’98 Open champ Janzen should
have been given an Olympic pass
JOHN G. MABANGLO/AFP/Getty IMAGes
They were all there at Olympic Club last week: Woods, Mickelson, McIlroy, Bubba, Westwood
and Donald. There was Casey
Martin for a feel-good story and
Beau Hossler for the “
That was on the golf course. Off
the course, Jack Fleck and Billy
Casper, past winners at Olympic, had
book-signings and received kudos for
their remarkable achievements of 57
and 46 years ago. Scott Simpson
made an appearance, too, reminiscing about the 25th anniversary of his
one-shot victory over Tom Watson
when he recorded the lowest score
(277) of anyone in the five U.S. Opens
played on the historic course.
There was only one notable
absence and, sadly, it was little
Lee Janzen. He was the only one
of Olympic’s Open champions not on
hand, sadly ironic in that he was the
only one in the group who might
have been able to play on the weekend if given the chance.
Janzen won at Olympic in 1998, shooting 68 on the last day
to catch Payne Stewart from five strokes back. It was the
second time he won the Open and the second time he did it
beating Stewart, his close friend, down the stretch. The Open
is always connected to Father’s Day, and it was never more
true than that day, when 4-year-old Connor Janzen burst into
his father’s post-championship interview shouting, “Daddy,
Daddy, I love you Daddy,” as his father dissolved in tears.
Janzen is 47 now. He hasn’t won since Olympic although he
has periodically played good golf. He hasn’t competed in an
Open since 2008 when his 10-year winners’ exemption ran out.
The USGA gives many champions at least one special
exemption if they are reasonably competitive. Not for Janzen.
He’s still grinding though, not asking for any favors, just trying
to improve his game so he won’t need any. He has played eight
PGA Tour events in 2012 via his past champion status, making
six cuts. Not spectacular by any stretch, but not awful either.
The USGA previously has
given special exemptions to great
players as a chance to bask in the
Open spotlight once more even
when well past their prime:
Arnold Palmer at Oakmont in
1994 and Jack Nicklaus at Pebble
Beach in 2000 come to mind.
Others have been given to
players still considered competi-
tive enough to merit special
treatment: Hale Irwin played on
one at Medinah in 1990 and won
his third Open. Tom Watson
received one at Baltusrol in 1993
and finished fifth. Watson, Irwin
and Tom Kite all got them in
2003 at Olympia Fields. All
Watson did was produce the
story of the tournament with his
opening 65 that tied him for the
lead at a time when Bruce
Edwards, dying of ALS, was on
his bag at his last major. The
USGA gave Watson another
exemption at Pebble Beach two
years ago given he produced one
of the golf’s most memorable moments there in 1982. No one
objected, and Watson finished T- 29 at age 60.
Janzen’s name doesn’t stir golf fans the way others do. But
he is a two-time Open winner, not some one-hit wonder. He
has been a very solid player for 20 years and can still play
respectably. He willingly played in sectional qualifying,
finishing four shots out of the playoff for the final spots.
Would his presence have transformed the Open in a way
Irwin, Watson and Kite did in recent years? Unlikely. But it
would have been a classy gesture given to someone who
represented the USGA well. It would have created a
pre-tournament story about that stunning Sunday 14 years
ago when Janzen nearly returned to the fifth tee after his
ball had stuck in a tree when suddenly it dropped from the
sky—the same cypress Lee Westwood hit on Sunday.
Not surprisingly, Olympic produced a memorable U.S.
Open last weekend. It’s just a shame Janzen was its only
past Open champion who wasn’t there to see it. n
Janzen acknowledges the
crowd after parring the 18th
hole during the final round of
the 1998 U.S. Open.