Win Would Place Landry Among Golf’s Major Cinderella Stories

Andrew Landry, No. 624 in the world rankings, has a chance to pull off one of the great upsets in U.S. Open history. (USGA/JD Cuban)
Andrew Landry, No. 624 in the world rankings, has a chance to pull off one of the great upsets in U.S. Open history. (USGA/JD Cuban)

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OAKMONT, Pa. – By sinking a long birdie putt on the 18th hole to conclude the third round of the 116th U.S. Open Sunday morning, Andrew Landry played his way into the final pairing of the final round with leader Shane Lowry.

“Who can’t be excited about that?” Landry said after completing 54 holes. “That’s what you always hope for and dream for. Who knows what can happen?”

Since Landry shot a first-round 66 – the best first round in any of the nine U.S. Opens contested at Oakmont Country Club – people have been learning about the 28-year-old Texan who played collegiately at the University of Arkansas. He’s No. 624 in the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) and hasn’t played well in his rookie PGA Tour season. Landry has one Tour victory, the 2015 Cartagena de Indias at Karibana Championship, after playing mini-tours for several years.

If Landry rallies from a four-stroke deficit and wins the U.S. Open, where would he rank among unexpected major champions?

Since the OWGR was introduced in 1986, the lowest-ranked player by far to win a major is Ben Curtis in the 2003 Open Championship at Royal St. George’s. Curtis was No. 396 in the world, well below the 110th spot occupied by Y.E. Yang, of Korea, when he upset Tiger Woods in the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine National.

Further back, Orville Moody winning the 1969 U.S. Open at Champions Golf Club is often cited as a surprise victory given that it was the only title that the former U.S. Army sergeant won as a member of the PGA Tour and because he is the last U.S. Open winner to go through local and sectional qualifying.

But Moody had nearly won a Tour event a couple of months earlier, losing a playoff to Gene Littler in the Greater Greensboro Open. Contrastingly, Landry has missed the cut in six of his 11 PGA Tour starts this season prior to the U.S. Open, with his best finish being a tie for 41st last week in the FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Jack Fleck’s 1955 U.S. Open victory over Ben Hogan in a playoff at The Olympic Club was a huge upset as he defeated an icon going for his record fifth national championship. But Fleck’s form prior to winning the Open was much better than Landry’s as well: six top-20 finishes in his 10 tournaments leading in. Landry did tie for sixth in the Tour’s Servientrega Championship earlier this year, but missed the cut in two other Tour starts.

In the U.S. Open prior to World War II, victories by Francis Ouimet in 1913, Johnny Goodman – the last amateur to win the title – in 1933 and Sam Parks Jr. in 1935 at Oakmont would arguably be greater surprises than if Landry won this year. Ouimet stood tall, of course, against two British stars, Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, although he did have a lot of local knowledge of The Country Club skewing the odds in his favor. Parks also knew Oakmont extremely well because he lived nearby and got to play the course many times in the weeks leading up to the 1935 championship.

Another out-of-the-blue major champion of the 20th century was Tom Creavy in the 1931 PGA Championship at Wannamoisett Country Club in Rhode Island. Creavy was a 20-year-old club professional in upstate New York competing in his first PGA Championship, and he beat multiple major champion Gene Sarazen in the semifinals en route to the Wanamaker Trophy.

Landry has a lot more competitive seasoning at this point in his career than Creavy did in 1931, but a victory at Oakmont would still place him among the biggest surprise winners in major-championship history.

Bill Fields is a Connecticut-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.