As the last group made the turn during the final round of the 1986 U.S. Open, nine players (nine!) were tied for the lead. It was a logjam the likes of which had not been seen before – nor since – on Sunday in a major championship.
To relive the excitement, drama and sheer chaos, we interviewed several players who were in the mix, as well as a few others who were close to the action, and reviewed the broadcast for a minute-by-minute recap of that thrilling, once-in-a-lifetime afternoon.
MIKE BUTZ (USGA staff): We were bringing the U.S. Open back to Shinnecock Hills [Golf Club] for the first time in 90 years. Not only that, but it was the first Open that was managed completely by our staff rather than the host club.
BEN CRENSHAW: There was so much anticipation about going back there.
LANNY WADKINS: Shinnecock was the great unknown that week. Almost nobody of our generation had played there, so it was brand new to all of us.
RAYMOND FLOYD: The first time I played Shinnecock was the Monday morning of that week. I came back home and I said to Maria [Floyd’s wife], ‘Wow, what an incredible golf course.’
Torrential rain and wind battered the course on Thursday, although play was never suspended. No players broke par and only one, Bob Tway, shot even par. The scoring average was nearly eight strokes over par and 45 players failed to break 80.
FLOYD: The conditions were as bad as I remember ever playing a round in. You couldn’t put umbrellas up because the wind would blow them away from you or break them. I only hit five greens in regulation, but managed to shoot a 75, which kept me in it.
BUTZ: I went through two rain suits that day, but even worse, I was scolded by [former USGA Executive Director] P.J. Boatwright because the forecaddie on the right of No. 10 had abandoned his position and Jack Nicklaus couldn’t find his drive and had to return to the tee. [Nicklaus] told me that was the first ball he had lost since the 1959 British Amateur.
The weather improved on Friday and Saturday, but Shinnecock, playing at just 6,912 yards, continued to hold its own.
MARK McCUMBER: Going into it, people said it was too short and would get beat up. But Shinnecock had the last laugh.
Greg Norman started the final round at even par, leading Hal Sutton and Lee Trevino by one stroke. Norman, in fact, was the 54-hole leader in all four major championships in 1986, but won only The Open Championship.
NORMAN: My most vivid memory from that day was walking from the practice range to the first tee. It was just an incredible feeling walking into that arena to engage with Shinnecock.
But “The Shark” had plenty of company: 14 players were within four strokes of the lead when the final round began.
NORMAN: It’s pretty unusual to have that many top players in the mix like that. Most weeks there are two or three guys going head to head, but not eight or nine. It’s a testament to the course that there were that many quality players up there.
McCUMBER: I can’t remember any event… much less a major… much less the U.S. Open, where there was such a crowded leader board on Sunday afternoon. I was up there with a bunch of Hall of Famers.
CRENSHAW: It was a free-for-all that afternoon. And if you look at everyone who had a chance to win, there were very capable golfers – and proven winners – who competed for the title that day.
Immediately, some of the contenders began making their moves. Five players in the last four groups birdied the 394-yard, par-4 first hole.
PETER ALLISS (broadcaster): “I wonder how many of these players will look back tonight at the chances they had?”
Crenshaw, who started the round four behind, joined the fray with four consecutive birdies starting at No. 3 to get to even par.
CRENSHAW: Things were happening really fast that afternoon. I was doing everything I could to stay steady and give myself a chance. It was fun to be involved.
While Crenshaw, Norman, Sutton and Trevino fell back with bogeys, McCumber and Payne Stewart each birdied the first, third and fifth holes to share the lead.
JUDY RANKIN (on-course commentator): I was like the black cloud for Ben Crenshaw that week. Twice, I was told “Get over to Crenshaw, he’s making a run!” And both times, he made a bogey right when I arrived.
JACK WHITAKER (broadcaster): “I don’t know what to update. Things are changing faster than a politician’s mind.”
McCumber and Stewart fall back to 1 over with bogeys on the sixth and seventh holes, respectively.
McCUMBER: We could all feel the excitement in the air at Shinnecock. If there was a bounce one way or another there could have been eight different winners that day.
Norman, who had bogeyed No. 6, birdies the seventh to get back to 1 over.
WHITAKER: “And now we have seven tied for the lead. I don’t remember a U.S. Open like this.”
JIM McKAY (broadcaster): “How would you like to be tied for the lead at the U.S. Open and have your name at the bottom of the leader board?”
Chip Beck, who started the day at 6 over, drains a 50-foot birdie putt on the 13th to pull within one stroke of the lead.
BECK: At the U.S. Open they have these big, white scoreboards all around the course and I could see how bunched up everything was. As I made the turn, I remember thinking, “I want to get my name in there, too.”
Bob Tway takes the lead at even par with a 10-foot birdie putt on No. 8.
Wadkins, who like Beck started at 6 over and teed off more than an hour before the leaders, makes a 15-foot birdie putt on the 15th to get to 1 over.
DAVE MARR (broadcaster): “There’s a man we didn’t think about, but when he gets going, he can run the table.”
WADKINS: When I started the day, winning wasn’t necessarily on the front of my mind, but I had won the 1977 PGA [Championship] coming from six back so I thought if the wind blew and I played the round of my life, there was a chance.
Tway and Trevino bogey No. 9, while Beck converts a 35-foot birdie putt – his fourth in a row – at No. 15.
BECK: I was always the kind of player who could take it low, so I knew when I started to get on a roll that birdies could come in bunches.
ALLISS: “Eight players now tied for the lead. One has to think that those nearest to the clubhouse who post their scores first will be the hardest to catch.”
Floyd sinks a 15-foot birdie putt on No. 11 to create a nine-way tie.
FLOYD: Eleven is one of the great short par 3s in the world. It's a very small green. Payne [Stewart] had already put his ball about 4 feet under the hole and I'm coming across the green with a lot of break. So that was a really important putt for me to make, knowing Payne's likely to birdie.
BUTZ: We had all of these big leader boards around the course and I started getting calls that we were running out of black 1s [representing players at 1 over]. I can laugh at it now, but at the time we weren’t sure what to do.
At No. 9, Norman three-putts from the fringe, while Sutton converts a short birdie putt to get back to even par. Stewart makes his birdie at No. 11 to tie Sutton.
Wadkins gets up and down for par on No. 18 to shoot a final-round 65 and post 1-over 281.
McKAY: “He’s put a score on the board for everybody else to shoot at. Now he can go check his scorecard and sweat for an hour and a half.”
WADKINS: Once I birdied Nos. 14, 15 and 16, I knew I was right there. There were a ton of great players behind me, but when I made that par putt on No. 18, I thought, “You might have just won the U.S. Open.”
Norman bogeys the 10th and never threatens again. He fades to a tie for 12th.
NORMAN: Sure, I was disappointed that I didn’t convert that week, but I thought I played pretty darn well just to be in that position on Sunday. That performance gave me a lot of confidence going into the British Open [which Norman won].
After missing his drive to the right, Stewart makes a great scrambling birdie on No. 12 to get into red figures.
FLOYD: I couldn't see Payne because he was over to the right behind the hill, but believe me, I saw the shot. It was an incredible shot.
Following a 6-iron to 4 feet, Floyd converts his birdie putt on No. 13. Stewart makes bogey from the fringe, creating a three-way tie with Sutton at even par.
FLOYD: As [the approach shot] was in the air, I was saying, “Go in!” Then Payne hits one right over the flag, too. We were both playing well, but that two-shot swing was huge for momentum.
Beck hits his approach on the 18th to within 5 feet, setting up a putt to post 280.
BECK: That 4-iron was one of those swings that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
ALLISS: “Ooh, look at this. I say, I say. A beautiful shot. I don’t think we’ve seen a better one at the 18th all week.”
ALLISS: “This might be the winning putt.”
Beck misses his birdie putt. His par matches Wadkins with a final-round 65 and 72-hole total of 281.
BECK: I just didn’t hit a good putt. Missed on the low side. I’ve beat myself up for so many years over that because who knows if I post 280 how that affects the other guys on the course.
Sutton makes bogey on No. 12 after missing his drive to the right.
SUTTON: That [drive] was probably my worst swing of the day. The ball was wedged into the fork of a dead limb, but I thought if I moved [the branch], the ball might move, too. So I swung harder and pitched it through the fairway into some heavy rough.
After both players miss the 14th green long, Stewart fails to get up and down, while Floyd makes his 5-footer to take the solo lead for first time.
McKAY: “Once Floyd gets the lead, look out. He’s tough.”
RANKIN: When Raymond was near the lead, he always gave me the feeling that he was going to win. He was so in control. It was like he was on a competitive mission in such deep concentration and that was intimidating to everyone else.
McCumber pulls to within one of the lead with a 12-foot birdie putt on the 14th.
McCUMBER: After the round, [future USGA president] Grant Spaeth, who was walking with our group, came up to me and said, “When you birdied 14, I thought you were going to win.”
Floyd misses a 6-foot birdie putt on the 15th, squandering an opportunity to take a two-stroke lead.
Like McCumber, Tway birdies No. 14. Six players are now one back of Floyd.
Floyd backs off his approach shot on No. 16 after a camera click. He regroups and sticks it to within 10 feet.
FLOYD: With a one-shot lead, I'm thinking birdie here. A photographer took pictures of me as I was getting ready to swing. It distracted me, but I just backed off and went through my routine again, visualizing the shot I wanted to play. That was a knockdown 8-iron from 134 yards to keep it out of the wind.
Floyd makes his birdie putt to take a two-stroke lead. Stewart makes his third bogey in four holes to fall out of contention.
FLOYD: Given the situation, this was without a doubt the biggest shot of the tournament. Two guys in at 1 over and if I can make this putt, I’m up two with two holes to play. The putt was fast – downhill and downwind. I just got it going and it went right in the heart.
ALLISS: “When everyone looks back I wonder if we’ll say that’s what sealed it.”
Floyd hits his tee shot at the 17th on the middle of the green and two-putts for par.
FLOYD: I like to play a fade, but with the [left-to-right] wind and the pin on the left, I had to hit a controlled draw. When I hit that shot, I had the feeling, “You've finally won your U.S. Open.”
McCumber badly pulls his approach long and left of the 16th green, leading to a double bogey.
McCUMBER: The only time that week I let my position on the leader board affect my play was that approach shot on No. 16. When I saw Floyd made birdie, I reacted to that and tried to force it. That double [bogey] really deflated me. I knew my chance of winning the Open was over.
MARR: “There will be a lot of guys tonight thinking, ‘I could have won that tournament today if…’ ”
Similarly, Tway finds trouble on No. 16 and makes a double bogey.
MARR: “That’s what happens at the Open when you get out of position. Mean little things happen to you. You get lies that you’ve never seen before.”
Floyd plays the 18th hole in textbook fashion. He hits the fairway and plays a 4-iron to the middle of the green.
FLOYD: It was a special moment to walk up the 18th hole with all the fans cheering like that. I lost my mental focus on that walk to the green, but the minute I spotted the ball, believe me, I got right back into it.
Floyd lags his 35-foot putt to within a foot.
FLOYD: When I rolled it up there close, I looked over at my caddie [Seymour Johnson] and winked. They say anything can happen in an Open, but I figured I’m pretty good from that range.
Floyd taps in for par and a bogey-free round of 66. His 1-under 279 wins the championship by two strokes over Beck and Wadkins.
CRENSHAW: Raymond was one of the greatest competitors I played against. He had a well-earned reputation as a closer. When he got near the lead, he found a way to dial up that determination and will.
Norman holes his par putt on the 18th and the 1986 U.S. Open officially concludes.
NORMAN: I loved the U.S. Open. You walked off the course exhausted, knowing that par was a good number and tip your cap to the guy that hit the right shots at the right time, like Raymond did that week.
Floyd is presented with the U.S. Open Trophy.
BECK: Raymond is a little older than me, but we grew up 30 minutes apart in North Carolina. Later in life, I saw his dad, L.B., who helped me a lot with my game. He told me, “Chip, the greatest day of my life was when Raymond and you finished first and second in the U.S. Open.” That choked me up.
FLOYD: After I finished, with Maria and Christina [Floyd’s daughter] there, I started to get a little teary. It was Father’s Day and I was 43 years old and knew this might be the last one. When I reflect and look back, it's an incredible moment in my career.