In 2006, Winged Foot played to a 74.99 scoring average. Only one hole, the par-5 fifth hole, played under par for the week. There were just 12 under-par rounds in 2006, and none lower than 2-under 68.
Winged Foot’s difficulty doesn’t come from intimidating water hazards or stunning landforms. It was built on a fairly flat site, but Tillinghast produced 18 difficult holes.
“The golf course gets tough on the first tee and never gets any easier,” Jack Nicklaus once said. “That’s why it’s a great golf course. You can’t make a mistake and get away with it here.”
Tillinghast’s courses put an emphasis on approach shots, and Winged Foot is no exception. The greens complexes make getting up-and-down a difficult task.
“A controlled shot to a closely-guarded green is the surest test of any man’s golf,” Tillinghast once said.
Ogilvy won without breaking par in any round. Jones’ final-round 79 in 1929 is the highest final round by a U.S. Open winner since World War I. No one broke par in the final round of the 1959 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, and no one was under par in the first round of the 1974 U.S. Open.
3. ‘WE’RE NOT TRYING TO HUMILIATE THEM’
The most famous of Winged Foot’s U.S. Opens was in 1974, when Hale Irwin won with a winning score of 7 over par. No major has had a higher winning score in relation to par since.
The 1974 U.S. Open was dubbed the “Massacre at Winged Foot” and produced one of the most famous quotes in golf history. “We’re not trying to humiliate the best players in the world. We’re simply trying to identify them,” said USGA president Sandy Tatum.
Many believe the 1974 U.S. Open was the USGA’s response to the previous year’s championship, when Johnny Miller shot 63 to win at Oakmont. How thick was the rough at Winged Foot? “They had trouble finding their ankles, much less the golf ball,” said one player. Players lost balls in the rough and putted balls off the greens.
“It was easily the most difficult golf course I have ever seen,” Irwin said.
The A.W. Tillinghast design has stood the test of time. There are no lakes or large water hazards. Just a couple creeks. There are no dramatic landforms. It just consists of 18 difficult holes.
“The question of the week was why,” famed golf writer Dan Jenkins wrote in Sports Illustrated. “Where did it say in all of that lore of the game that Winged Foot was a killer? The answer was in the subtle design of the course. No water to speak of, and even the trees do not often come into play, but, ah, the tumbles and turns of those old-fashioned, elevated greens and, ah, the bunkers.”
4. TILLIE THE TERROR
His nickname was Tillie the Terror.
Tillinghast is one of six golf course architects to be elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame, after Donald Ross, Robert Trent Jones, Alister Mackenzie, C.B. MacDonald and Pete Dye.
Tillinghast had his hands on more than 250 golf courses, most of them in the Northeast. His most famous designs include Winged Foot, Bethpage Black, Baltusrol, Quaker Ridge, Sleepy Hollow and Somerset Hills.
He was born in North Philadelphia in 1875, the privileged only child of a rubber baron.
He made his first pilgrimage to St. Andrews in 1896, where he studied under Old Tom Morris.
“I got to know the old man very well indeed in succeeding years, and I spent many happy hours with him in his little sitting room over his shop,” Tillinghast wrote. “It was there that I handled the champion’s belt won by his son, as Old Tom got it out reverently and his eyes filled with tears as he told me many things about his boy.”
Tillinghast returned to St. Andrews several times. He became skilled enough to finish 25th in the 1910 U.S. Open at the Philadelphia Cricket Club.
His architecture career started when a family friend asked him to build a course in Shawnee-on-Delaware, Pennsylvania. His services quickly became in high demand after that course opened.
It was the architect’s job, he wrote, to “produce something which will provide a true test of the game and then consider every conceivable way to make the course as beautiful as possible,” Tillinghast wrote.
He didn’t like overly long courses, hating layouts that emphasized “brawn over finesse.” He liked small, tightly-bunkered greens that put an emphasis on approach play.
After falling on hard times during the Great Depression, Tillinghast died in 1942 at the age of 67.
“He was an unusual man, to say the least,” Tatum once said, “but he was a certifiable genius. You always know when you’re on a Tillinghast course without being told.”
5. HUMPS AND BUMPS
Nicklaus once called Winged Foot’s putting surfaces “the most difficult set of greens I’ve ever seen.”
Colin Montgomerie, runner-up in the 2006 U.S. Open, said they may even be more difficult than the game’s most famous putting surfaces.
“These greens are as quick downhill as Augusta and with possibly more slopes on them than Augusta,” he said. “I think everybody will three-putt out here.”
Source: PGA tour