When it comes to generating U.S. Open winners, the Olympic Club is not a place that showcases the bright stars. In fact, Olympic is more of an eclipse-producer.
This is no scoop. History books have long chronicled Olympic's curious track record. This week's Open will be the fifth staged there. The previous four were won by men who, while dandy to excellent golfers, did not light up the firmament as much as the men they beat.
In 1955, anonymous Jack Fleck defeated the legendary Ben Hogan in a playoff.
In 1966, stalwart Billy Casper did the same to iconic Arnold Palmer.
In 1987, journeyman Scott Simpson overtook top-tier Tom Watson in the final round.
In 1998, pleasant Lee Janzen came from seven strokes behind to upset sartorially-flamboyant-and-famous Payne Stewart. Which meant that in 2012, I can confidently predict that the man who wins the Open will be ... well, someone who is not as renowned (and is not on as many TV commercials) as the man he defeats.
In other words, neither Tiger Woods nor Phil Mickelson has a chance. Who'll be holding the trophy next weekend instead? Happy you asked.
I figure the most scientific way to pick the guy is to intensely study those four Olympic winners of the past -- sort of like an FBI profiler, except with a sun visor -- and see which current golfer most fits the same dossier. Presto! There's your next potential Open victor!
So let's go down the list, moving backward through time.
The 1998 Open: Lee Janzen, champion
The Janzen dossier: The biggest myth about the four Open titlists at Olympic is that they emerged from nowhere. That's hardly the case. Two of the four (Janzen and Casper) were previous U.S. Open winners, and Janzen had won six other PGA events by the time he reached Olympic in 1998.
Many people compare Janzen -- a slightly-built, hardworking technician -- to Luke Donald, who currently is ranked No. 1 in the world. But that's flawed. Donald has no major championship to his name. Who, then, is the better match?
The Janzen of 2012: Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Geoff Ogilvy. Janzen claimed his first U.S Open title in 1993, five years before he showed up at Olympic to repeat the feat at age 33. Ogilvy, 34, won the Open six years ago at Winged Foot. He's ranked 50th in the world and has percolated along as a very decent pro without gathering much attention outside his native Australia. He's practically a 1998 Janzen clone.
The 1987 Open: Scott Simpson, champion
The Simpson dossier: When he triumphed at Olympic over the people's choice, Watson, Simpson did so with a steady and unruffled manner -- even as he birdied three straight holes on the back nine Sunday. Simpson had been a two-time NCAA champ as a USC student and had won three times on tour before rising up at Olympic for his biggest moment as a pro.
Afterward in the press tent, Simpson was humble and credited his religious faith for allowing him to persevere. He knew that because of his great college record, people expected bigger things from him but said he had never allowed that to affect his mentality.
The Simpson of 2012: Has to be Matt Kuchar. He was named collegiate golfer of the year in 1998 while at Georgia Tech. People keep waiting for him to fulfill that promise even as he's won four times on the PGA Tour and was in the hunt at this year's Masters. Kuchar is 33, just two years older than Simpson was in 1987. Kuchar is not outspoken about his religion but is a regular member of the tour's Bible study group. He wouldn't be a bad bet even without the eerie similarities.
1966: Billy Casper, champion
The Casper dossier: In the rankings of history's most underrated golfers, Casper is at the top. He had the misfortune, during the 1960s, to be the world's fourth-best golfer when the focus was almost entirely on the "Big Three" -- Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player.
Casper won 51 times on tour and took three major titles, including the 1959 U.S. Open. He crafted a dramatic Sunday comeback to tie a fading Palmer, then beat Arnie by four strokes in an 18-hole playoff the next day. (Seldom mentioned is that Casper also surpassed Nicklaus, who finished in third place). Casper's unflappable experience paid off in a big way.
The Casper of 2012: I'm going with Jim Furyk. He's spent much of the past decade ranked in the World Golf Top 10 and won the 2003 U.S. Open, but as Casper was 50 years ago, is usually overlooked in conversations about great golfers of his era. Vijay Singh also falls in this category, with his three majors -- but over the years, Furyk has a better record in the Open. If he outduels Woods or Mickelson down the stretch Sunday, it will be Casper-Palmer redux.
1955: Jack Fleck, champion
The Fleck dossier: Plenty has been written about his unlikely conquest of Ben Hogan, the 1950s' most awesomely feared pro. It helps the story that Fleck, who had never previously won on tour, was endearingly quirky. Between rounds at the 1955 Open, he rearranged the furniture in his modest Daly City motel room so he could do yoga while listening to Mario Lanza records.
At heart, though, the 33-year-old club pro from Iowa was a ridiculous grinder and worker. He played 186 practice holes at Olympic in the four days before the tournament began. As a result, he was prepared for every possible shot he faced in the four Open rounds and playoffs.
The Fleck of 2012: Fleck had played in one previous Open before 1955, winding up 52nd two years earlier. So let's go back two years and check the final Open leader board at Pebble Beach. Among the golfers who finished in that general vicinity, the one who most resembles Fleck would be Jim Herman, a 34-year-old pro from the Midwest (Cincinnati) who has scuffled along on the mini-tours and worked as a club pro while chasing his PGA Tour dream. Just like Fleck in 1955, Herman had to play in the sectional qualifier to reach Olympic.
Yes, Herman is a wild stab. For that matter, so are Ogilvy, Kuchar and Furyk. But as we have seen in the past, Olympic is a feast for wild stabbers. Next Sunday afternoon if one of these four is eclipsing Tiger or Phil, remember where you saw it first.
Contact Mark Purdy at email@example.com or 408-920-5092.