George Daves knows what a contender for the championship of the U.S. Open looks like.
It was 20 years ago this weekend that the Medford resident got an up-close and personal look at one.
Daves, who helped Medford High to three straight state golf championships and had a decorated college career at Oregon, qualified for the 1991 tournament at Hazeltine National in Chaska, Minn.
The entire experience was memorable, from his father, Bill, serving as his caddie, to nasty — and in one case, lethal — weather, to extremely difficult course conditions and a couple rounds in the 80s that left him far from the cut line.
As the year's second major plays out this weekend in Bethesda, Md., Daves, an investment advisor, recalled his foray into golf's grand-slam world.
"The best day that I had was the practice round," says the 46-year-old. "I remember that really well."
When he and his father arrived at the course, Daves found a note in his locker from Peter Jacobsen, himself a former Duck golfer from Portland. Jacobsen set up a practice round for Daves with himself and good friend Scott Simpson, plus another former Oregon player, Eric Johnson.
Simpson had captured the 1987 U.S. Open, and five days after playing with Daves in the practice round, nearly did it again. He lost in a playoff to Payne Stewart.
"Peter set that up and we had a really good time," says Daves. "Scott Simpson had won a U.S. Open and it was cool to meet him and play that round. Peter was really popular, so we had a ton of people following us."
Jacobsen's caddie was Mike "Fluff" Cowan, and the two played to the crowd. Jacobsen allowed Fluff to hit a par-3 tee ball and the golfer briefly carried his own bag. The two are reunited this week, Jacobsen as a TV commentator and Fluff as Jim Furyk's caddie.
"He's a real character," Daves says of Fluff. "They did some goofy stuff."
Bill Daves says there was another reason for the large audience.
"We were right in front of (Tom) Watson and (Jack) Nicklaus," he says, "so you know what kind of crowd it was. It was just amazing. And Peter was just awesome. He couldn't do enough for George."
Each year George was at Oregon, says Bill, Jacobsen would visit "from daylight to dark" and practice and play with the team.
George played well in the practice round, but he was struck by how good Simpson was.
"I don't think he curved his ball 10 feet all day long," says Daves. "He absolutely piped it. The guy was pure. I'd never seen him play before, only on TV, but he was quite impressive in person. Yeah, I did think back then that he could win."
Simpson came oh so close.
He and Stewart shot 6-under-par 282s through four rounds and went to an 18-hole Monday playoff. Simpson led by two shots with three holes remaining before Stewart rallied for the win.
Daves didn't fare as well, with scores of 10-over 82 in the first round and 85 in the second.
"I played better than I scored," he says. "From what I remember, I hit it pretty good. I hit a lot of fairways and a lot of greens and didn't take advantage. I had a lot of birdie putts that went right over the edge. That's what ultimately hurt me. I never figured out the greens."
Indeed, an article in the Mail Tribune soon after noted Daves hit 10 of 14 fairways on Day 2 but had six three-putts.
Twenty years ago, the course setup wasn't like it is today, with playable rough that gradually gets worse the farther off the fairway you get.
"If you missed the fairways by a foot, you were dead," says Daves. "You were chopping it out, and you weren't reaching the green on those long par 4s in two. The weather was windy and the rough was really long."
The weather was a big part of the story at the '91 Open. A spectator was struck and killed by lightning while standing under a tree near the 16th hole during the first round.
Daves had a very early tee time and was off the course eating lunch when the dangerous weather rolled in.
Daves made it into the Open by surviving a playoff in a local qualifier at Edgewood in Lake Tahoe, Nev., then claimed one of five spots in a 60-man field during sectional qualifying at Riviera in Los Angeles.
He chose the Tahoe course because the Ducks played a tournament there each year and he was familiar with it. At Riviera, his game was as solid as it ever had been, resulting in rounds of 69 and 71 on the par-71 layout and a second-place finish.
No matter what game he took to Hazeltine, however, it was going to get a severe test. Daves had played in two U.S. Amateurs, two U.S. Junior Amateurs, had a top-10 NCAA finish and competed abroad as a professional.
"Nothing really compares to that," he says of the Open. "It's a whole different deal."
Daves graduated from Medford in 1982 and helped the school to state titles in 1980-82.
He played in three Southern Oregon Golf Championships, winning back-to-back titles in 1985 and '86. He would have entered more, but the U.S. Amateur was held at the same time.
Family life and work keep Daves busy enough that he rarely gets out, but he hopes to someday ramp up his play.
A GOLFER PASSING through the Rogue Valley stopped and played Centennial Golf Club, and it was a good thing, for he made the shot of his life.
Chris Boyum of Eugene made a double-eagle 2 on the par-5 11th hole on Sunday. He described the shot in a note to Vince Domenzain, general manager and director of golf:
"I was on my way to a little family golf vacation at Lake Shastina Golf Resort and stopped in Medford to play your course. That was probably the best decision I ever made because I ended up holing out with my second shot for an albatross on Hole No. 11! I couldn't believe it! I had a good drive and was sitting in the middle of the fairway, then I hit the shot of my life from 233 yards outs with my 3-wood.
"Initially, I thought I might have flown the green, so when I got out of the cart I actually had a wedge in my hand. I think I might have swooshed the cup or hit the pin and dropped in because my shot really ballooned. But I couldn't find a divot anywhere on the green or in the front of the green."
Boyum initially wasn't going to contact Domenzain but was encouraged to do so by a friend.
He finished with, "By the way, the course is in immaculate shape."
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