For me, of course, it was literally a life-changing event, one I still regularly get asked about today, 14 years on from the day I won the US Open.
And the question that comes up most often is, “what’s the first thing that comes into your head when you are asked about what went on at Winged Foot back in 2006?”
The answer is simple: the whole thing.
It’s odd really. When you have memories of something as I have of that day, am I actually remembering it as it happened? Or am I remembering it just because I’ve told the story so many times? Have I distorted the details over the years? And the answer to that is, “I’m not sure,” although I do know that I am getting better at telling the story.
Having said that, the 30 minutes or so between teeing off the 18th tee in the last round and sitting in the locker room realising I had won remain vivid in my mind. So, I guess that’s the period I think of first, not anything from earlier in the week.
The 18th was a dramatic hole for all concerned, of course. There was drama for me and there was certainly drama for Colin Montgomerie and Phil Mickelson, as both of them made double bogies to finish one-shot behind me. I hit what was maybe my best drive of the week, found the ball in a divot hole, came up short with my approach, then had to make a tough up-and-down for par. So, there was a lot going on.
I do remember feeling a great sense of relief as I walked off the 18th green. I knew I had played really well and that added to that feeling. I came off knowing I couldn’t have done any more and that what happened next was out of my hands. To be fair, I wouldn’t have had that sensation standing on the 15th tee. But I played the last four holes really well, making pars on them all. I was satisfied with my performance. So, I was pumped and patting myself on the back, no matter what came next.
Saying that makes me smile though. We’re talking thin margins here. Had I missed the five-foot putt I made for par on the final green, I would have been gutted. And I would have stayed gutted for a long time. Although you never know. I would still have been in a play-off for the title the following day.
Other things stick in my mind.
I had played with Ian Poulter. We were sitting in the scorer’s room signing our cards. He was looking up at the television screen they had in there, which was when he nudged me. So that was where I watched Phil do what he did (Monty was in the group ahead of us), which was hard to do. I was focused on my card and trying not to make a mistake with that. My attention was split. I can’t tell you how many times I checked to see my card had both signatures on it.
Anyway, when I did glance at the television, Phil had just hit his second shot into a tree, which was shocking. I had assumed he would knock his ball out somewhere short of the green and have a chance to make the par that would have beaten me by one shot. That’s what Phil does. But he didn’t do that, something that provoked a “this is going well for you” look in Ian’s eye. He has a great way of doing that. He is very expressive.
Looking back, Ian was the perfect guy to have by my side at that moment. Absolutely genuinely, he displayed no sign of envy. He is the sort of guy who is happy for anyone when they win. Except those he plays against in the Ryder Cup. But any other time he is one of the first to congratulate someone who has done well. Other guys might have disappeared quickly, but he just isn’t like that.
What was going through my mind you might ask? I’d been in contention all week. So, it had been in my head that I might win for at least a couple of days. But it is still hard to get your head round the fact that this might be the moment you win the US Open. Having said that, I had felt similarly earlier in my career. I had won the World Match Play Championship four months before that, a victory that took time to sink in. But the US Open took longer. It is such a big deal, something so many more people pay attention to.
The couple of hours after I won remain a bit of a blur if I’m honest. I was dragged all over the place. First, I was ushered out of the scorer’s area – which was actually the pro’s shop – and into the locker room. Phil was coming in and it wouldn’t have been good to be there when he arrived.
"The couple of hours after I won remain a bit of a blur if I’m honest. I was dragged all over the place." – Geoff Ogilvy
From there, I did countless interviews, all while being taken all over the place by the USGA officials. All in all, it took about three hours to get out of there. It’s always amazing to see what goes on whenever someone wins a golf tournament. And all of that was multiplied maybe three times because it was the US Open. I have no idea how many radio interviews I did. It seemed like I was being handed a telephone every 30 seconds or so. It was chaotic, to the point where I was only able to speak to my caddie, Squirrel, in passing. He’s not the most outwardly emotional soul. I think he said, “see you at Hoylake” (for the Open Championship) and that was about it.
I did bump into Phil. But not Monty; he clearly got out of there pretty quickly. Phil was all class though. As was Monty when I saw him later. Neither held anything against me; they held it against themselves. I would have felt the same way.
The following day was non-stop too. I went all over New York, from television studio to television studio – where I would do weird stuff like read weather reports – all the time talking to journalists on the phone. I must have spent 12 of the 24 hours after I holed the winning putt talking to people about what I had just done. By the end of all that, I was starting to get the enormity of what I had achieved. Because I had told the story so many times.
Amidst all of that, I appeared on the Late Night with David Letterman show. I was on-air for maybe two minutes, reading the “top-10” list that used to feature. All I could see was lights. In the green room I met actor Adam Sandler, who turned out to be a golf fan. But it was very frantic. And weird, when it came to wearing make-up. It was strange to have someone putting powder on my nose. But it didn’t last long. I was probably in the building for 20 minutes.
RIGHT: The US Open eludes Mickelson once again. PHOTO: Getty Images.
Looking back now, my initial reaction was, ‘wow, you’ve won one of the things you’ve thought about your whole life.’ Only later, when I got to Hoylake after a couple of weeks at home in Melbourne (planned before I won), did I realise the amount of attention I was going to get. I must have signed thousands of autographs on magazines and flags. It was the same when I played my first tournament in America as US Open Champion. It was the Buick event in Flint, Michigan. I was confronted by an endless queue of what I call ‘e-bay guys.’ They had piles of stuff for me to sign.
All of which underlined to me that the biggest events in our game are watched by a lot more people than take in regular tournaments. They are a big deal. In Flint, I had assumed everyone would be following Tiger around. But I got so much attention. It was nuts. And I started to fully understand what major champions go through, at least when they are holding one of the four titles. Before that, I had no appreciation for the craziness that surrounds major champions.
To this day, in fact, I get Winged Foot ’stuff’ shoved in front of me to sign. I still get recognised when I’m out and about. It’s never-ending. Majors are just a huge deal. Someone winning four events in a row wouldn’t get the same level of attention. I had no appreciation of that until it happened to me. If I’d known how big the majors are, I probably wouldn’t have won.
There were perks too. The nicest is probably being announced on the 1st tee as a US Open Champion. The Champions dinner every five years is really special. And I got some great draws – I played with Tiger and Phil for the first two rounds of the US PGA Championship at Medinah, two months after Winged Foot – for maybe five years and the pick of pro-am times.
Appearance money came my way. I went to Abu Dhabi. I went to China a few times. I played in the Canadian Skins Game a couple of times. There were a few corporate outings. But I didn’t go nuts. There were clauses in my contracts that paid me bonuses for a major win. I was a hot property for 12 months at least.
Moving on to the present day, the most interesting thing about being a major champion is that I can get a game of golf anywhere I want in the world. And I probably won’t have to pay. Which is the dreamiest perk for any golfer, one I have to say I have rarely taken advantage of. But wide recognition definitely opens many doors. That’s the big thing that changed for me.
If there was a problem with my new status it was that I tried too hard in majors after I won one. I did play well in a few after my victory, but before I did win I was more consistent. I went into those with no expectations. I just played. And when I did that, I played well. But after Winged Foot I had a harder time doing that, which only underlines how impressive Tiger has been over the years. He has carried greater expectation a lot better than I did, or anyone else has done really.
There are no regrets though. It was just four rounds. It was just a golf tournament. But it was a special one. So yes, winning the US Open did change my life in so many ways. All of them good.