Janzen makes his ability to perform under pressure an Open and shut case GOLF

John Steadman

June 21, 1993|By John Steadman

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. -- All the dangerous symptoms were showing. The patient was in trouble and in need of oxygen. Here was Lee Janzen, far from a household name, contesting Payne Stewart, the U.S. Open golf champion of only two years ago, and they were locked in a resolute two-man march to the finish line.

Janzen had a two-stroke lead, was holding off every threat against his favored and more experienced opponent, when suddenly he began to wobble after the turn for home and let the advantage slip away. They were all-even after 12; Stewart had negated the margin.

The critical questions: Was Janzen about to play his way out of one of the most coveted prizes in golf? Was Stewart, trading off a career that shows eight tour wins, asserting himself via the important factor of experience, plus having one of the great natural swings in golf?

It was right there, when he was dead-even and in serious jeopardy, that Janzen showed the kind of fortitude that gives insight into what makes a man a winner. Then and there, he told himself, he was not going to be a sinking ship battered on the barriers of Baltusrol.

He righted himself, pulled ahead and became the first player in the seven Open championships staged over this long, difficult course to shoot all four rounds in the 60s. That was done only once before in the 93 years of Open history -- not at Baltusrol, but in 1968 at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester by Lee Trevino.

There's no particular aspect of Janzen's game that stands out above the rest, not his driving, fairway woods, irons, chipping or putting. But he knows how to make birdies, which is an intangible that can't be measured by a computer. Janzen hadn't been able to survive the cut after 36 holes in three previous Open adventures and this, too, was a negative consideration.

Now here he was reaching out for one of the most cherished titles in golf. He gathered himself for a final surge that enabled him to move in front with spectacular birdies on holes 14 and 16. Stewart couldn't match him and didn't get another bird until No. 18 but Janzen duplicated at the par 5 and left the green with an eight-under total of 272, equaling the Open record of Jack Nicklaus over this same real estate in 1980.

Janzen cried tears of joy and had trouble pulling himself out of the emotions of the moment. He said the putt on No. 14 "was the best I ever hit" and that when he chipped in on No. 16 with a wedge he had the advantage of the grass leaning toward the hole. Yet it was Janzen who had to make the shot, regardless of the lie.

The entire final-round scenario was almost as if it were meant to be, as Janzen fought off Stewart's pursuit. Several times it appeared his nerves were causing him problems as he addressed the ball and seemed uncertain about his take-away. But, as the tension mounted, he looked Stewart dead in the eye and accepted his challenge.

Good fortune played a role when the 28-year-old's drive on the 17th was headed for trouble but was caught by the benevolent branches of a tree and dropped softly to the fairway, a free light from Mother Nature. Then he got another smile from the gods of golf on the 18th when his third shot hit to the right of the hole and, instead of catching in the grass or bounding away, kicked left and rolled onto the green.

In the stretch, with the pressure on, collars tightening and the cups looking the size of bottle caps, Lee was at his best. He got his swing under control, showing "quiet" hands as he set up in his address, and didn't fall apart in the long, precarious journey to the Open championship.

Janzen, born in Austin, Minn., moved to Westminster, Md., in 1971 at age 7 and remained there until he was 12, when the family settled in Lakeland, Fla. He remembers his introduction to golf was on the nine-hole Western Maryland College course. Interestingly enough, this is the same place where consistent PGA money-winner Donnie Hammond of Frederick, Md., learned to play.

Maybe Western Maryland College should display a bronze plaque on the first tee denoting the fact it was where the 1993 U.S. Open Champion, one Lee Janzen, took up the game as a child. A U.S. Open, denoting the national title, is an achievement of extraordinary proportions. Historical markers have been erected for lesser feats.

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