Colin Montgomerie will not win this week's U.S. Open, as has
been widely predicted. Nick Faldo, Jose Maria Olazabal, Jesper
Parnevik or Lee Westwood will not win it either. We can say this
with utmost certainty because their fates are stamped all over
their respective passports. In the last 70 years only one
European has won a U.S. Open, and there will be a Cubs-Red Sox
World Series before it happens again. Forget long rough,
stifling heat, jet lag, the bad melba toast on British Airways
or any other cop-out you've heard through the years. The reason
for the annual Euro-trashing at the Open is much simpler: The
lads are jinxed. Buffaloed. So chock-full of demons it would not
be surprising if at some point while losing this Open, Monty's
head were to do a full 360, Linda Blair-style.
This bad karma was probably born at the 1913 National Open at
the Country Club, in Brookline, Mass., when a baby-faced local,
Francis Ouimet, stepped out of the pages of a Dickens novel and
beat the legendary Harry Vardon and the reigning British Open
champ, Ted Ray. That stunner set a standard for red-faced
Europeans that held until 1980, when Seve Ballesteros arrived at
Baltusrol at the height of his powers. Alas, he arrived seven
minutes too late for his Friday tee time and was first DQ'd,
then PO'd as he dissed America's national championship with this
curious logic: "Sure it's a major, but it's not a good
tournament because 80 percent of the game in the U.S. Open is
about hitting the fairways. It takes away the skill factor."
Silly Americans, we think hitting the fairway takes skill.
This cultural divide does not entirely explain the jinx, though.
Faldo's game couldn't be better suited for the Open, but he has
taken the collar in 11 appearances. At only his second Open, in
1988, Faldo was stared down by Curtis Strange in an 18-hole
Monday playoff, his fate sealed the previous afternoon when his
wife at the time, Gil, rejected Sarah Strange's request to
borrow a spare shirt for her hubby. Two years later Faldo won
the Masters and the British Open but missed out on another
playoff at the U.S. Open when his 12-footer for birdie on the
72nd hole lipped out. That he has called that championship one
of the finest ball-striking weeks of his career only makes the
missed putt more fitting.
Two of Europe's other peerless technicians have inexplicably
poor records in the Open. Bernhard Langer, the ultimate driving
machine from Germany, has missed the cut eight times in 14
starts. It has been said that Ian Woosnam has the best swing
since Sam Snead, an appropriate comparison since the wee
Welshman has been slammed in the Open nearly as often as the
luckless Snead, who has never won the title either. Maybe
someone should tell these guys the courses over here aren't
measured in meters.
Even when a European wins, he can't win. In 1970, Tony Jacklin,
a cocksure 25-year-old from England, made headlines with his
sizzling seven-stroke victory at Hazeltine, the only time since
Scotland's Tommy Armour triumphed in 1927 that the Open has gone
to a European. Not that anyone back in England got to read about
it. Because of a newspaper strike, only one British writer
crossed the Atlantic to record the historic moment.
The gutter press will be better represented this week, which
only ratchets up the pressure on Montgomerie, for whom the
year's other 51 weeks serve only as a prelude to the Open. In
six tries Montgomerie has thrice finished among the top three,
and each near miss has born traces of the hex. Last year he came
unhinged when heckled by some jingoistic yahoos in the gallery.
During a Monday playoff in '94, Montgomerie so wilted in the
heat at Oakmont that he was left looking like the prune from
Troon. But Monty says he will never forget his first brush with
Open immortality, in 1992 at Pebble Beach. On Sunday he stormed
the Beach early in the day, before a gale-force wind kicked in,
and for a while it looked like his 70 would lift him all the way
from 15th to the title. Moments after Montgomerie had stepped
off the 72nd green, Jack Nicklaus even offered his hand and
congratulated him on winning his first U.S. Open. Poor Monty. He
forgot to check for the joy buzzer.
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK [Colin Montgomerie]
The reason for the annual Euro-trashing at the Open is simple:
The lads are jinxed.