The mental_floss Guide to the U.S. Open

Getty Images
Getty Images

Golf's U.S. Open plays out this week, just in time for the customary final round on Father's Day. In honor of the Open's teeing off at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego, we dug through the championship's history to find some crucial details (and trivial moments, too).

How old is the tournament?
The Newport Country Club of Rhode Island hosted the first U.S. Open in 1895 with far less fanfare than the modern tournament receives. Instead of a mad scramble to make the elite field, the competition only had 11 entrants, each of whom played a nine-hole course four times in a single day. The U.S. Open wasn't even the main draw on the course that week; spectators and golfers were much more preoccupied with the first playing of U.S. Amateur Championship at the club, which made the Open something of an afterthought. At the end of play, Englishman Horace Rawlins claimed the title and pocketed $150 and a gold medal for his stellar performance. (He also made a compelling case for home-course advantage in golf; by day the young champ was the assistant pro at"¦you guessed it, the Newport Country Club.) The Open's been played ever since with two exceptions: a two-year break for World War I and a four-year gap during World War II.

So Americans dominated right off the bat, right?
Hardly. Although the tournament was called the U.S. Open, winning was strictly a British affair in its early days. From 1895 to 1910, British golfers won every year, including four wins by Scottish immigrant Willie Anderson. Americans didn't claim their own Open until 1911 when Philadelphia's John J. McDermott bested the field by three strokes. McDermott, who was only 19 years old at the time of his victory, still holds the record for youngest Open champ. Just as impressively, he successfully defended his title the following year at the Country Club of Buffalo.

Why is it called the U.S. Open?
Technically, the tournament is open to all comers rather than restricted to a certain group of golfers. Both amateurs and professionals can compete in the event, so in theory, any golfer in the world is eligible for the field. Thus, it's an "open" tournament. Of course, you can't just show up with your bag and shoes on Thursday morning and expect to tee off with Tiger. Golfers have to either qualify for the championship or gain an invitation through a qualifying exemption, which are given to past champions, recent champions of other major championships, top-ranked professionals, and other elite groups.

Amateurs with handicaps of 1.4 or less can play in the U.S. Open if they make it through the qualifying process, which includes a local qualifying round and a sectional qualifying round. Golfers who manage to qualify in this way had better behave themselves, though. The USGA's website ominously warns that golfers are "subject to rejection at any time (including during the Championship) by the USGA. The reason for rejection may include unbecoming conduct." If John Daly's been sliding by, though, it's probably tough to get the boot.

What's the roughest time anyone's had at the Open?
It would be hard to beat J.D. Tucker in the futility department. He took the course for the 1898 Open at the Myopia Hunt Club in S. Hamilton, MA, and proceeded to shoot a 157 in his opening round. During his second round the same day, he carved 57 strokes off of his score, but that only got him to a not-so-competitive 100. He then withdrew from the tournament.

For a single hole, though, Ray Ainsley gave Tucker a run for his money. At the 1938 Open at Cherry Hills in Englewood, Colorado, Ainsley hit into a creek on the 16th hole of his second round. Rather than take a penalty, Ainsley thought he'd try to hit the ball out of the water. When his first attempt was unsuccessful, he tried again. And again. And again. When the ball finally found its way onto dry land and into the cup, Ainsley had racked up a 19-stroke hole, a record that still stands. That should make you feel better the next time you have to suck it up and take a drop.

Who was the unlikeliest champion?
That honor probably belongs to Francis Ouimet, the former caddy who took the 1913 U.S. Open at the course he used to patrol, the Country Club of Brookline, MA. Although he was an amateur facing stiff competition from celebrated British pros like Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, Ouimet managed to squeak out a victory following an 18-hole playoff. Fittingly, Ouimet's caddy made him look old; 10-year-old friend Eddie Lowery skipped school to man the bag for Ouimet throughout the tournament. The national press hung on young Ouimet's gutsy performance against his British rivals, and the stunning win is credited with helping to popularize golf in the U.S. Sounds like a Disney movie, doesn't it? It is; the story was adapted in 2005 as The Greatest Game Ever Played starring Shia LeBeouf as Ouimet.

Why doesn't Bobby Jones have five U.S. Open titles?
Amateur golfer Bobby Jones was undoubtedly one of the best golfers of all time, and he had the hardware to back it up: four U.S. Open wins, another three wins in the British Open, and six more wins between the U.S. Amateur and the British Amateur. He might have had a fifth U.S. Open title if he hadn't been so honest, though. At the 1925 U.S. Open, he was getting set to hit an iron shot out of the rough when he felt his club move the ball ever so slightly. No one else seemed to have seen this movement, but Jones called a penalty on himself. After officials were unable to confirm that the ball had actually moved, they allowed Jones to make his own ruling on whether or not he should be penalized. Jones said he was certain the ball had moved and penalized himself. The decision cost him the outright title, and he then lost a playoff to Willie Macfarlane. Spectators praised Jones for being so conscientious, but he would have none of it. He flatly replied, "You might as well praise me for not robbing banks."

Who was the unhealthiest champ?
Anyone who watched Angel Cabrera win last year's U.S. Open while chain-smoking between shots might be surprised to learn the tobacco-loving Argentine doesn't hold this distinction. Olin Dutra's win at the 1934 U.S. Open was as much a medical marvel as it was an athletic achievement after Dutra got sick on his way to the tournament. He wasn't just a little ill; he was suffering from a case of amoebic dysentery that caused him to lose 15 pounds before the tournament began. For the first two rounds, Dutra played well enough to lurk just eight strokes back on the leaderboard. The third round was disastrous, though. The dysentery acted up, and Dutra dropped to 18th place. In the final round, though, he roared back despite feeling ill and being forced to subsist on sugar cubes. By shooting a final-round 72, Dutra passed Bobby Cruickshank and Gene Sarazen to win his only U.S. Open crown by just one stroke.

Honorable mention in this category has to go to Ken Venturi, who won the 1964 U.S Open at the Congressional Country Club in Bethestda, Maryland. The sweltering sun got to Venturi in his final round, and he nearly collapsed from heat exhaustion. He eventually completed his victory under the watchful eye of a doctor.

Ethan Trex grew up idolizing Vince Coleman, and he kind of still does. Ethan co-writes Straight Cash, Homey, the Internet's undisputed top source for pictures of people in Ryan Leaf jerseys.
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Shhh...super secret special for blog readers.

When Disco Demolition Night Nearly Demolished Chicago's Comiskey Park

The Museum of Classic Chicago Television, YouTube
The Museum of Classic Chicago Television, YouTube

Chicago White Sox pitcher Ken Kravec was warming up on the mound when he noticed the rush of people on the field. Preparing for a second game in a doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers, the White Sox had lost the first by a score of 4-1. The crowd had been rowdy and insolent throughout, but this was something else.

As Kravec stood on the mound, thousands of attendees descended from the bleachers and slid down poles marking foul ball territory. They dug up dirt in the field and began running off with bases. A few tried removing home plate. Kravec soon joined his teammates in the dugout, where both the White Sox and the Tigers were staring in disbelief at the mayhem.

The source of their unrest was happening in center field. It was a bonfire made up of thousands of records, mostly disco, that the team had invited fans to bring with them for a reduced admission price. Management had expected perhaps 35,000 people. Nearly 50,000 showed up. On July 12, 1979, Disco Demolition Night would go down as one of the most infamous evenings in the history of Major League Baseball. It was not only the destruction that stirred controversy, but the concern that the demonstration had a far more disturbing subtext.

 

In the mid- to late-1970s, attendance at many major league baseball stadiums was down. Teams around the country tried a variety of stunts to stir interest, including Cleveland’s notorious 10-cent beer night in 1974 that sparked a mountain of misbehavior. The White Sox were in particularly dire need of something to reinvigorate their franchise. In 1979, an average of just 10,000 to 16,000 people were coming to their games, though Comiskey Park could seat 45,000.

Team owner Bill Veeck tried to turn the games into a spectacle. There was a scoreboard that could set off pyrotechnics and other attention-grabbing additions, but nothing seemed to stick. The action on field was equally tepid. Midway through the season, the Sox held a disappointing 35-45 record.

A screen capture from footage of the Disco Demolition Night promotion at Comiskey Field in Chicago, Illinois on July 12, 1979 is pictured
The Museum of Classic Chicago Television, YouTube

Veeck’s son, Mike Veeck, was assistant business manager for the team. Like many Chicago residents, he had heard local radio shock jock Steve Dahl on WLUP, an FM rock station serving the area. Dahl was prone to disparaging the then-popular genre of disco on air, playing records and then keying up an explosion sound effect. Dahl had lost his previous job on WDAI after it went all-disco, giving him an origin story of sorts for his contempt.

Dahl, of course, wasn’t entirely alone in his disco dismissal. A trendy and dance-friendly format, disco had been dominating airwaves and Billboard charts, with Donna Summer and the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack on heavy rotation and acts ranging from KISS to the Rolling Stones recording disco singles. Even 1977’s Star Wars scored a hit with a disco tie-in album. In the first half of 1979, 13 of the top 16 tracks were disco. Rock enthusiasts like Dahl thought the genre was inferior to their preferences and decried its widespread success.

Though Veeck had no particular opinion about disco, he saw an opportunity to partner with Dahl for a stunt. At Comiskey Park, attendees could get in for just 98 cents if they brought in one disco record for what was dubbed Disco Demolition Night. Once employees collected the records, Dahl would appear between the doubleheader with the Tigers and proceed to queue up an explosion.

Dahl agreed and promoted the appearance heavily on the air. The Veecks contacted Chicago police and asked for increased security as they expected up to triple their usual attendance as a result of the promotion—upwards of 35,000 people. With interest in the Sox low all season, it’s not clear that authorities took the request seriously.

They should have. Come July 12, people began lining up for the evening doubleheader as early as 4 p.m. A cursory glance at the crowd revealed that many of them were not baseball fans. There were a large number of teenagers as well as several attendees wearing concert T-shirts, a hint that the promotion had attracted people looking for a spectacle rather than a sporting event. Inside, many clung to their records instead of tossing them in the bins near the gates. As seats began filling up inside, thousands of people were armed with vinyl records. The scene had the makings of an active demonstration, not a passive entertainment.

As the White Sox and Tigers played their first game, spectators began tossing drinks and records onto the field. Chants of “disco sucks” filled the stadium. Firecrackers snapped in the air. When the game wrapped, Dahl emerged on the field in military fatigues, while a pile of disco records sat in center field. Inciting the crowd more, Dahl grabbed a microphone and let loose anti-disco invective before giving the signal to immolate the records. A fuse was lit and soon the pile was on fire.

Rather than pacify the crowd, the sight of the blaze seemed to embolden them. Kravec and the other players watched as people swarmed the field, sliding down poles and risking injury by jumping from the deck to the grass. Records were hurled, sticking into the ground. People tried to climb inside the skybox occupied by the wife and children of team manager Don Kessinger. Cherry bombs were ignited and exploded. The air took on a smoky atmosphere of flying projectiles, with an estimated 7000 people—almost the typical crowd of a regular season game—trampling the diamond.

Some players armed themselves with bats, their nearest available weapon. Announcer Harry Caray took to the public address system to call for order, which went ignored.

The crowd, however raucous, was largely nonviolent and no fights were reported. When police finally arrived 30 minutes later to restore order, 39 people were arrested for disorderly conduct. A vendor with a broken hip was the worst injury recorded. The main damage was to the field itself, which had been cratered by the explosion.

With no other alternative, the Sox were forced to forfeit the game, though the team wanted to call it a rain delay. The only rain had been from the beer bottles.

 

The official attendance was reported as 47,795, though Mike Veeck believed the crowd was as large as 60,000. Many had climbed over gates and overwhelmed ushers, crashing the stadium and getting in without paying admission. Disco Demolition Night had quickly turned from a purportedly clever marketing idea to a nightmare. Dahl would later admit to being more than a little scared by the whole ordeal.

The forfeit was the first by a major league team in five years. Soon, Bill Veeck would be out as president, selling the team in 1981; Mike Veeck didn’t get another job in baseball for 10 years—both situations reportedly due in large part to the near-riot that had transpired. But that would not be the only fallout from the stunt.

A screen capture from footage of the Disco Demolition Night promotion at Comiskey Field in Chicago, Illinois on July 12, 1979 is pictured
The Museum of Classic Chicago Television, YouTube

As ushers admitted fans into the stadium, they noticed a number of the records being turned in were by black artists—not just disco, but soul, R&B, and other genres. Steve Wonder and Marvin Gaye were among the performers destined for the bonfire. Because disco was popular among minority groups including Latinos and the gay community, observers believed Dahl had stirred up something more sinister than a simple distaste for disco music.

“People started running up on me, yelling ‘Disco sucks!’ in my face, getting in my face, confronting me as a person that ‘represents’ disco, and there were thousands of people running around in this stadium buck wild,” Vince Lawrence, an usher at the stadium that night, told Yahoo! Entertainment in 2019. “I started going, ‘Wait a minute, why am I disco?’” Lawrence, who is black, was actually wearing a shirt endorsing Dahl’s radio station.

Later, Lawrence said he was surprised most of the media coverage had been about the damage done to the baseball field, not the undercurrent of the protest. “It was evident that it was seen as OK, because the next day it was in the paper everywhere, all over the news, but the biggest complaint about the issue was not, ‘Hey, why the heck is it OK to just actively destroy somebody’s culture?’ That wasn’t the story. The story was like, ‘Hey, the lawn on this baseball field got f***ed up.'"

In interviews, Dahl refuted any claims he had intended to stir up any racial animosity. He simply hated disco and decided to engage in the kind of promotional stunt common among disc jockeys at the time. But the controversy returned in summer 2019, when the White Sox offered a T-shirt “commemorating” the demolition stunt. The move was criticized for being in poor taste.

As a tool to diminish disco, Dahl and Veeck’s themed evening was somewhat successful. Radio stations took to playing less of it and record labels began to shy away from the genre, forcing it underground. Of course, it’s likely disco would have been a cultural fad regardless. But what is superficially an outrageous story about a sporting stunt gone awry has also been looked at as a rejection of what disco represented: a diversity in tastes and spirit. It's for that reason Disco Demolition Night remains an infamous black eye in baseball history.

The Secret Basketball Court Hidden Inside Disneyland's Matterhorn Mountain

Emily Burnett, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Emily Burnett, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Disneyland in Anaheim, California, is full of surprise details if you know where to look. Many Easter Eggs—like hidden Mickeys and Morse code messages from Walt—are common knowledge among fans, but one secret spot beneath Matterhorn Mountain is off-limits to guests. As Travel + Leisure reports, a new docuseries called The Imagineering Story, streaming on Disney+, offers the public a rare look at the basketball court tucked inside the park's iconic coaster.

Open since 1959, the Matterhorn Bobsleds takes guests on a thrilling adventure through a snowy peak modeled after the landmark in the Alps. From the outside, the roller coaster could be mistaken for a real mountain, but the "backstage area" beneath the facade looks a lot less magical. With space to spare, Disney employees set up a half-court with one basketball hoop in the structure's pinnacle.

In the first episode of The Imagineering Story, Disney Imagineer (one of the attraction designers) Bob Gurr gives viewers a tour of the mountain's interior—including its famous basketball court. According to Gurr, the court has long been a place for Disneyland Cast Members working on the ride to unwind on their breaks. Some parts of the rumor have been fabricated—the space isn't a regulation-size court, and it wasn't installed to cheat building ordinances—but the Disneyland legend is based in truth.

The Imagineering Story offers behind-the-scenes looks at the making of Disney's iconic properties. In each episode, the Disney+ original series features footage from the parks' history and insightful interviews with Imagineers.

Disneyland isn't the only American institution with a secret basketball court. There's one on the fifth floor of United States Supreme Court Building, and it's naturally called "The Highest Court in the Land."

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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