BMW Championship Preview: When Traditions Merge

How the ‘Western’ was won

“The major that never was.” That’s how Arnold Palmer, who won the event the year after claiming the U.S. Open at Cherry Hills, describes the Western Open. And during much of the 20th century, it’s hard to argue with him. Begun in 1899, the Western Golf Association’s premier event enjoyed a prestige on par with that of the U.S. Open. Its list of champions includes Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Billy Casper, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Nick Price.

Sixteen states have hosted the Western Open (including Utah and even New York) but not Colorado. That is, until this year—the event’s eighth in its current incarnation as the FedEx Cup’s BMW Championship.

But the Centennial State’s connection to the event goes way back, years before Arnold Palmer, to the Great War. The Broadmoor’s first head golf professional, Jim Barnes (pictured below), won the event in 1914, ’17 and ’19 and one of his successors at the Colorado Springs resort, Ed Dudley, took the 1931 title.

Then there was Ralph Guldahl. The last of his three consecutive Western Open wins came in 1938, the same year he won the first U.S. Open contested at Cherry Hills Country Club.

That U.S. Open put the William Flynn-designed course in the Rockies on the national golf map. Three years later, it hosted the PGA Championship, won by Vic Ghezzi in 38 holes of match play over Byron Nelson. Palmer, of course, charged into history there at the 1960 U.S. Open, and Andy North (pictured below), now an ESPN golf analyst, won the first of his two U.S. Opens, despite an extremely shaky final hole.

Seven years later, Hubert Green edged Lee Trevino by two strokes at Cherry Hills to take the 1985 PGA Championship, his second major and the last of his 19 PGA Tour victories.

During this time, the Western Open had its share of midsummer moments. In 1962, it departed from its itinerant tradition to become a purely Chicagoland event, stopping at Medinah, Beverly, Olympia Fields and the Tam O’Shanter Country Club in Niles. It spent 19 years at the men-only Butler National Golf Club until PGA Tour policy required moving the tournament to Cog Hill Golf & Country Club. The Dubsdread Course at Cog Hill hosted it from 1991 to 2006, during which time Tiger Woods won it three times. Tiger may or may not qualify for this year’s BMW, but Phil Mickelson, who won the 1990 U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills probably will.

Lefty’s already enshrined in the club’s Hall of Champions (which will unfortunately not be accessible to fans during the BMW), which features stirring displays from each of the club’s national championships, including amateurs: the 1976 USGA Senior Amateur (won by Lewis Oehmig), 1983 U.S. Mid-Amateur (Jay Sigel), 1990 U.S. Amateur (Mickelson) and 2012 U.S. Amateur (Steven Fox).

You can also relive Jack Nicklaus’ triumph over Tom Weiskopf in the 1993 U.S. Senior Open and Birdie Kim’s birdie chip-in on 18 to grab the 2005 U.S. Women’s Open title.

A display awaits the 2014 BMW Championship. Will it contain items from a successful Zach Johnson title defense? Can previous winners Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose or Dustin Johnson repeat? What about a Kevin Stadler stunner?

The display will feature the official name of the FedEx Cup’s penultimate event, but for those with historical knowledge, it will show how the Western was won.


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