Bizarre U.S. Open Story- The Strange Tale of Hinkle's Pine!

With the US Open on this week we got to thinking about some of our favorite moments from this great event. The one I choose to share always brings a smile to my face, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

At the 1979 US Open an unusual thing happened on the 8th hole. A 30-foot black spruce tree grew overnight, just off the front of the 8th tee! Now before you check the cover of this book to make sure you didn't pick up an omnibus edition of the National Enquirer by mistake, allow me to explain.

Lon Hinkle, one of the Tour's longest hitters, may not have made as indelible a mark as some of the more famous champions, but he certainly possessed some of the necessary traits. His game featured very powerful tee shots and an enviable degree of creativity. During a practice round Hinkle realized the 8th hole, a 528 yard par five, could be made much shorter and easier by playing his tee shot down the adjacent 17th fairway. During the first round Hinkle did just that by firing a 1-iron through a gap in the trees, ahead and to the left of the 8th tee, straight down the 17th fairway. From there he played an unobstructed iron shot onto the 8th green for an easy birdie. This lead to a solid round that placed him atop the first round leader board. Word quickly spread through the field about Hinkle's creative approach to the hole but, in the best tradition of Britain's Queen Victoria, the USGA was “not amused.”

That night, while the unsuspecting players slept, the “powers that be” drove onto the course under cover of darkness. Armed with a back hoe, a tractor and an army of men, they dug a huge hole not far from the 8th tee. In it they placed the aforementioned 30 foot black spruce tree, effectively plugging the gap in the tree line between the adjacent fairways and preventing the players from making a mockery of the 8th hole by taking the short cut. To the best of my knowledge, this is the only occasion in US Open history where the course was altered in the middle of a championship. Hinkle may have had the last laugh. He still smashed his tee shot on the 8th down the 17th fairway by the simple expedient of hitting it over the tree. Although he finished 20 shots behind the eventual winner, Hale Irwin, the 1979 championship will be remembered by many as, “The Hinkle's Pine Open.”

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