Curtis Strange, no longer the Open answer

A little golf talk here.

Brooks Koepka, a very good professional golfer, just won the U.S. Open for the second year in a row. This is a simple sentence that is more than it seems, because going back-to-back at the Open is a devilishly tough chore to accomplish for a number of reasons. The event moves each year is the main one, unlike the Masters. The United States Golf Association is notorious for its lunacy of monkeying with whichever course is in play to keep the winning score at or near par. Getting to peak performance level 365 days later is another reason.

It’s just hard, OK, even for the world’s best. In any event, very few men have won the U.S. Open in consecutive years. Koepka has pushed that list to seven, adding a name for the first time in 29 years.

You might have heard the last to do it was Curtis Strange, who was born in Norfolk, raised in Virginia Beach and went on to a world golf hall of fame career. Strange was a fierce, almost crazed competitor. He brought remarkable intensity to his job, fire that burned and flared and was impossible to sustain into his golfing twilight more than a decade ago. Now a broadcaster, Strange actually was the first media member to interview Koepka after his Sunday round, which was an interesting twist.

Interesting because Strange, at his zenith, had a far and wide reputation as being one of golf’s biggest jerks. It drove him to greatness as it drove away people outside his circle. The irony of him now making his living in the media is delicious. Strange’s arrogance followed him into his broadcasting career, never so much as when Strange, while still an active player, interviewed Tiger Woods as Woods launched his career in 1996. The “you’ll learn” interview. Watch it here and cringe. (Right or wrong, Strange has always stood by his remarks as being representative of fans who were incredulous over Woods’ own youthful confidence/arrogance.)

This is all to say I actually always liked Strange in my few dealings with him as a sports writer.

I came to writing about golf late in Strange’s career, when his mellowing, believe it or not, had begun. I’m pretty sure my first dealing with him was when he played the U.S. Open at Pinehurst in 1999. I remember he was paired the first two rounds with Jack Nicklaus, and that one of his sons carried his bag. Strange missed the cut but was patient and gracious as he discussed the thrill of working with his son aside Nicklaus.

I interviewed Strange multiple times later on; when he came to Portsmouth to do a clinic at the Bide-a-Wee course he’d redesigned years earlier. I have a photo of he and I talking on the range. When he was the Ryder Cup captain in 2002, a losing one, but whatever. I prepared to cover that Cup at The Belfry in England, but alas my employer pulled the plug. :/ I WAS sent to Naples, Fla. to cover Strange’s senior tour debut in 2005, when it seemed apparent his heart wasn’t in it after enduring some personal struggles. That sense turned out correct; Strange was an indifferent senior player for only a few seasons. And once more to Florida in 2007 to write about Strange’s induction to the hall of fame.

I think the last time we spoke was in 2011 at Congressional outside D.C. when Strange, with ESPN at that time, analyzed Rory McIlroy’s U.S. Open victory for me for my column. In all those times, I never recall him directing a cross or impatient word toward me. Sarcastic, yes, but all in fun. My former colleague Jim Ducibella, for instance, who was at Augusta when Strange blew the Masters, can’t necessarily say that. Shudder.

So Curtis is through as a running footnote to history, at least as the U.S. Open is concerned. Some applaud, but I never begrudged him his time on that stage. However you regard Strange, a yearly curtain call for such rare achievement seemed fair by me.