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Congressional Country Club, U.S. Opens and Memories


I will be watching the United States Open Golf Tournament from the best seat in the house this weekend- my living room. But there was a time Congressional was an annual tradition for me and it conjures up some great memories.

Before the abomination known as Avenel Country Club came into existence, Congressional was home to the Kemper Open Golf Tournament, the PGA’s only stop in the nation’s capital. It used to be broadcast by CBS, which I worked for at the time, so I used to get press passes and would alternate spending time on the course and hanging out with the CBS Sports crews in their trailer/studios.

The Golden Bear

I once got a ride in a golf cart with Pat Summerall and got more than a few grins watching the taping of a Ken Venturi chipping lesson at Congressional’s 18th green (the par-4 peninsula green). Trust me…they don’t do it in one take. But, to Venturi’s credit, it only took him three tries to chip to within about five feet of the hole. About a dozen of us spectators and the CBS ENG crew gave him a standing ovation.

I saw Freddie Couples win his very first golf tournament. It was memorable for the endearing spectacle of his first wife, a tall gorgeous blonde, running to the green with her arms open to crush him in a bear hug.

But the highlight of all highlights was following Jack Nicklaus on a magical round in which the Golden Bear notched six birdies in a row. For one of them, I totally lucked out and just happened to be positioned at a fairway trap on the back 9. Jack hit right into it, right in front of me.

So now I accidently happen to be in the front row of the huge gallery that was following him to watch as he tried to keep the birdie streak alive hitting out of sand about 160 yards away from the green. Nicklaus hit an absolutely amazing shot, landing about ten feet from the hole and made the putt. You could hear the roar for miles.

The Old Tiger

My only U.S. Open experience was at Bethpage State Park in New York two years ago. It was a soggy, muddy, hilarious adventure. My girlfriend, Millie and I, positioned ourselves on this hill that overlooks the 18th tee and the 17th green. It’s a very, very steep hill. After a couple of days of rain it had turned into a quagmire. As group after group of golfers would play through, spectators started slipping in the mud. I remember one guy, dressed in pressed white shorts, smoking cigars and looking every bit a close friend of Tony Soprano, as he started listing to the right. Having seen a couple of others topple, we could see it all happening in slow motion. Someone even yelled out, “There he goes!” And he plopped right into the mud as the ground gave way beneath him. So much for the pressed white shorts. He fell a few more times as he tried to get up. It was so much fun.

Then, lo and behold, THE group marched to the 17th tee- the one that included Tiger Woods. Tiger hit a shot that went considerably right of the tiny par-3 green and landed in super-thick U.S. Open rough. He was not a happy camper. This was the old Tiger- the one who still used to win tournaments and cursed up a storm after errant shots. He could barely see the ball. He positioned himself and took a whack at it. Three bounces and into the cup. Birdie. Tiger magic. Roar from the gallery. Tiger fist-pump and wide smile.

Neither Nicklaus nor Tiger won on the two days some 15 years apart that I was fortunate enough to watch them work their magic but that does not matter. Magic is magic, whether it’s part of a winning effort or not.

  1. Gary
    January 18, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    Was that Nicklaus birdie streak at the IVB Philadelphia tournament in the seventies?
    BTW, Avenel looked much better after they re-designed it… (Senior TPC was held there last year)
    -friend of Bill

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