Golf: Champion of the unknown

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The Independent Online
THE RECEIVED wisdom is that any professional golfer worth his appearance money has to have a major championship under his belt. It is all very well for Colin Montgomerie to dominate Europe, but until he wins a big one his place in the pantheon is not assured.

Most people in the game recognise the validity of this unwritten rule, although every now and then it is undermined by the arrival on the grand stage of a man who was thought to be the prompter rather than a major player. It can be called the Andy North syndrome.

North has been an exception to every rule, such as the one that says nobody remembers who comes second. When North won nobody remembered who came first.

He came from a place called Thorpe in Wisconsin and was minding his own business when he suddenly won the US Open at Cherry Hills in Denver in 1978. North held a four-stroke lead with five holes to play in the final round. By the time he bogeyed the last he was one over par and finished a stroke in front of J C Snead and Dave Stockton.

Seven years later, at Oakland Hills in Birmingham, Michigan, North was one under par and that was one better than anybody else. And that, apart from a win in the Westchester Classic, was that. Many great players fail to win the US Open; North won it twice.

If Lee Janzen, from Kissimmee, Florida, is not careful he could become the south's answer to North. Janzen's career has been unspectacular but for one thing - he has won the US Open twice.

The former recruit from the Greater Tampa Junior Golf Association was not in the betting when he arrived at Baltusrol in Springfield, New Jersey, in June 1993. He shot four rounds in the 60s for an aggregate of 272, eight under par, equalling Jack Nicklaus's record lowest total for a US Open, which he set at Baltusrol 13 years earlier.

Janzen, who finished two strokes in front of Payne Stewart, had a stroke of luck at the 10th in the last round where he drove into the rough. He opted to hit a five iron over a large tree. "I didn't get the ball solidly enough and hit it low," he said. "It went straight between a couple of big branches and landed on the front of the green." He two putted for par and the crisis passed.

Last year Stewart was the man dreaming the Olympic dream until history conspired to repeat itself. Stewart led from day one, keeping the Olympic club in San Francisco (par 70) at bay with a 66. Janzen was nowhere near the lead following a 73 and, although he recovered with a 66, another 73 in the third round left him off the pace.

After three holes Janzen was seven strokes behind Stewart and a wayward drive at the fifth seemed to put him in an impossible position. "I hit a four wood off the tee to my right," he said. "The wind was right to left but I over-played it and it hit the trees. The marshals were looking around and then someone yelled that my ball had stayed in a tree. They had spotted it with their binoculars. I grabbed a ball from my caddy and was ready to hit another drive. Before I got back to the tee the ball fell out of the tree."

Janzen holed a 20-foot chip to save par. Out in 35, he still trailed by three strokes, but birdies at the 11th and 13th had a dramatic effect on the leader board. Even so only Janzen, the Olympic club and a divot stood between Stewart - he led the field by four after round three - and the US Open. At the 12th Stewart found the fairway with his drive but his ball came to rest in a divot. He missed the green and found a bunker, at which point a US GA official warned him about slow play. Stewart failed to get it up and down and dropped another shot at the 13th.

Up ahead, Janzen closed with a 68 for a total of 280, level par, leaving the man with plus fours to finish with a 74, plus four, for an aggregate of 281. "I know I can play tough courses well and it gets better as time goes by," Janzen, who is only the 18th player to win the US Open more than once, said.

Lady Luck - not so much the rub of the green as his affinity with trees - had taken a shine to Janzen who in turn had taken a shine to the Englishman Dave Musgrove. One of the most experienced caddies on the circuit, Musgrove had helped Sandy Lyle to triumphs in the Open and the Masters before teaming up with Janzen, who said: "The first time he caddied for me I didn't understand a word he said but I knew he could do nothing but help me."

In 1992 Janzen's temperament was so suspect he threw his putter into a lake during The Players' Championship at Sawgrass, Florida; three years later he won the tournament with the same putter and under extremely testing conditions.

Janzen was 16 when he was involved in a near-fatal car crash. He needed surgery after severing an artery in his right arm. They replaced a piece of the artery with a vein from an ankle. Perhaps this explains why he is one of the best putters in America.

His chances of successfully defending the US Open at Pinehurst this week are enhanced on two counts: it is his favourite course and there are trees everywhere.