Golfers Who Have Experienced the Most Heartbreak at the US Open

Ben Alberstadt@benalberstadtFeatured ColumnistJune 6, 2014

Golfers Who Have Experienced the Most Heartbreak at the US Open

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    Heartbreak at the U.S. Open is as common as tight fairways, baked-out greens and penal rough. That is to say, pretty darn prevalent. 

    Indeed, it seems that as long as the USGA's blue-blazered patricians lord over course setup, dreams will continue to be shattered at the annual national contest.

    There are three varieties of heartbreak on this list. The first: the bitter, rancorous destruction of one's blood pumper when a golfer's one and only decent shot at winning a U.S. Open goes up in smoke. The second: the pain of a golfer who has captured the Open before narrowly misses doing so again on multiple occasions. Third, and worst of all: the accomplished golfer who has won other majors but can't seem to pass the toughest test in golf. 

    Grab your tissues and read on. 

Deane Beman

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    Runner-up finishes: 1 (1969)

    Top-10 finishes: 2

    Why he's here: The first of our "narrowly missed in his only chance to win the U.S. Open" entries, Deane Beman, the eventual commissioner of the PGA Tour, was a four-time winner on golf's professional circuit.

    He's here because of his stature and the way he clawed his way to the top of the leaderboard during the final round of the 1969 U.S. Open. 

    As Beman told of his play at Champions Golf Club in 1969:

    I birdied the 72nd hole to tie, I believe, Al Geiberger and Bob Rosburg. I felt like we were heading for a playoff, but then [Orville] Moody came in and beat us by a shot.

    In my mind I birdied the last hole to tie the Open. But it didn't happen. 

Mike Donald

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    BIRMINGHAM, AL - MAY 17:  Mike Donald waits his turn to putt on the 13th green during round two of the Regions Charity Classic at the Ross Bridge Golf Resort on May 17, 2008 in Birmingham, Alabama. (Photo by Dave Martin/Getty Images)
    Dave Martin/Getty Images

    Runner-up finishes: 1 (1990)

    Top-10 finishes: 1

    Why he's here: Tour journeyman Mike Donald's only top 10 at the U.S. Open came in 1990 when he was narrowly defeated by Hale Irwin. 

    Donald said the following to about his missed opportunity and how he's regarded:

    A lot of people do remember. You're somebody that came close. You're still not an Open champion. The way you're perceived is different.

    I would have been able to play some senior golf and had some status and been able to get my foot in the door. And when you walk in the door, people would have said, "Hey, that guy won the U.S. Open."

    Donald and Hale Irwin dueled in a Monday playoff after tying in regulation. At the end of the playoff, the pair were tied and a sudden-death playoff was needed to determine the winner. Irwin won on the first playoff hole. Thus, Donald's second-place finish was closer to victory than anyone else on this list, save for the next guy.

Rocco Mediate

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    Phil Walter/Getty Images

    Runner-up finishes: 1 (2008)

    Top-10 finishes: 3

    Why he's here: Although he has three top-10 finishes in U.S. Opens, Rocco Mediate's best chance to raise a trophy came in 2008. That year, Mediate dueled with a wounded Tiger Woods in a Monday playoff and came up just short. 

    Mediate had a few chances in his PGA Tour career to win the U.S. Open, true. But nothing is comparable to the heartbreak the eccentric golfer must have felt after Tiger Woods holed a birdie at the 72nd hole to tie his clubhouse lead.

    Woods again birdied the final hole of play during the Monday playoff, forcing a sudden-death playoff, which Mediate lost on the first hole. 

Bobby Jones

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    Michael Heiman/Getty Images

    Runner-up finishes: 4 (1922, 1924, 1925, 1928)

    Top-10 finishes: 10

    Why he's here: The greatest amateur of them all, Bobby Jones, was a four-time winner at the U.S. Open. However, he was also a four-time runner-up. Only one golfer has finished second best more times than the gracious lawyer from Georgia. 

    In 1922, Jones finished one stroke back of Gene Sarazen. He finished second two years in a row in 1924 and then 1925. 

    In 1928, however, was Jones' most heartbreaking loss as he was tied with Johnny Farrell at the end of regulation. Thus, he did battle with Farrell in a 36-hole Monday playoff. Trailing after 18 holes, Jones rallied but eventually finished one stroke behind Farrell for his fourth second-place finish. 

Jack Nicklaus

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Runner-up finishes: 4 (1960, 1968, 1971, 1982)

    Top-10 finishes: 18

    Why he's here: Sure, Jack Nicklaus won the U.S. Open four times (1962, 1967, 1972, 1980), but the Golden Bear also was a runner-up four times. Overall he finished inside the top 10 an incredible 18 times in his career. 

    Nicklaus was the victim of Arnold Palmer's magnificent final-round 65 at Cherry Hills in 1960. Nicklaus finished two strokes behind Palmer. As happy as the all-time leader in career majors must be with his tally, you can bet it breaks his heart that a handful of strokes separate him from a few more U.S. Open trophies and thus a major tally further out of the reach of Tiger Woods. 

Arnold Palmer

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    David Cannon/Getty Images

    Runner-up finishes: 4 (1962, 1963, 1966, 1967)

    Top-10 finishes: 13

    Why he's here: In one of the greatest final-round comeback performances in golf history, Arnold Palmer won the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills with a brilliant closing 65. However, the Latrobe, Pennsylvania, native also finished second four times in our national championship. 

    Certainly, the 1962 U.S. Open has to stand out among the four as a heartbreaker for Palmer. Tied with 22-year-old Jack Nicklaus at the end of regulation, the two dueled in an 18-hole Monday playoff. Nicklaus led Palmer by three at the turn, and the King was never able to make up the deficit, firing a 71 to Nicklaus' 74.

Sam Snead

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    Runner-up finishes: 4 (1937, 1947, 1949, 1953)

    Top-10 finishes: 12

    Why he's here:  As a professional golfer, Sam Snead won 165 times, including 82 wins on the PGA Tour. And the Slammer won seven majors too. He did not, however, ever win a U.S. Open; his putter always seeming to fail him in critical situations.

    In 1947, Snead was tied with Lew Worsham after 72 holes. He bogeyed the 17th and 18th holes of their 18-hole playoff to lose to Worsham by a stroke. In a career of U.S. Open heartbreak, the '47 U.S. Open had to make the native West Virginian more somber than a man whose beloved runs off with his best friend. 

Phil Mickelson

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Runner-up finishes: 6 (1999, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2009, 2013)

    Top-10 finishes: 10

    Why he's here: No golfer in history has been a bridesmaid at the U.S. Open more than Phil Mickelson: Lefty has finished second at the U.S. Open an incredible six times, including last year. 

    From Payne Stewart pouring in his putt and punching his way into the pose that became his signature at Pinehurst in 1999 to Mickelson's inability to close the deal last year at Merion, the left-hander has suffered 15 years of U.S. Open heartbreak. 

    Fans of the Arizona State alum should take heart though. Mickelson likes his chances of a U.S. Open victory. As he told ESPN's Rick Reilly, "I'm going to win at least one U.S. Open, maybe two."

    Perhaps this is true. However, with two more second-place finishes than any other golfer in history, it seems the golf gods have conspired against Lefty.