PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Two-time defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka was his typical direct and terse self when asked if he’d bothered to learn anything about Willie Anderson, the golfer whose historic “three-peat” feat Koepka trying to equal.
“No,” said. He hadn’t even thought to Google him.
You can bet the farm, however, that Tiger Woods knows exactly who Anderson is. Should Woods win, he’ll equal a different historic feat; he’ll join Anderson, Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan as the winners of the most career U.S. Opens with four.
One has to argue that no golfer was ever more dominant when it came to the U.S. Open than Anderson. He won four titles in five years, first in 1901 and then the three consecutive victories from 1903 to 1905. In fact, in the 14 straight Opens that he was a contestant, Anderson won four times, was second once, third once, fourth twice and fifth three times. He won titles with both the old gutta-percha golf ball and the rubber-cored ball which came into use in 1902. Anderson also won four Western Opens, a major at that time, in 1902, 1904, 1908 and 1909.
He cut quite the Hollywood figure, with his fit, muscular physique. He looked both dapper and dashing in his houndstooth cap and shirtsleeves, his tie tucked into his shirt as though he didn’t want to get a lunchtime stain on it.
Reports vary as to his young and untimely death at the young age of 31 in Chestnut Hill, a suburb of Philadelphia.. Some say he died of epilepsy, other say it was either a brain tumor or hardening of the arteries. Either way, upon his death in 1909, the golf world mourned the loss of a star in full ascension, much like Roberto Clemente or Thurman Munson. Upon his death, no less a personage than rival Alex Smith, a man who finished second to Anderson twice at the Open, lamented that "most likely, had he lived longer, Willie would've set a record for (U.S.) Open championships that would never be beaten."
His two most important records still stand, though the door is open for either Woods or Koepka to tie one of them. By the way, for those of you scoring at home, Walter Hagen holds the record for most consecutive wins in a particular major. He won the PGA (at match play) from 1924-1927. This was after losing in the final to Gene Sarazen in 1923, a year in which Sarazen successfully defended the title he first won in 1922. Only two other players have won the same major three times in a row. Australia’s Peter Thomson won three consecutive Open Championships from 1954-1956 at Royal Birkdale, St. Andrews, and Hoylake. Ralph Guldahl won three consecutive Western Opens from 1936-1938. He also, like Koepka, won back-to-back U.S. Opens in 1938 and 1939.
Still, for now, Anderson is the only man to win three U.S. Opens in a row. Moreover, he stands with only Nicklaus and Hogan as a four-time winner of our national championship. Let’s take a look at the world in which Anderson won his four U.S. Opens.
1901, Myopia Hunt Club, South Hamilton, Mass.: For over 120 years Myopia has been one of the greatest and most sought-after clubs to include to the well-traveled golfers odysseys and for the student of the game to learn the craft of golf design. Famous for its post-round fox hunts, it’s a slice of Golden Age Americana.
In 1901, President William McKinley was shot and killed. Teddy Roosevelt succeeded him. The Edison Storage Battery Company was founded in New Jersey, helping bring portable power to the masses. The first vacuum cleaner was invented, and Victoria of England died after a 63 year reign. God save the Queen.
At Myopia, both Anderson and Smith posted total scores of 331, the highest winning score in U.S. Open history, with Smith narrowly missing a putt at the 18th to win the championship in regulation. The playoff, the first in U.S. Open history, was pushed back to Monday because Sunday was reserved for member play. Anderson won 85 to 87.
1903, Baltusrol Golf Club, (Old Course), Springfield, N.J.: Another year, another playoff: This time the runner-up was Scotland’s Dave Brown. Anderson is credited with winning wire-to-wire as he held the outright lead after rounds one, two and three, but frittered away a whopping six-stroke lead, stumbling to an 82 in the final round while Brown carded a brilliant 76. The course on that Anderson won on no longer exists.
That same year, Orville Wright flew his airplane at Kitty Hawk, N.C., and 603 people were killed when fire ripped through the Iroquois Theatre in Chicago, still to this day the deadliest fire in United States history.
1904, Glen View Club, Chicago, Ill.: With four rounds in the 70s, including his best for last, a 72 to close, Anderson became the first person to successfully defend his title. His 303 aggregate was good enough for a five stroke win over England’s Gilbert Nicholls.
Meanwhile, work began on the Panama Canal, and a palindrome was born (a man, a plan, a canal…). The ice cream cone was invented in St. Louis. And New York City was two historic milestones: the first underground subway line opened, and Times Square hosted its first New Year's Eve party.
1905, Myopia Hunt Club: Anderson completed his three-peat at the same club where he won his first Open, besting Alex Smith again, this time by two strokes. Roosevelt elected to serve his first full term and second overall.
Las Vegas is founded when 110 acres, in what later becomes downtown, are auctioned off. And Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer were banned from the Brooklyn Public Library.