It was 20 years ago Thursday, when Corey Pavin put his 4-wood in play.
He hit a 228-yard shot into the par-4 18th green at Shinnecock Hills that helped him win a U.S. Open that still is reverberating. Even now, the 1995 Open appears important and portentous in many ways, including the fact it firmly established the Southampton course as a member of the Open rotation. It will be host for the national championship again in 2018.
"It was a good week at Shinnecock," Pavin said this week as a commentator for Fox, which is televising the Open for the first time. The network's lead analyst is Greg Norman, who finished second to Pavin 20 years ago.
That Open is not as prominent as the one in 1986, Shinnecock's first in the modern era, nor as notorious as the one in 2004, when the scenic layout became scorched earth because of the U.S. Golf Association's decisions about watering. But it had its own cachet as the 100th anniversary of the first U.S. Open. It also was the first one televised by NBC, whose contract enriched the USGA so much that the association could afford to bring an Open to a public course: Bethpage Black.
Plus it was simply a great week. "We had good weather, a lot better than '86. That was the main thing," said Don McDougall, who was the Shinnecock Hills head pro then. He never will forget the sight of Pavin running up the 18th fairway to watch the ball roll near the flagstick, then two-putt for a clinching par.
"I had the pleasure of being out with him after that, we had an outing -- I think it was for American Express -- and we took him down to the spot. He hit six balls from the same spot approximately. He hit four of them on the green and two just short. I thought that was a pretty good percentage," said McDougall, who retired in 2006 after 45 years at the club and still lives five minutes from the pro shop.
Pavin said on Fox this week from Chambers Bay that the real pivotal shot 20 years ago was the 5-foot par putt he made on the par-3 17th.
"It allowed me to play conservatively off the tee, and thus I had a very long shot in," he said, distinctly recalling that his caddie was adamant that it was too far for a 2-iron. "The second I hit it, I knew it was good."
It changed his life, leading to him being a Ryder Cup captain and enough of a big name to be doing TV work this week.
Shinnecock is doing fine, too, in McDougall's view. He played there last week with a member of the Harris family, which has held a membership for four generations. The former pro saw a good mix of enhancement and tradition in preparation for 2018.
"They've kept the same lines where it's feasible to do it. I've always felt you should keep to the original design of the golf course as much as you can," McDougall said.
No one broke par 20 years ago, a fact that further entrenched the word Shinnecock in the world golf lexicon. For instance, the other day, two-time Open champion Andy North called Chambers Bay "Shinnecock on steroids."
Twenty years ago, Phil Mickelson first established himself as an Open contender, tying for fourth and earning the first of his 10 top-10 finishes.
The 1995 event at Shinnecock also was the U.S. Open debut for a skinny college kid who had won the 1994 U.S. Amateur. Shinnecock's fescue proved too much for him, though. He injured his wrist and dropped out on the sixth hole of his second round. "You are supposed to stay out of the long grass and I didn't," said the teen, named Tiger Woods.