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Thursday, June 19, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Golf

The 20 biggest golf events in state history

Seattle Times staff reporter

One year after hosting the NEC Invitational and the NCAA Women's Championship, golf in Washington is in the doldrums as far as national events.

The year's biggest tournament — the NCAA men's West Regional at Washington National — has come and gone. Next month's Sahalee Players Championship will get some notice in national publications, but the headline type will be modest.

This lean year is a good time to look back and pick the 20 biggest golf events in state history. Here are our picks with a stated bias toward events that may not have been considered historic at the time but gained or will gain historical significance.

1. 1998 PGA Championship, Sahalee Country Club, Sammamish Plateau. Vijay Singh all but clinched his first major on the 71st hole when he made a 12-foot par putt and Steve Stricker missed an 11-footer to fall two strokes behind.

The PGA of America gambled in bringing the tournament to the Northwest. In return, the PGA got appreciative, near-sellout crowds and cooperative weather. Singh shot a final-round 68 and finished with 271 total.

3. 1944 PGA Championship, Manito Country Club, Spokane. Bob Hamilton of Evansville, Ind., upset Byron Nelson 1-up in the championship. Nelson told The Times in 1998 that he was bothered by Hamilton jiggling coins and moving around to distract him. Jim Shriver, future pro at Manito, supported Nelson's recollections and said, "There was very unsportsmanlike conduct by Hamilton."

4. 2002 NEC Invitational, Sahalee. Craig Parry, a 5-foot-6 Australian nicknamed "Popeye" because of his large forearms, won by four strokes with a four-round total of 268. Parry went the final 48 holes of the 72-hole tournament without a bogey in winning his first PGA Tour event.

5. 1945 Seattle Open, Broadmoor Golf Club. Byron Nelson set what was then a PGA record with a 21-under-par 259 (62-68-63-66). It stood as the PGA mark for 10 years.

"I'll tell you this about that 259," Nelson said in 1998. "I never thought about the fact I was breaking the record or anything else. I learned to play golf one shot, one hole at a time."

The victory came two months after his incredible streak of 11 consecutive victories had been snapped.

7. 1985 Safeco Classic, Meridian Valley Country Club, Kent. LPGA Hall of Fame member JoAnne Carner, a Kirkland native, won her 43rd and final Tour victory in this homecoming tournament. She dedicated the win to her late father, who had died months earlier.

8. 1962 Seattle World's Fair Open Invitational, Broadmoor Golf Club. Three months after winning the U.S. Open in an 18-hole playoff with Arnold Palmer, 22-year-old rookie Jack Nicklaus beat Tony Lema by two strokes to win his second title. Nicklaus shot 67-65-65-68 — 265 and earned $4,300.

9. 1995 GTE Classic, Inglewood Golf Club, Kenmore. Arnold Palmer was out of contention when he celebrated his 66th birthday by shooting his age for the first time in his life. A plaque commemorates the feat.

10. 1961 U.S. Women's Amateur, Tacoma Country and Golf Club. Anne Quast Sander romped past Phyllis Preuss 14 and 13 in the title match to win the second of her three U.S. Amateur titles. Local golfers Sander, Carner and Pat Lesser combined to win nine U.S. Amateurs in a 13-year period, but this was the only one won on Washington soil.

11. 1961 Walker Cup (U.S. vs. England and Ireland), Seattle Golf Club. The U.S. won 11-1 with a team captained by Jack Westland and including Jack Nicklaus and future PGA Commissioner Deane R. Beman.

12. 1945 Esmeralda Open, Indian Canyon Golf Course, Spokane. Byron Nelson shot a four-round total of 266 to win the $2,000 first prize. Sam Snead shot 63 on the final day and tied for third with Ben Hogan, who had a hole-in-one.

13. 1993 Pacific Coast Amateur, Royal Oaks Country Club, Vancouver, Wash. Tiger Woods, then 17, won one of his first adult tournaments with a dazzling performance. He beat Ted Snavely of the University of Oregon, 11 and 10. By one count, Woods birdied 33 of 108 holes during the week.

14. 2002 NCAA Women's Championship, Washington National, Auburn. History will smile on this event because the NCAA title continues to grow in stature. Duke's Virada Nirapathpongporn tied an NCAA record with a 9-under 279 for four rounds. The four-way tie for second included Lorena Ochoa, considered a lock for future LPGA stardom. Duke won the team title.

15. 1978 Washington Open, Glendale Country Club, Bellevue. 18-year-old Fred Couples, back from his first year at the University of Houston, played the final round in tennis shoes and won this event, which attracts the region's best club pros.

16. 1998 Safeco Classic, Meridian Valley Country Club, Kent. Annika Sorenstam came from behind to win by five strokes in this event that fed off the excitement of the PGA Championship and drew more than 80,000 fans for the week.

17. 1983 Safeco Classic, Meridian Valley Country Club, Kent. Rookie Juli Inkster won her first LPGA tournament by outlasting Kathy Whitworth in rain and wind. Inkster looked out the window on the final day and telephoned her husband in California and said, "It's raining like crazy." Brian Inkster replied, "Good. You couldn't beat her (Whitworth) if it were sunny and bright." Whitworth blew a five-stroke lead and shot 77. Inkster won with a final-round 71.

Whitworth would have surpassed Sam Snead's 85 career victories if she had won that day. Tournament organizers had 86 roses on hand and wound up giving them to Inkster.

"We're not sure Juli ever figured out why the victory bouquet of roses was so large," said tournament director Doug McArthur.

18. 1964 Greater Seattle Open Invitational, Broadmoor Golf Club. Billy Casper shot a final-round 64 to win by two strokes and earned $5,800. The big winner was Tacoma pro Ockie Eliason, who made a hole-in-one to win $10,000 before missing the cut.

19. 1948 Tacoma Open Invitational, Fircrest Golf Club. Ed "Porky" Oliver, a Tour veteran and later head pro at Inglewood, used an eagle to beat Cary Middlecoff after they were still tied after a five-man, 18-hole playoff.

20. 1961 Greater Seattle Invitational, Broadmoor Golf Club. Dave Marr won in a playoff against Bob Rosburg and Jackie Cupit after all three had birdied the final hole.

Copyright © 2003 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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