US Open counts birdies, eagles, and . . . chipmunks?
Oakmont, Pa. — The 1983 US Open Championship of Golf at Oakmont Country Club is history. So is the relationship between Chip Beck, a 23-year-old second-year professional golfer, and a certain chipmunk.
For the record, Beck tied for 10th place with a score of 292, and won $8,976.
The chipmunk, persumably, won nothing but his freedom - and the relief of seeing the crowds disappear from the 15th hole when the tournament ended.
On the third day of the Open, Beck was in a group with Jack Nicklaus and a young professional named Donnie Hammond. Neither Hammond nor Nicklaus was having a good day. But Nicklaus, playing poorly or well, attracts huge crowds. So Beck had plenty to threaten his concentration - even before he arrived at the 15th hole and met the chipmunk.
The 15th at Oakmont is one of the toughest driving holes in the world. The golfer fires blind, over a hill. The back side of the hill will kick all but the most precise drives down the slope and into the thick rough for which Oakmont is notorious. If the drive is at all short and left, the ball ends up in a section of what are called ''church pew traps,'' with a large cherry tree blocking your route to the pin. If the ball falls short and right, the choice is rough, deep sand, or tennis.
Nor is the tee at 15 particularly spacious. It has a stand of pines directly behind it. Between it and the 18th fairway is a narrow strip of rough. There is very little room for spectators - and that day thousands jammed into what space was available.
Nicklaus, having birdied the 14th hole, drove first, an immense blow into perfect position. The tightly packed crowd responded with shouts, exhalations, whistles, and wonder.
Beck stepped up to take his turn.
And that's when the chipmunk appeared.
Evidently confused by the crowd, he ran out in front of Beck's teed-up ball and camped there - the only safe place he could find. Beck smiled, the crowd laughed. Three USGA marshals stepped out and tried to chase the chipmunk away. The chipmunk skittered to one side and then the other, but everywhere he turned there was a wall of human legs. He came back to the tee. The three caddies tried. No luck. The chipmunk kept circling back to his safe place directly in front of Beck's golf ball.
Finally, Beck held up his hand. He was still smiling, but tightly. ''He's scared,'' he said. ''Don't chase him.'' Then he bent down, approached the chipmunk peacefully, and ushered him straight down the fairway to the point where the crowds thinned and there was a haven of high rough grass inside the ropes.
The chipmunk saw safety and disappeared.
Beck walked back to the tee, addressed his ball, and split the fairway with a crushing drive.
The chipmunk is presumably still there. Chip Beck, meanwhile, went on to the Memphis Classic, where he shot a total of 275, finishing in a three-way tie for second and winning $29,867.