Here's who would have won every U.S. Open if the playoff was only two holes

Sam Snead
PGA of America archive
What would have happened if all previous U.S. Opens were played under the USGA's new, 2-hole, aggregate score playoff format? For starters, Sam Snead would be in the "career grand slam winner" club.
By T.J. Auclair
PGA.com
Connect with T.J.

Series: Golf Buzz

Published: Monday, June 11, 2018 | 1:19 p.m.

The 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills is the first U.S. Open to be played after the USGA announced a significant change to the playoff format that will be used to decide the champion: 
 
Should a U.S. Open require a playoff, it will consist of a 2-hole, aggregate score format.
 
That's a major switch.
 
Up until 2018, U.S. Opens that were deadlocked after 72 holes went to an 18-hole playoff the next day. Since 1947, if those 18 holes weren't enough to decide a champion, the tournament went to sudden death.
 
Prior to 1947, a tie after 18 holes of a playoff resulted in 18 more playoff holes. There were also times in the U.S. Open where playoffs were 36 holes.  
 
 
All told, there have been 33 playoffs since the U.S. Open was first played in 1895 -- all of them at least 18 holes.
 
With the announcement of the new U.S. Open playoff format, it got us wondering: What if a 2-hole, aggregate score playoff had always been the format? How would history have changed?
 
For starters, 14 U.S. Opens would have crowned a different champion.
 
That includes these notables...
 
Francis Ouimet would not have won the 1913 U.S. Open.
 
Ben Hogan's "Miracle at Merion" in 1950 -- just 16 months after a near-fatal car accident -- never would have come to fruition.
 
Sam Snead would be a sixth name on the list of career grand slam winners if the new format were in place when he was a runner-up in 1947. 
 
Bobby Jones had the most lopsided playoff win in 1929 -- a 23-stroke, playoff romp of Al Espinosa. Under 2018's rules... Espinosa would have won.
 
 
We haven't even talked about how Arnold Palmer's Olympic Club collapse in 1966 would only have been a near collapse, but the list goes on.
 
Here's a look at what every U.S. Open playoff in history would look like with a 2-hole, aggregate score format.
 
1901 U.S. Open
Winner: Willie Anderson
Alternative winner: Alex Smith
 
This was the first playoff in U.S. Open history. Willie Anderson emerged as the winner at  Myopia Hunt Club in South Hamilton, Mass., shooting an 85, which was one better than Alex Smith's 86. 
 
However, it would be Smith hoisting the U.S. Open trophy if the new format were in place we back then. 
 
The pair matched scores for the first three holes of that playoff, before Smith carded a 4 to Anderson's 5 on the fourth hole.
 
1903 U.S. Open
Winner: Willie Anderson
Alternative winner: none
 
In the second U.S. Open playoff, Anderson again came out on top -- this time at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J. Anderson clipped David Brown by two strokes that day, shooting an 82. 
 
If the 2018 rules were in place, Anderson would have won on the third playoff hole. The two matched scores on the first two holes before Anderson's score of 4 would top Brown's 5 on the third hole.
 
1908 U.S. Open
Winner: Fred McLeod
Alternative winner: none
 
Fred McLeod was victorious in the U.S. Open's third 18-hole playoff, defeating Willie Smith by six strokes with a 77 at Myopia Hunt Club in South Hamilton, Mass.
 
In a 2-hole, aggregate score scenario, McLeod still would have been victorious. The two-hole total for each player was "8," but McLeod's 4 on the third playoff hole would have taken the tournament by a single shot.
 
1910 U.S. Open
Winner: Alex Smith
Alternative winner: none
 
Scotland's Alex Smith was part of a three-man, 18-hole playoff in the 1910 U.S. Open at Philadelphia Cricket Club in Chestnut Hill, Penn. Smith prevailed over his younger brother Macdonald Smith and 18-year-old John McDermott to win his second U.S. Open (it would have been his third). Alex Smith shot a 71, which was four strokes better than his brother and six strokes better than McDermott.
 
With 2018 playoff rules, it would have been a battle between the Smith brothers... with Alex prevailing.
 
The Smith's would have totaled eight strokes each on the first two playoff holes and McDermott would have been eliminated with his aggregate "10." 
 
Then, on the third playoff hole, Alex Smith would have downed his little brother with a 4 to Macdonald's 5.
 
1911 U.S. Open 
Winner: John McDermott
Alternative winner: none
 
In this 18-hole playoff at Chicago Golf Club, John McDermott was the winner over Mike Brady and George Simpson. 
 
If the new, 2-hole, aggregate score playoff were in place then, McDermott still would have won... but it would have stretched to three more holes of sudden death. All three golfers were knotted at 1-over par through two holes. Simpson would have bowed out after his double bogey at the third hole. McDermott and Brady matched bogeys and pars at the third and fourth holes, respectively, before McDermott would have won the title on the par-4 fifth hole with a par to Brady's bogey. 
 
1913 U.S. Open
Winner: Francis Ouimet
Alternative winner: Harry Vardon
 
If a 2-hole, aggregate score playoff were in place for this U.S. Open at the Country Club in Brookline, Mass., one of the game's greatest stories never would have come to fruition.
 
This U.S. Open was famous for Francis Ouimet -- the 20-year-old "father of amateur golf" in the United States and a local product -- topping two of the game's best pros of the day in Harry Vardon and Ted Ray when that 18-hole playoff ended.
 
But if it had been played in the new format, it would have ended differently.
 
With all three players tied at even par through two holes, the championship would have moved to sudden death. Ray would exit on the third hole of the playoff with a bogey. Then finally on the par-4 sixth hole, Vardon would have dealt a crushing loss to Ouimet when his birdie to Ouimet's par would have closed out the tournament. 
 
That would have meant no U.S. Open victory for Ouimet and it would have been the second title there for Vardon, which would have bumped his career major total to eight -- two U.S. Opens and six Open Championships.
 
 
1919 U.S. Open
Winner: Walter Hagen
Alternative winner: none
 
Brae Burn Country Club in West Newton, Mass., played host to the 1919 U.S. Open. That's where Walter Hagen got the better of Mike Brady by one stroke in an 18-hole playoff to win his second and final U.S. Open. It was the second of Hagen's 11 major titles. 
 
Even if the 2018 playoff rules were in play, Hagen would have won. His 2-hole, aggregate score in the playoff of "9," was one better than Brady.
 
1923 U.S. Open
Winner: Bobby Jones
Alternative winner: Bobby Cruickshank
 
Scotland's Bobby Cruickshank might be the best player in history to never win a major. If he's not, he's certainly in the argument. And if the rules were the same in 1923 as they'll be in 2018, well, Cruickshank would have that coveted major.
 
That year, amateur Bobby Jones -- regarded as one of the greatest players of all time and undoubtedly the greatest amateur of all time -- defeated Cruickshank by two strokes in an 18-hole playoff at Inwood Country Club in Inwood, N.Y.
 
For Jones, 21 at the time, it was the first of his 13 major victories (remember: back then, the U.S. Amateur and British Amateur were considered majors, too. Jones won five U.S. Amateurs and one British Amateur). 
 
But, if the playoff had been played in the 2-hole, aggregate score format, history would tell a different story. 
 
With a birdie to Jones's par on the par-5 third hole, Cruickshank would have been the winner.
 
 
1925 U.S. Open
Winner: Willie Macfarlane
Alternative winner: Bobby Jones
 
History also would have been different at Worcester Country Club in Worcester, Mass., at the 1925 U.S. Open. The history books show a victory for Scotland's Willie Macfarlane over Bobby Jones by one stroke in a 36-hole playoff.
 
That's right -- 36 holes. In those days, if players were still tied after the first 18 holes of a playoff, they would play another 18 holes to decide the winner. The 1925 U.S. Open was the first instance where this occurred. 
 
But, with a two-hole, aggregate score playoff, the pair would have been tied through two holes at even par and advanced to sudden death. And that's where Jones would have claimed victory at the par-3 fourth hole, where he made a par to Macfarlane's bogey.
 
1927 U.S. Open
Winner: Tommy Armour
Alternative winner: none
 
At Oakmont Country Club in Oakmont, Penn., Tommy Armour -- the Silver Scot -- defeated Harry Cooper in an 18-hole playoff by three strokes to win the first of his three major titles.
 
With 2018's format in place, Armour still would have been the winner. He played the first two holes that day in birdie-par, which would have been one better than Cooper's par-par start.
 
 
1928 U.S. Open
Winner: Johnny Farrell
Alternative winner: Bobby Jones
 
Johnny Farrell was a one-stroke winner over Bobby Jones in the U.S. Open's first 36-hole playoff by design (not when tied after 18 holes like in 1925) at the 1928 U.S. Open played at Course No. 4 of Olympia Fields Country Club in Olympia Fields, Ill.
 
With 2018's rules, it could have been a much shorter affair for all involved. And Jones sure would have loved it, as he would have been the champion. 
 
Jones played the first two holes in birdie-bogey. Farrell, meanwhile, went par bogey and would have lost by a shot.
 
1929 U.S. Open
Winner: Bobby Jones
Alternative winner: Al Espinosa
 
You want to talk about an alternative history? How about the 1929 U.S. Open played at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y.?
 
That 36-hole playoff was a snoozer and led to one of the most dominate playoff wins you'll ever see, with Bobby Jones lapping Al Espinosa by a whopping 23 strokes. After the morning 18, in fact, Jones already had a 12-stroke advantage. It was lopsided to say the least.
 
However... if it had been a 2-hole, aggregate score playoff, well, Jones would have been the one licking his wounds.
 
Jones was behind the 8-ball early in the playoff when he opened with a double bogey on the first hole to Espinosa's par. Jones parred the second hole and Espinosa made bogey, but it would have been good enough for Espinosa to take home a one-stroke victory.
 
That would have been the lone major win for Espinosa, a Corporal in the U.S. Army, who served during World War I.
 
 
1931 U.S. Open
Winner: Billy Burke
Alternative winner: George Von Elm
 
You want to talk about a marathon? That's precisely what the 1931 U.S. Open was at  Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio. After 72 holes of regulation play, Billy Burke and George Von Elm would head to a 36-hole playoff to decide the champion.
 
But, when the pair were still tied up after 36 holes of the playoff, they went to yet another 36-hole playoff the next day. That's 72 holes of regulation play and another 72 holes in a playoff -- or eight rounds in six days.
 
Burke came away as the winner, one shot better than Von Elm in the U.S. Open's longest overtime and the last time there was a 36-hole playoff by design (in this case, more). 
 
Funny enough, with today's, new, 2-hole, aggregate score playoff, Von Elm would have took home the U.S. Open trophy. He was even par through two holes when the playoff started and Burke was 2 over. 
 
Von Elm would never win a U.S. Open, but he had already won the 1926 U.S. Amateur.
 
1939 U.S. Open
Winner: Byron Nelson
Alternative winner: Craig Wood
 
The 1939 U.S. Open at Philadelphia Country Club in Gladwyne, Penn., featured a three-way playoff between Byron Nelson, Denny Shute and Craig Wood.
 
After 18 holes, Nelson and Wood were still knotted up and advanced to a second 18-hole playoff the next day to decide the tournament. Nelson would win by three strokes -- the second of his five career major wins.
 
With a 2-hole, aggregate score playoff, however, things would have played out differently.
 
Nelson and Wood, tied at even par through two holes, would have played three more holes of sudden death before Wood would have won with a par to Nelson's bogey on the par-4 fifth. 
 
In his career, Wood won two majors -- the 1941 Masters and U.S. Open.
 
 
1940 U.S. Open
Winner: Lawson Little
Alternative winner: none
 
Lawson Little picked up his only professional win with a victory over Gene Sarazen in an 18-hole playoff in the 1940 U.S. Open at Canterbury Golf Club in Beachwood, Ohio. Little was three strokes better than Little in that playoff.
 
Had the championship been played with the new rules for 2018, well... Little still would have won. He was 1 under through the first two holes, while Sarazen was 1 over.
 
1946 U.S. Open
Winner: Lloyd Mangrum
Alternative winner: Byron Nelson
 
In 1946, the U.S. Open -- after a hiatus due to World War II from 1942-45 -- was back at Canterbury Golf Club in Beachwood, Ohio.
 
That's where Lloyd Mangrum, a World War II veteran and recipient of two Purple Hearts, defeated Byron Nelson and Vic Ghezzi by a single shot in 36 playoff holes to win his only major title.
 
This was the last U.S. Open playoff that ended in a tie without sudden-death, meaning that going forward, rather than play an additional 18 holes after the first 18-hole playoff, the tournament would move straight into sudden death.
 
But what if that U.S. Open were played under 2018's playoff rules? Well, Nelson would have been the champion. One under after a birdie on the par-4 second hole, Nelson would have been a shot better than both Mangrum and Ghezzi.
 
 
1947 U.S. Open
Winner: Lew Worsham
Alternative winner: Sam Snead
 
You want to talk about changing the course of golf history? That's what would have happened at the 1947 U.S. Open, played at St. Louis Country Club in Ladue, Mo. 
 
There are five players in the game's history to complete the modern-day, career grand slam (Masters, U.S. Open, Open Championship and PGA Championship). They are: Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.
 
If the 1947 U.S. Open playoff were played in 2018's format, there would be a sixth name on that list: Sam Snead.
 
Alas, Lew Worsham won that 18-hole playoff by a single shot over Snead. If it had been a 2-hole, aggregate however, Snead would have won at 1 under. Instead, it was the second of the Slammer's four, runner-up finishes in the U.S. Open.
 
Ouch.
 
 
1950 U.S. Open
Winner: Ben Hogan
Alternative winner: Lloyd Mangrum
 
Ah, "The Miracle at Merion." 
 
The 1950 U.S. Open was one of the most memorable ever played. That's because Ben Hogan -- just 16 months after being severely injured in an automobile accident -- outlasted Lloyd Mangrum and George Fazio in an 18-hole playoff to win the fourth of his nine major titles. 
 
But if the 2018 playoff rules were in place? No "Miracle at Merion" and Mangrum is a two-time U.S. Open champion.
 
Mangrum would have won thanks to his 1-under total through two holes, where Hogan and Fazio made two pars apiece. 
 
 
1955 U.S. Open
Winner: Jack Fleck
Alternative winner: none
 
Regarded as one of the greatest upsets in golf history, Jack Fleck won the 1955 U.S. Open at Olympic Club in San Francisco, Calif., by topping Ben Hogan by three strokes in an 18-hole playoff. 
 
The victory was Fleck's lone major and denied Hogan what would have been a record fifth U.S. Open.
 
In a 2-hole, aggregate score playoff, the outcome would have produced the same champion, with three additional sudden-death holes.
 
Knotted at even par through four holes, Fleck would have won the U.S. Open on the par-4 fifth hole with a par to Hogan's bogey.
 
1957 U.S. Open 
Winner: Dick Mayer
Alternative winner: none
 
Dick Mayer won his only major title, defeating Cary Middlecoff by seven strokes in an 18-hole playoff at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio. 
 
If the playoff had been played implementing 2018's new format, we would have seen the two playoff holes, followed by another three sudden-death holes before Mayer won with a par to Middlecoff's bogey on the par-4 fifth hole.
 
1962 U.S. Open
Winner: Jack Nicklaus
Alternative winner: none
 
Two legends -- Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer -- squared off in an 18-hole playoff at  Oakmont Country Club in Oakmont, Penn., Palmer's backyard, in the 1962 U.S. Open.
 
Nicklaus silenced the pro-Palmer crowd, defeating the local hero by three strokes in the playoff. The victory was the first major for the Golden Bear in a career that would see a record 18 majors total. 
 
Said Palmer after that victory by Nicklaus: "Now that the big guy is out of the cage, everybody better run for cover."
 
In 2018's playoff format, the result would have been the same -- a Nicklaus win. Nicklaus was even par through the first two holes of the playoff, while Palmer was 1 over. 
 
 
1963 U.S. Open
Winner: Julius Boros
Alternative winner: Jacky Cupit
 
Julius Boros won his second U.S. Open title at the Country Club in Brookline, Mass., in 1963, winning an 18-hole playoff over Jacky Cupit and Arnold Palmer.
 
The U.S. Open returned to the Country Club for the first time in 50 years to celebrate the golden anniversary of Francis Ouimet's playoff victory in 1913.
 
Just like Ouimet's victory in 1913 never would have happened if the championship had been played with the new 2018 rules, Boros also would have been on the losing end.
 
In a 2-hole, aggregate score playoff, Cupit would have emerged as the victor. The Texan was even par through the first two holes of the playoff, with Boros and Palmer both 1 over.
 
1965 U.S. Open
Winner: Gary Player
Alternative winner: none
 
Gary Player -- "The Black Knight" -- notched his lone U.S. Open victory at Bellerive Country Club in Town and Country, Mo., in 1965, topping Kel Nagle by three strokes in an 18-hole playoff.
 
Under 2018's new playoff rules, Player still would have come out on top and his career grand slam would remain intact. Player was 1 under through two holes to Nagle's even par.
 
 
1966 U.S. Open
Winner: Billy Casper
Alternative winner: Arnold Palmer
 
The 1966 U.S. Open at Olympic Club in San Francisco, Calif., is most well-known for Arnold Palmer's epic collapse. After taking a seven-stroke lead with just nine holes to play in regulation, Palmer unraveled and Billy Casper charged to grab a share of the lead through 72 holes, forcing an 18-hole playoff the next day.
 
Even though Palmer had a two-stroke advantage through nine holes in the playoff, Casper would fight back and win by four strokes.
 
Interestingly, if that playoff had been contested with 2018's rules, Palmer's final-round collapse would be nothing more than an afterthought. That's because "The King" would have closed out the playoff in four holes, snapping the tie through three holes with a birdie on the par-4 fourth.
 
Instead, Olympic Club marked Palmer's third loss in as many playoffs at the U.S. Open (1962, 1963, and 1966).
 
 
1971 U.S. Open
Winner: Lee Trevino
Alternative winner: none
 
Lee Trevino won his second U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Penn., in 1971, topping Jack Nicklaus by three strokes. It was the second of Trevino's six major wins and the second of four times that Nicklaus would finish runner-up to Trevino in the majors.
 
The new playoff format wouldn't have made a difference in this one, as Trevino still would have prevailed. The pair was tied at 1 over through two holes, but the tournament would have ended on the par-3 third hole. That's where Trevino made a par to Nicklaus's double bogey.
 
 
1975 U.S. Open
Winner: Lou Graham
Alternative winner: none
 
Lou Graham defeated John Mahaffey by two strokes in an 18-hole Monday playoff to win his only major championship in the 1975 U.S. Open at Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill.
 
Under 2018's rules, Graham would have ended the tournament in two playoff holes. He was even par through two holes, while Mahaffey was 1 over.
 
1984 U.S. Open
Winner: Fuzzy Zoeller
Alternative winner: none
 
At Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y., Fuzzy Zoeller would win his first U.S. open and second major overall, defeating Greg Norman by eight strokes in an 18-hole playoff.
 
Zoeller took control of the playoff right out of the gate, so even with the 2018 rules, the outcome wouldn't have changed.
 
Through two holes, Zoeller was 2 under and three strokes clear of Norman.
 
 
1988 U.S. Open
Winner: Curtis Strange
Alternative: none 
 
In the first of his two consecutive U.S. Open victories, Curtis Strange topped Nick Faldo by four strokes in an 18-hole playoff.
 
The outcome would have been the same with 2018's rules in place. 
 
Tied at even par through two holes, Strange would have closed the tournament with a par to Faldo's bogey on the par-4 third.
 
1990 U.S. Open
Winner: Hale Irwin
Alternative winner: none
 
Hale Irwin -- 45 at the time -- became the oldest U.S. Open champion by defeating Mike Donald at the 91st hole, the first in sudden-death, after the two tied in the 18-hole Monday playoff at Medinah in 1990.
 
If 2018's format were in place, Irwin still would have won the tournament. The pair was even par through three playoff holes, before Irwin would have closed it out with a par at the par-4 fourth to Donald's bogey.
 
 
1991 U.S. Open
Winner: Payne Stewart
Alternative winner: none
 
Payne Stewart won the first of his two U.S. Open titles in 1991 at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn., defeating 1987 champ Scott Simpson by two strokes in an 18-hole playoff.
 
Simpson struggled out of the gate in the Monday playoff with bogeys at each of the first two holes. Stewart, meanwhile, carded two pars, which -- with 2018's format -- would have ended the tournament there.
 
1994 U.S. Open
Winner: Ernie Els
Alternative winner: Loren Roberts
 
Ernie Els, Loren Roberts and Colin Montgomerie were all knotted up through 72 holes of regulation in the 1994 U.S. Open at Oakmont, requiring an 18-hole playoff the next day.
 
Els would win that playoff, but it took 92 holes. He and Roberts advanced to sudden death when they were still tied after the 18-hole playoff. Two holes later, Els made a par to Roberts's bogey and the tournament was over.
 
Interestingly, had there been a 2-hole, aggregate score playoff, Roberts would have won his lone major. Roberts was 1 over through two holes, while Els was 4 over in that span after a triple-bogey on the par-4 second. Montgomerie was 2 over with a double bogey on that second hole.
 
 
2001 U.S. Open
Winner: Retief Goosen
Alternative winner: Mark Brooks
 
The 2001 U.S. Open at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Oklahoma... the major it seemed no one wanted to win. On the 72nd hole, Retief Goosen and Stewart Cink each three-putted from inside 15 feet. 
 
That bumped Cink out of contention and put Goosen in an 18-hole playoff with Mark Brooks the next day.
 
Goosen won the playoff by two strokes to win his first major.
 
Brooks, the 1996 PGA Champion, however, would have been the champion if 2018's playoff rules were in place.
 
The pair parred each of the first two holes in the playoff, but Brooks took the lead with a birdie at the par-4 third, which -- with today's rules -- would have ended it.
 
2008 U.S. Open
Winner: Tiger Woods
Alternative winner: none
 
In one of the most electric U.S. Opens ever contested, Tiger Woods -- playing on a broken leg -- drained a must-make putt from 12 feet on the final hole in regulation to force an 18-hole playoff with Rocco Mediate the next day at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.
 
The playoff went back and forth until Woods finally closed it out on the 19th hole of the day, the 91st hole of the tournament and the first hole of sudden death with a par to Mediate's bogey.
 
Unfortunately for Mediate, even if the 2018 playoff format had been in place, he still would have been on the losing end.
 
Woods was even par through the first two holes, while Mediate was 1 over.
 
 

T.J. Auclair is a Senior Interactive Producer for PGA.com and has covered professional golf since 1998, traveling to over 60 major championships. You can follow him on Twitter, @tjauclair.