The 1990 U.S. Open was played at Medinah Country Club, a genuine golf course in the Chicago suburbs, and not a tricked-up mess such as Chambers Bay, the locale for this year’s event.
The Open was headed to Hazeltine in 1991 after a 21-year absence, so the Star Tribune double-teamed the Medinah competition with golf writer Jon Roe and me. Twenty-five years later, it trails only Tiger Woods’ 15-stroke victory at Pebble Beach (2000) for memorable Opens as a reporter.
The week started in 1990 with the focus on Curtis Strange’s attempt to become the first golfer to win three straight U.S. Opens. By Sunday, Strange had fallen away and it looked as if one of those underdog stories that shows up every decade or so in the Open was being written.
Journeyman Mike Donald had reached 9 under early Sunday. Two hours in front of him, Hale Irwin was 3 under with eight holes to play. The idea that the 45-year-old Irwin had a chance to win his third U.S. Open was preposterous, and then he made four birdies in a row, followed by the 45-footer with the crazy romp across the 18th green.
The 8 under got Irwin into an 18-hole playoff with Donald on Monday and they still were tied. They went back to No. 1, and Irwin made a birdie to win.
Donald slipped back into the shadows of golf. I talked to him at the 1993 U.S. Open after he shot a 67 in the third round at Baltusrol.
He told me about playing in a pro-am in Las Vegas. He was at a casino with a friend, was introduced to another person and that guy said, “Oh, you’re the guy that choked the Open.”
Donald told me: “I wanted to punch him.”
And who could’ve blamed him? Heartbreak doesn’t deserve that, especially when it was a case of Irwin taking the Open.
You can catch up on Mike Donald, soon to be 60, in Michael Bamberger’s new golf book, “Men in Green.” Bamberger took a road trip to interview 18 golfers and Donald went along for the ride and for wry observations.
PLUS THREE FROM PATRICK
My three all-time favorite golfers:
• Seve Ballesteros. His greatness faded too early, but there was never a grander thrill ride on a championship course than with Seve.
• Lee Trevino. No, it wasn’t the “Merry Mex’’ personae. I loved the low ball flight, the putting stroke, the way Trevino could make the ball dance when near a green.
• Tom Lehman. Walking with his dad, the wonderful Jim Lehman, at major events was as much enjoyment as you could have as a sports writer.