All these years later, after winning his one and only major championship at the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, Geoff Ogilvy has never watched a replay from start to finish. His replica silver trophy? It’s tucked away in a box at his rental in Melbourne, Australia.
“It had been on a shelf, but I’m not really the type to look at myself in the mirror,” he says during a remember-when session via Zoom. “My favorite mementos from Winged Foot are my locker-room nameplate and a Scotty Cameron limited-edition putter cover that was black and had yellow taxi cabs on it. It was mint.”
Ogilvy breaks into a wide smile as the memories of a wild day coming flooding back.
“I’ve only really seen highlight packages,” he concedes. “I’m real familiar with the last four holes, but the rest is a blur.”
What a day it was when he signed for a five-over-par 285 total to win by one shot. It was the first time a U.S. Open winner finished over par since Andy North won with a score of one over in 1978 and the highest winning score since 1974, when Hale Irwin won with a 7-over 287, also at Winged Foot’s West Course.
Ogilvy finished with four consecutive pars, including a chip-in at 17, to overcome Phil Mickelson, who had a two-shot lead with four holes to play before sending a final drive onto a tent and an approach shot into a tree. Ogilvy joined 1981 winner David Graham as the only Australians to win the championship. On a day when six players either held or shared the lead, it wasn’t just Mickelson who cratered down the stretch. There was Colin Montgomerie, Jim Furyk and Padraig Harrington, too.
“I did everything I could do, but I got incredibly lucky with four or five truly world-class players on the leaderboard and it just worked out that I won,” Ogilvy says.
To those who always will believe Ogilvy didn’t win the U.S. Open so much as Mickelson lost it, Ogilvy senses that tide has turned.
“As time has gone on, the conversations about it with me have become how I won it,” he says. “It’s changed in other people’s minds.”
Rewind to that fateful Sunday and Ogilvy began the final round at 3-over par after rounds of 71-70-72, in the second-to-last group with Ian Poulter. Ogilvy made birdies at Nos. 5 and 6 to claim the outright lead. He often has been reminded of Johnny Miller’s commentary on NBC.
“Johnny said, ‘At least now he can tell his grandkids that he led the U.S. Open on a Sunday.’ I don’t think he meant it that way,” Ogilvy says, “but it came across as there’s no way in hell he’s going to stay there.”
Then again, Ogilvy concedes that after a sloppy bogey at No. 11, he thought he had squandered his chances. Sensing the wind coming out of his man’s sail after Ogilvy bogeyed 14 to go 5 over, caddie Alistair (Squirrel) Matheson delivered a pep talk that provided the necessary lift.
“It felt like the tournament was gone,” Ogilvy says. “There’s a moment in every 72-hole tournament where you realize you’re not going to win, and it can come on the first hole on Thursday or the 72nd hole on Sunday, and the later it comes the harder it is to handle. I was a little dejected. Squirrel was like, ‘What do you mean? You’ve had a great U.S. Open. Let’s par the last four holes and see what happens.’ It just sounded so sensible.”
Ogilvy scrambled for par at 16, then chipped in from the fringe from 30 feet at 17 when he thought his hopes for victory were dead and gone.
“It was lucky that it went in, but it was the type of chip you saw players hole all the time,” he says. “As soon as it went in my whole head space flipped again. I started thinking, ‘Wow, that’s what happens to people that win these tournaments.’”
Up ahead, Harrington had played bogey-free golf for 15 holes only to finish with three consecutive closing bogeys. But he later confided to Ogilvy that his Winged Foot experience convinced him his day would come – and he would go on to claim three majors over the span of the next two years. Furyk, the 2003 U.S. Open champion, three-putted No. 15 from 20 feet and bogeyed the final hole from a greenside bunker when he missed a 5-footer to finish 6 over.
Montgomerie had detonated his own fireworks at 17, just ahead of Ogilvy, draining a 40-foot birdie to tie Mickelson at 4 over. But after a perfect drive in the fairway at the 450-yard, dogleg-left finale, Montgomerie had what must have felt like an interminable wait while playing competitor Vijay Singh received a ruling before playing his second shot from 172 yards. Montgomerie switched from a 6-iron to 7-iron. Regarded as one of the best mid-iron players of his day, Montgomerie simply had to hit one of his trademark left-to-right shots and watch it slide toward the hole.
“What kind of shot was that?” Montgomerie said moments after he made contact. He dumped his ball into the high rough short and right of the green.
Montgomerie chopped out 35 feet past the hole and three-putted for double bogey to shoot 71 and finish at 6 over. Ogilvy didn’t realize how badly Montgomerie had choked until he saw the greenside scoreboard. In retrospect, he considers Montgomerie’s failure to be the most glaring.
“Everyone thinks of Phil, but I’d say Monty because he got one shot closer to winning,” Ogilvy said. “He hit the 18th fairway and Phil didn’t. You can argue that Monty, given his track record, with a 7-iron in the fairway, shouldn’t make worse than par. He was the most out of character making the score he did on 18. Phil was a Phil type of six. It was Phil, right.”
Ogilvy smashed his best drive of the week at 18 only to have it roll into a sand-covered divot in the heart of the fairway, but he refused to be disheartened. He posed on his 9-iron, thinking it was all over the flag, but it failed to scale the green’s false front, spinning off the green and leaving a treacherous 30-yard chip that he deemed “a 9 out of 10 in difficulty level.” He did well to stop it 6 feet past the hole.
“As I walked around the green reading the putt, I was thinking, ‘Oh my God, I may have to change my flight and hotel.’ I was thinking the worst, but when I got over the putt my head was in the right place again and I made it,” he says. “I was patting myself on the back walking off the green thinking, ‘The worst I can finish is second and I might make a playoff.’”
Two days after his 36th birthday, Mickelson had a chance to win his third consecutive major championship, the fourth of his career, and go to the British Open with a chance to join Tiger Woods and Bobby Jones as the only men ever to win four consecutive major championships.
Leading by one stroke at 4 over, Mickelson hadn’t hit a fairway on the back nine and only two all day, yet he selected driver at 18. In typical Mickelson fashion, he didn’t have a 3-wood in his bag and later explained, “I felt like if I hit the 4-wood and missed the fairway, I’d be too far back to do any good. I tried to go to my bread-and-butter shot – a baby-carve slice – and just get it in the fairway.”
Mickelson blasted a boomerang slice that crashed off the Champions Pavilion, a hospitality tent 60 yards left of the fairway. Ogilvy, for one, doesn’t question Mickelson’s club choice despite his wildness off the tee.
“That he even had a chance on Sunday was just outrageous. Everyone else in the field shoots 80-plus,” Ogilvy says. “But it’s the second shot that lost him the championship. He was 200 yards away. If he punches out, he has 100 yards to get up and down to win or a playoff. He would’ve had a putt inside 15 feet.”
Ogilvy compared it to David Toms laying up on the 72nd hole of the 2001 PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club, wedging to 12 feet and sinking the putt to win the title by one stroke over none other than Mickelson. So why didn’t Lefty opt to do the same here? Ogilvy has a theory.
“His handicap is how good he is at that shot. Most players don’t have that shot so they don’t see it and don’t even consider that it’s an option. They just wedge it out. They’re forced into the right decision because they don’t have the skills,” Ogilvy says. “Unfortunately, Phil has the skills to hit it from anywhere. He thought he had the shot, so you can’t second-guess that because he can pull off the impossible.”
Ogilvy watched most of the Mickelson meltdown from the scorer’s hut before being led to the locker room. Mickelson’s 3-iron from 210 yards hit a Norway maple branch and his ball bounced back toward him, advancing just 30 yards. His third plugged in the sand fronting the green. As Mickelson blasted out of the bunker and across the green into thick rough, Montgomerie said to a reporter: “Why do we do this? Why do we play this game?”
Mickelson made his only double bogey of the week and settled for his fourth of a now record six runner-up finishes.
“This one hurts more than any other tournament because I had it won,” Mickelson said. “I just can’t believe I did that. I am such an idiot.”
As Ogilvy watched everything unfold, he remembers a moment when he thought, “Wow, I might actually win this,” he says. “It was this very quick realization that this was going to work out. They put a camera in my face and I hugged my wife (Juli, who was five months pregnant) and the rest was a blur.”
By the time Ogilvy finished his media duties that evening, it was late and he returned to his hotel for some revelry with caddies and a few remaining players, including Adam Scott, who hopped off Ernie Els’ plane, and they took turns drinking beer from the trophy.
“The big memory is how dusty I was,” Ogilvy says. “It was a good hangover.”
The next morning he was rushed to New York City at 6 a.m. and endured the car wash of interviews at Fox, ESPN and CNN as well as reading the Top-10 list on “Late Show with David Letterman.”
“It was a glimpse into that world for a day seeing what politicians and public figures do all the time,” he says. “It was like, ‘Wow, this is some way to live.'”
Ogilvy won his latest of eight PGA Tour titles in 2014. In 2019 he hit the pause button on Tour life and moved his family back to Australia, not far from Royal Melbourne, where he caddied in his youth. But at age 43, he says he’s not done yet.
“I’m just enjoying being with the kids too much to do 25 events in a year,” says Ogilvy, the father of Phoebe, 13 and born four months after his Winged Foot win, Jasper (12) and Harvey (10). “We’ll see what the world lets us do.”
Ogilvy planned to play some Tour events out of the past-champions exemption category this summer, but that got squashed by COVID-19. He’s kept sharp hitting off a mat into a comforter and pre-COVID enjoyed carrying his own bag with a half set of clubs.
“Golf is a lot more fun to play when you don’t have to count up your score,” he says.
That’s not to say he doesn’t wish he was competing in the 120th U.S. Open on Sept. 17-20. He’ll watch from home to see if a certain left-hander can get redemption and complete the career Grand Slam.
“It’s hard to imagine to be honest but U.S. Opens, especially at places like Winged Foot, are Phil-type places because they are short-game tests,” Ogilvy says. “It’s who can make par when they drive it in the rough. He’s been the best for the last 25 years.”
Just not as good as Ogilvy one June Sunday in 2006.