The Virtual U.S. Open: Finding an all-time national champ

Mamaroneck, UNITED STATES: Jyoti Randhawa of India hits his approach shot to ninth green during the second round of the 2006 US Open Championships 16 June 2006 at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, NY. AFP PHOTO/DON EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP via Getty Images)
Mamaroneck, UNITED STATES: Jyoti Randhawa of India hits his approach shot to ninth green during the second round of the 2006 US Open Championships 16 June 2006 at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, NY. AFP PHOTO/DON EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP via Getty Images) /

Seventy-nine U.S. Open winners fight for glory at Virtual Winged Foot.

As the national championship tournament of the world’s most golf-obsessed country, the United States Open (U.S. Open) may be thought of as the most important championship in the world.

Its reputation is founded on the accomplishments of its champions. Save for Sam Snead and (so far) Phil Mickelson, all of the legendary stars of the past 125 years have won the Open at least once. That list includes Harry Vardon, Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, and Tom Watson.

In modern times, Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, and Brooks Koepka certified their greatness with a national championship.

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From time to time, however, the U.S. Open has thrown the golfing world a curve. For 44 of the 119 champions, their U.S. Open victory represented the only Major title of their career. That roster includes some of the great dark-horse winners in golf history: Lucas Glover at Winged Foot in 2009, Lou Graham at Medinah in 1975, Ken Venturi at Congressional in 1964, and Lew Worsham with his stunning playoff defeat of Sam Snead in St. Louis in 1947.

Like all other major sporting events since March, the United States Golf Association has dislodged the 2020 U.S. Open from its usual Father’s Day weekend slot in deference to the Covid-19 pandemic. It will now be played Sept. 17-20 at Winged Foot outside New York.

Winged Foot is a 7,258-yard par 72 course that will host the actual 2020 U.S. Open later in the season. It will be Winged Foot’s sixth time hosting a U.S. Open: It also hosted in 1929, 1959, 1974, 1984, and 2006.

In place of the usual majors, is staging virtual Major championships concurrent with the originally scheduled dates but in cyberspace. Beyond that, we’re bringing back to life the tournament’s greatest champions to compete in it.

Thursday through Sunday, will feature the 2020 Virtual U.S. Open, a 79-player simulation. The winner walks away with the title of the greatest U.S. Open champion of all time.

The five competitors with winning experience at Winged Foot are Bobby Jones (1929), Billy Casper (1959), Hale Irwin (1974), Fuzzy Zoeller (1984), and Geoff Ogilvy (2006).

The 79 entrants comprising our virtual field have met two qualifications. The first is that they must have won at least one U.S. Open since the tournament was created in 1895. The second qualification is that they must have competed in enough U.S. Opens during their careers – a minimum of seven – to furnish a sufficient database to create a performance chart.

Our field blankets the planet, with entries representing the United States, Europe, Africa, Australia, South America, and the South Pacific. In fact, every continent except Asia and Antarctica has produced at least one U.S. Open champion.

Each champion’s performance potential will be normalized to take into consideration the changing nature of the game across time. That normalization will allow players of disparate eras to compete on the basis of their relative skill – as measured against the peers of their own era – irrespective of changes in equipment, course design, training, weather, and a host of other factors.

That normalized player potential will be reduced to a number that represents the average standard deviation of the player’s actual PGA Championship performances during a 10-year peak period. Three rules govern the selection of each player’s “peak period.” It must include the season of at least one of the player’s PGA championships, as previously noted it must consist of at least seven championships, and the years must be consecutive.

If a champion did not compete in at least seven championships during a 10-year period, the time frame can be extended until the minimum number of tournaments is reached. In a handful of cases where a player has not competed in the required number of tournaments to develop a credible average, that player has to be disqualified.

Regrettably, there are eight such players, among them Hall of Famers Harry Vardon, Francis Ouimet, and Ted Ray. The others are Fred Herd, John McDermott, Joe Lloyd, Jerome Travers, and Orville Moody.

It would be a mistake, however, to focus too much on who isn’t in this field and lose sight of who is. For many, the most interesting name to follow all week will be Jones. The game’s greatest amateur never competed during his prime in the Masters, was ineligible for the PGA, and only recorded scores in three British Opens, rendering him ineligible for our virtual tournament when that field is assembled next month.

That makes this virtual U.S. Open Jones’ one chance to compete against history’s best on an even footing. He will be doing it on a course where he captured his third championship, in a playoff with All Espinosa.

Another who bears watching, again making his only appearance in a virtual Grand Slam event, is Willie Anderson. The most dominant golfer in America during the first decade of the 20th Century, Anderson won the U.S. Open four times, putting him on a par with Nicklaus, Jones, and Hogan. Because he died at an early age, Anderson is little recalled today but a victory by him in this event would not qualify as a surprise.

As the performance potentials of the 79 players are presented in subsequent introductory articles this week, you will see those potentials referenced as a number. They range from -2.01 for the pre-tournament favorite, Ben Hogan, up to +1.94 for the 79th ranked competitor, Lucas Glover.

These numbers rank the average standard deviation of the player’s actual U.S. Open performances. Since golf is a game where less is more – the more negative the number the better a player likes it.

Next. Best Golfers: Ranking the 10 greatest short games all-time. dark

To whet your appetite for the virtual U.S. Open, here is a list of the 79 who meet the qualifying standard. The players are presented in the order of their first U.S. Open victory.

  • Horace Rawlins, 1895
  • James Foulis, 1896
  • Willie Smith, 1899
  • Willie Anderson, 1901, 1903, 1904, 1905
  • Laurie Auchterlonie, 1902
  • Alex Smith, 1906, 1910
  • Alec Ross, 1907
  • Fred McLeod, 1908
  • George Sargent, 1909
  • Walter Hagen 1914, 1919
  • Chick Evans, 1916
  • Jim Barnes, 1921
  • Gene Sarazen, 1922, 1932
  • Bobby Jones, 1923, 1926, 1929, 1930
  • Cyril Walker, 1924
  • Willie Macfarlane, 1925
  • Tommy Armour, 1927
  • Johnny Farrell, 1928
  • Billy Burke, 1931
  • Johnny Goodman, 1933
  • Olin Dutra, 1934
  • Sam Parks, 1935
  • Tony Manero, 1936
  • Ralph Guldahl, 1937, 1938
  • Byron Nelson, 1939
  • Lawson Little, 1940
  • Craig Wood, 1941
  • Lloyd Mangrum, 1946
  • Lew Worsham, 1947
  • Ben Hogan, 1948, 1950, 1951, 1953
  • Cary Middlecoff, 1949, 1956
  • Julius Boros, 1952, 1963
  • Ed Furgol, 1954
  • Jack Fleck, 1955
  • Dick Mayer, 1957
  • Tommy Bolt, 1958
  • Billy Casper, 1959, 1966
  • Arnold Palmer, 1960
  • Gene Littler, 1961
  • Jack Nicklaus, 1962, 1967, 1972, 1980
  • Ken Venturi, 1964
  • Gary Player, 1965
  • Lee Trevino, 1968, 1971
  • Tony Jacklin, 1970
  • Johnny Miller, 1973
  • Hale Irwin, 1974, 1979, 1990
  • Lou Graham, 1975
  • Jerry Pate, 1976
  • Hubert Green, 1977
  • Andy North, 1978, 1985
  • David Graham, 1981
  • Tom Watson, 1982
  • Larry Nelson, 1983
  • Fuzzy Zoeller, 1984
  • Raymond Floyd, 1986
  • Scott Simpson, 1987
  • Curtis Strange, 1988, 1989
  • Payne Stewart, 1991, 1999
  • Tom Kite, 1992
  • Lee Janzen, 1993, 1998
  • Ernie Els, 1994, 1997
  • Corey Pavin, 1995
  • Steve Jones, 1996
  • Tiger Woods, 2000, 2002, 2008
  • Retief Goosen, 1001, 1004
  • Jim Furyk, 2003
  • Michael Campbell, 2005
  • Geoff Ogilvy, 2006
  • Angel Cabrera, 2007
  • Lucas Glover, 2009
  • Graeme McDowell, 2010
  • Rory McIlroy, 2011
  • Webb Simpson, 2012
  • Justin Rose, 2013
  • Martin Kaymer, 2014
  • Jordan Spieth, 2015
  • Dustin Johnson, 2016
  • Brooks Koepka, 2017, 2018
  • Gary Woodland, 2019