest player to win what Palmer used to call the National Open Championship. The Open once again came to Chicago at Olympia Fields in 2003, when Jim Furyk finally broke through to claim a major title.
Sadly, that 2003 Open is likely to be the last one to visit the Windy City for a very long time.
There are many reasons for this disappointing turn of events.
Medinah, for reasons largely unknown, fell out of favor with the USGA. The PGA of America seized on this breech, hosting the 1999 and 2006 PGA Championships there, as well as the 2012 Ryder Cup. Going forward, it appears that Medinah has cast its lot with the PGA Tour; the course is likely to become the Chicago home of a FedEx Cup playoff tournament.
Olympia Fields, a fabulous 36-hole facility on Chicago’s South Side, just didn’t quite measure up when it hosted the 2003 Open. Perhaps it was because someone not named Tiger Woods won the title, perhaps it was “the cost of doing business” in Cook County (in other places, this practice would be called extortion and the perpetrators would be watching the championship from the confines of a federal minimum security facility), but for whatever reason, the USGA came away from that Open less than thrilled.
However, the primary reason the Open isn’t coming back to Chicago anytime soon is the emergence of Erin Hills as a supremely qualified Midwestern host of our national championship.
A great mystery as championship week began, Erin Hills has provided precisely the test the USGA was hoping for. It has been fair but demanding, and the players — most of the ones who matter, anyway — loved it. Even Rory McIlroy, who didn’t sniff the cut after shooting 5-over-par 149, praised the course.
Will Erin Hills get another U.S. Open? Almost assuredly, although the next available date isn’t until 2025.
The third U.S. Open was played at Chicago Golf in 1897. It would be played in the Chicago area another 11 times and produce some great champions. Sadly for Chicago golf fans, they are going to have to drive two hours north into Packer land to see the U.S. Open for the foreseeable future.