By Tom D’Angelo
OAKMONT, Pa. — Ernie Els was on the verge of winning his first major when all the attention was diverted from Oakmont to Southern California.
The Jupiter resident was just 24 when he captured the 1994 U.S. Open, but after the first round, nobody was paying much attention. That’s because on the second day of the tournament the nation was captivated by a white bronco meandering along the L.A. freeways in which O.J. Simpson was a passenger.
“Well, I knew there was a car chase going on,” Els said following his practice round on Tuesday for this week’s U. S. Open. “I think that whole weekend was getting kind of weird. I think they cut the golf coverage to go to L.A., some helicopter chasing the Bronco down the highway.
“I didn’t know much about O.J. Simpson but he was very famous to have all of L.A. chasing.”
The chase was 22 years ago Friday. Three days later, with Simpson still dominating the headlines, Els notched the first of his four majors on the second sudden death hole to defeat Loren Roberts after Colin Montgomerie was eliminated in an 18-hole playoff.
Els was tied for seventh entering the weekend, four shots behind Montgomerie. He shot to the lead with a 66 on Saturday and then carded a 73 on the final day to slip into the three-way tie at 5-under.
The ’94 Open was Els’ second. This year he is playing in his 24th.
“When you win a U.S. Open, Oakmont is one of the iconic venues,” he said.
The tournament was memorable for other reasons: It was Arnold Palmer’s final U.S. Open. Palmer, 64, had not played in the tournament in 11 years but he received an exemption since it was in his home state.
Els recalls the commotion surrounding Palmer’s final round on Friday, the same day as the chase.
“I remember all the people on 18,” he said. “And then afterwards, I saw the replay of his press conference where he got quite emotional. That was quite something.
“Yeah, it was quite a week.”