1974 U.S. Open: 'The Massacre at Winged Foot'

Hale Irwins throws his golf ball into the air after winning the 1974 US Open.
1974 US Open winner Hale Irwin tosses his golf ball skyward in celebration. Bettmann/Getty Images

The 1974 U.S. Open is the one called "The Massacre at Winged Foot," a nicknamed coined by sportscaster Dick Schaap to describe what many of the golfers who played it remember as a tournament with brutal scoring conditions.

Quick Bits

  • Winner: Hale Irwin, 287 (scores below)
  • Dates: June 13-16, 1974
  • Golf course: Winged Foot (West)
  • U.S. Open number: This was the 74th time the championship was played.

How Hale Irwin Survived the 'Massacre' to Win 1974 U.S. Open

The 1974 U.S. Open was a tournament that played into the reputations of two golfers.

The champion, Hale Irwin, established his reputation for being good on tough courses, while Tom Watson extended the reputation he had in the early few years of his career for not being able to close out tournaments.

Watson, after a third-round 69, led Irwin by one stroke entering the final round. But Watson stumbled out of the gate in Round 4 with a string of front-nine bogeys, finished with a 79 and dropped into a tie for fifth place. Still, at this early stage in the future Hall-of-Famer's career, it was Watson's first-ever Top 10 finish in a major championship.

Irwin was also in the early stages of his career, and also a future Hall-of-Famer. His victory here was just the third of Irwin's PGA Tour career. He opened the tournament with a 73, two strokes off the first-round lead. An even-par 70 gave Irwin a share of the second round lead, and a third-round 71 left him one stroke off Watson's lead.

In the final round, Irwin and Watson were tied for the lead after eight holes, but Irwin's birdie on No. 9 gave him a lead he never relinquished. Irwin reached the 72nd hole with a 2-stroke margin over Forrest Fezler and Lou Graham (who won the next year at the 1975 U.S. Open). Irwin successfully negotiated Winged Foot's treacherous 18th — the hole where Phil Mickelson blew up and lost the 2006 U.S. Open — with his stock-in-trade, an expertly played long iron shot to the green.

Irwin two-putted for par to close out a 73 and win the championship at 7-over 287.

"Now that I've won one," Irwin said in the post-tournament news conference, "I want to do something bigger, like two major championships."

And he did: three majors. Irwin won the U.S. Open again in 1979 and 1990, won 20 PGA Tour titles total, and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 1992.

How Tough Was the Golf Course?

Irwin's 7-over score is the second-highest winning score in relation to par of any U.S. Open after World War II. Not a single player broke par in the first round. The legend is that the USGA "tricked up" Winged Foot because the governing body felt embarrassed by Johnny Miller's final-round 63 a year earlier at Oakmont.

Is that true? No question the course conditions were brutal. But keep in mind that the winning score two years earlier at Pebble Beach was 290, higher than Irwin's winning 287 this year. And the 1974 U.S. Open does not hold the tournament's post-World War II records for fewest rounds below par, or most rounds over-par, or highest 36-hole cut. Which takes nothing away from just how difficult Winged Foot played in 1974 — which was very difficult.

The winning score at Winged Foot in 2006 was 5-over 285.

The four past U.S. Open champions in the field who made the cut all finished double-digits over par: Palmer was 12-over, Gary Player 13-over, Jack Nicklaus (whose first round started with him putting off the green) 14-over and Miller 22-over. Two-time champ Lee Trevino missed the cut after opening 78-78.

The USGA's habit of making hard courses harder for the U.S. Open, and playing many of them as par-70s, entered into the public consciousness for good after the 1974 U.S. Open, as did the nickname, "The Massacre at Winged Foot."

During this championship, Sandy Tatum of the USGA was asked if the organization was trying to embarrass the world's best golfers. "No," Tatum famously replied, "we're trying to identify them."

Said champion Irwin: "We were all dumbfounded by how difficult it was.

It was easily the most difficult golf course I had ever seen."

1974 U.S. Open Golf Tournament Scores

Results from the 1974 U.S. Open golf tournament played on the par-70 West Course of Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York (a-amateur):

Hale Irwin73-70-71-73--287$35,000
Forrest Fezler75-70-74-70--289$18,000
Lou Graham71-75-74-70--290$11,500
Bert Yancey76-69-73-72--290$11,500
Arnold Palmer73-70-73-76--292$8,000
Jim Colbert72-77-69-74--292$8,000
Tom Watson73-71-69-79--292$8,000
Gary Player70-73-77-73--293$5,500
Tom Kite74-70-77-72--293$5,500
Jack Nicklaus75-74-76-69--294$3,750
Bud Allin76-71-74-73--294$3,750
John Mahaffey74-73-75-73--295$2,633
Frank Beard77-69-72-77--295$2,633
Larry Ziegler78-68-78-71--295$2,633
Mike Reasor71-76-76-73--296$1,933
Tom Weiskopf76-73-72-75--296$1,933
Raymond Floyd72-71-78-75--296$1,933
David Graham73-75-76-73--297$1,700
Dale Douglass77-72-72-76--297$1,700
Al Geiberger75-76-78-68--297$1,700
Leonard Thompson75-75-76-72--298$1,575
J.C. Snead76-71-76-75--298$1,575
Larry Hinson75-76-75-73--299$1,450
Bruce Crampton72-77-76-74--299$1,450
Bobby Mitchell77-73-73-76--299$1,450
Lanny Wadkins75-73-76-76--300$1,300
Chi Chi Rodriguez75-75-77-73--300$1,300
Jim Jamieson77-73-75-75--300$1,300
Hubert Green81-67-76-76--300$1,300
David Glenz76-74-75-76--301$1,160
Rod Funseth73-75-78-75--301$1,160
Jerry McGee77-72-78-74--301$1,160
Ron Cerrudo78-75-75-73--301$1,160
Rik Massengale79-72-74-76--301$1,160
Don Iverson74-77-76-75--302$1,060
Johnny Miller76-75-74-77--302$1,060
Bob E. Smith77-74-73-78--302$1,060
Steve Melnyk74-79-73-76--302$1,060
John Buczek73-73-83-73--302$1,060
Mark Hayes73-77-76-77--303$980
Dave Eichelberger76-77-76-74--303$980
Kermit Zarley74-73-78-78--303$980
Homero Blancas77-71-79-76--303$980
Dave Stockton79-74-78-72--303$980
Bob Stone75-74-77-78--304$935
Tom Ulozas77-75-74-78--304$935
Jerry Heard73-77-75-79--304$935
Jim Dent76-73-79-76--304$935
Lynn Janson77-74-77-77--305$905
Bobby Nichols72-77-80-76--305$905
George Knudson78-75-75-78--306$880
Jim Masserio75-75-76-80--306$880
Mike McCullough76-76-74-80--306$880
Alan Tapie77-74-77-79--307$845
Bob Zender77-73-79-78--307$845
a-Jay Haas78-73-79-77--307 
Barney Thompson72-77-80-78--307$845
Jack Rule78-75-73-81--307$845
Eddie Pearce75-71-84-78--308$820
Charles Sifford77-76-76-80--309$810
Tom Shaw77-76-78-81--312$800
Jim Simons77-72-81-83--313$800
Roy Pace74-76-78-85--313$800
a-Bill Hyndman79-72-82-81--314 
a-Andy Bean74-76-83-81--314 
Bruce Summerhays77-76-79-83--315$800

Comings/Goings and Milestones at the 1974 US Open

  • This was the final major championship played in by Ken Venturi. He missed the cut. Venturi was the winner of the U.S. Open played 10 years previously, in 1964.
  • Arnold Palmer finished tied for fifth. It was the last time Palmer posted a Top 5 finish in any of the four major championships. It was Palmer's 10th Top 5 finish in a U.S. Open.
  • Sam Snead had to withdraw due to a rib injury suffered during practice prior to the tournament. He played the U.S. Open only two more times after this, missing the cut both times. Snead, age 62, went on to finish tied for third place at the 1974 PGA Championship.
  • Among those who made the cut was a journeyman player named Mike Reasor. Two months earlier, Reasor made the cut at the Tallahassee Open, but then carded scores of 123 and 114 in the final two rounds, perhaps the worst scores ever on tour.