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Sports Then and Now

Golfing Great Hale Irwin

Posted on May 27, 2012 by Dean Hybl

Hale Irwin

The June Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month if one of only six men in history to win at least three United States Golf Open Championships, with his third victory being an improbable victory in 1990 at the age of 45.

In fact, when Hale Irwin claimed his third U.S. Open title following an improbable 45-foot birdie on the 72nd hole and then a playoff victory over Mike Donald, it had been more than five years since he had last won a PGA tournament.
However, for a two week period in June 1990 he turned back the clock as he edged Donald to win the U.S. Open and then followed it up the next week with a two-stroke victory in the Buick Classic.

A two-sport athlete at the University of Colorado, Irwin was a two-time All-Big 8 defensive back and in 1967 won the NCAA Division I Golf Championship. He was also an Academic All-American while a member of the Buffaloes.

Irwin became a professional golfer in 1968, but it took three years before he would earn his first victory. He won the Sea Pines Heritage in November 1971 and then claimed the same tournament for his second title in September 1973.

It was the following year when Irwin started to emerge as a leader on the PGA Tour. He tied for fourth at the 1974 Masters and then won his first U.S. Open with a two-stroke victory over Forrest Fezler.

In 1975, Irwin posted top-10 performances in each of the four majors with his best finish being a tie for third at the U.S. Open.

Over the next three years Irwin posted three top-10 finishes at the Masters and tied for fourth at the 1978 U.S. Open.

At the 1979 U.S. Open, Irwin held a three-stroke lead entering the final round and though he shot a final round 75, still held on for a two-stroke victory over Gary Player and Jerry Pate.

In the early 1980s, Irwin continued to be a solid champion, winning six PGA events and finishing in the top-10 at four majors, including a tie for second at the 1984 British Open.

Irwin won the Memorial Tournament in May 1985, but turned 40 just a week later and didn’t win another tournament or finish in the top-10 at a major for the remainder of the decade.

The 45-year-old Irwin certainly wasn’t on the radar when the 1990 U.S. Open started at the Medinah Country Club. However, he was five under par after the first two rounds and four strokes back in seventh place after three rounds.

A final round 67 allowed Irwin to finish tied with Donald after 72 holes. In the 18-hole playoff, Donald led by two strokes entering the 16th hole, but Irwin birdied that hole and then tied Donald after paring the final hole when Donald missed a par putt.

On the 19th hole, Irwin birdied to become the oldest champion in U.S. Open history.

His career came full circle when in 1994 the 48-year-old Irwin won for the final time on the PGA Tour by claiming the MCI Heritage Classic, the same tournament that he had won for his first victory more than 22 years earlier.

Once Irwin turned 50 in 1995, he became one of the top contenders on the Champions Tour. He won 45 events on the Champions Tour (after winning 20 on the PGA Tour) and is the all-time money leader for the Champions Tour with winnings of more than 23 million dollars.

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