I Was There: Strange vs. Faldo at The Country Club

I know this page is called “I Was There.” But the truth is, on that Sunday in June of 1988 when my twin brother Curtis got up and down from the front bunker on the 72nd hole of the U.S. Open at The Country Club to force an 18-hole playoff with Nick Faldo, I wasn’t there. Wasn’t beside the green, wasn’t on the course, wasn’t within 500 miles. I was stretched out on a couch in front of the TV at my home in Richmond, Virginia.

Curtis and I are plenty close, always have been, always will be. But I never made it a habit to be part of his gallery, not even at major championships—not even in the late 1980s when he was arguably the best golfer in the world. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t his biggest fan. I watched every moment of that Sunday telecast, and when it went into overtime I knew I’d be back on the couch for every minute of the Monday playoff.

Then the phone rang. It was my good buddy Steve Catlett.

“We’re goin’,” he said. “You, me, Jordan (another good friend), and his two boys.”

“Goin’ where?” I said.

“To Boston, you fool. You’re not gonna miss Curtis winning the U.S. Open!”

“You’re right, I’m not,” I said. “I’m watching it on TV. I want to actually see him play, and that won’t happen with all those people crowded around just two guys.”

I hung up, but two minutes later the phone rang again. “You’ve got to go,” said Catlett. “I’ve already bought the plane tickets and rented the car.”

“So unbook and unrent,” I said. “I’m stayin’ here.” Click.

Third attempt. “Look,” he said. “This isn’t about you, it’s about Curtis, and it really isn’t about what happens if he wins, it’s what happens if he doesn’t win—that’s when he’ll need you there.”

Those were the magic words. At six the next morning, five of us were in the air and four hours later we were pulling up at The Country Club. Of course, none of us had tickets, but Steve had already figured that out, too.

“You’ll be driving the rental car, for obvious reasons,” he said, “and you’ll be driving it right up to the front gate.”

Since I’m not just Curtis’s twin but his identical twin, when we reached the Pinkerton guard he gave me a big smile and green-lighted us with a hearty, “Go get ’em, Curtis.” Once inside, we made our way to the USGA office where they were delighted to give us tickets.

Five thousand people had assembled at the practice range, but Curtis’s caddie, the late Greg Rita, somehow spotted me, and next thing I knew it was just Curtis and I on the putting green. We spoke for a few minutes, and what struck me was that our conversation never touched on the occasion at hand. I think he was glad for the chance for a light moment.

Once the golf started, it was next to impossible to glimpse anything, but I did see Curtis make a great six-footer to save par at the first. He actually putted out of his mind that day—nine one-putts—but he needed to because he missed a bunch of greens. Faldo, meanwhile, was his steady self, grinding out fairways, greens, and pars.

Curtis had a one-stroke lead at the turn and by this time the crowd was five or six deep. Then came my savior—Jerry Pate. He was working as an on-course commentator for ABC that week, saw me in the crowd beside the 10th fairway, and motioned for me to come inside the ropes.

From then on, I had a ringside seat. The big moment came at 13 where Faldo three-putted from 35 feet and Curtis ran home a birdie from 25. Suddenly, his lead was three strokes and from there he would never look back. He finished with a 71 and a four-stroke victory.

In the aftermath I tried to get to Curtis, but the crowd was just too thickand we had to run to catch our flight. But that night around 1 a.m., the phone rang.

“Well brother, what’d ya think?” he said.

Thus began a joyous 45-minute conversation, two golf-nut brothers rehashing a round just as we had on so many occasions in the past.

Today, on the wall of my den is the 18th hole flag from that U.S. Open. Each time I look at it I remember a day that was one of the greatest experiences of my life.