If there’s one thing golf fans have come to expect from the U.S. Open Championship, it’s the unexpected.
This most competitive major’s long history is sprinkled with magical stories of players who beat the odds to win the U.S. Open golf tournament.
Some were relative unknowns (one even an amateur), while others were seasoned pros who took the title after overcoming injury and, in one case, a near-death experience.
Here are just five players who have overturned the golf odds to claim the U.S. Open trophy.
Billy Casper, 1966
It would be unfair to suggest Casper was an unlikely winner of the U.S. Open. After all, he was one of the more prolific PGA tour winners during the height of his game back in the 1960s and 70s.
What makes his victory in 1966 memorable and so unlikely is not the manner of his play but the way the red-hot favorite, Arnold Palmer, blew up on the home stretch to hand the title to a surprised Casper.
Palmer, a golfing icon, held a seemingly rock-solid seven-stroke lead going into the back nine at The Olympic Club in San Francisco. But he went on a woeful run, finishing the back nine seven over and allowing Casper, who played to par, to catch up and win the playoff.
Tiger Woods, 2008 and 2000
Can any “golf’s finest” article be complete without the legendary Tiger Woods? You might expect his name in shining lights, but it’s perhaps surprising to see him on a list of players who beat the odds to win the U.S. Open golf championship.
But Tiger gets an entry into this article not once but twice for his victories in 2000 and 2008.
The first, in 2000, gets a mention for the extraordinary way Tiger romped to victory at Pebble Beach.
He had been fighting with a number of players in the early rounds before building his lead to 10 shots going into Sunday. But what came next was astonishing; there could be no better way to beat the golf odds to win a championship.
Tiger not only extended his 10-shot lead, but he finished the tournament at 12-under par, a full 15, yes 15, strokes ahead of Ernie Els. It was the biggest winning margin in majors history.
Tiger’s second entry comes in an altogether different kind of victory, in 2008 at Torrey Pines, for what was his third U.S. Open victory.
His fine approach on the 18th forced a playoff with Rocco Mediate, which he won. That’s all standard stuff, but what we didn’t know at the time was that Tiger was playing through acute pain.
It wasn’t just a niggling injury. He had a torn ACL and two stress fractures.
His so-called one-legged major was one of the most accomplished ways to beat the odds to win the U.S. Open.
Rory McIlroy, 2011
2011 was an explosive year for the Northern Irishman, Rory McIlroy. In April, he blew a chance to win The Masters, where he held the lead before having a meltdown on the final nine, ending up in 15th place.
His U.S. Open victory at the Congressional Country Club in Maryland is so sweet that it came just a few months after his Augusta heartache.
In doing so, McIlroy became the youngest U.S. Open winner since Bobby Jones in 1923.
Ben Hogan, 1950
While I’m impressed by how Tiger Woods returned from his car accident in 2021 to compete professionally once more, it doesn’t come close to what Ben Hogan achieved in 1950.
Hogan nearly died in a horrific car crash just 16 months before one of the most amazing comebacks in golfing history.
He managed to win the U.S. Open while competing with bandaged legs at Merion. Hogan looked like he would just miss catching the leaders, but he made one of the best shots in the history of golf on the 18th, a low 1-iron into the wind and uphill to reach the green in two. He pulled out a par to secure a playoff against Lloyd Mangrum and George Fazio.
Francis Ouimet, 1913
Ouimet was an amateur player living across the street from The Country Club in Brookline, the venue for this year’s U.S. Open.
He managed to qualify but could not afford a caddy, so an 11-year-old acquaintance carried his bag.
Local knowledge paid dividends as he pulled off an unlikely victory, becoming the first amateur to win the U.S. Open and the first player to win the event in his first attempt.
While my top five names take a bow for how they won the U.S. Open golf tournament, I should mention these recent winners.
First, Jordan Spieth became the youngest ever winner in 2015. Second Brooks Koepka successfully defended his U.S. Open title in 2018 and narrowly missed out on making it three in a row in 2019.