BARRINGTON, R.I. - Corey Pavin rarely revisits the memories. Not the high-arching 4-wood from the 18th fairway that dropped 5 feet from the pin. Not the gallery chanting his name as he marched toward history. Not the burden departing as he hoisted the 1995 US Open trophy at New York’s Shinnecock Hills Golf Club.
“I don’t think about it too much,’’ he said. “Maybe if I was at Shinnecock I would.’’
Long the recipient of that bittersweet “best player to never win a major’’ label, adjectives such as gritty and tenacious attributed to his play, Pavin beat the best 17 years ago.
He took the lead with a 12-foot birdie on No. 15, saved it with a par putt on a bumpy 17th green, and clinched it minutes later. Pavin finished the tournament at even-par on the windy Long Island course.
Walking up the fairway on the final hole, needing only a two-putt to win his first major, the crowd began cheering.
Cor-ey! Cor-ey! Cor-ey!
“It was pretty cool for the fans to embrace me walking up to the green,’’ Pavin said. “That’s never happened before, and never happened since.’’
A friend respectfully disagrees.
“I don’t know about that. I doubt if it’s the last time,’’ said Jay Haas, who finished in a tie for fourth in 1995. “But there’s nothing like that feeling. I think he knew, at that stage, he had it. What a feather in his cap, to do something like that.’’
Preparing to play in the CVS Charity Classic at the Rhode Island Country Club on Monday, where he concluded the first day at 8 under with playing partner Lexi Thompson, Pavin watched the final round of this year’s US Open on television, as Webb Simpson won with a 1-over-par 281, the highest score by a winner since Angel Cabrera shot 5 over in 2007.
“I don’t know if Olympic is easier or harder than Shinnecock, but if you get the bad angles and the tough shots, you’re dead,’’ Pavin said of San Francisco’s Olympic Club. “You just have to play smart.’’
In such trials, Pavin, a UCLA graduate who during his PGA Tour days was affectionately known as “the Bulldog’’ or “Gritty Little Bruin,’’ thrives.
“It’s a marathon. It’s like running the entire marathon uphill. There’s no downhill cruises in a US Open,’’ Haas said. “But Corey has the best mentality for a US Open, these grinders who don’t give an inch.
“It’s like a boxer. You hit him a few times, he staggers, but you blink and he’s right in front of you. That’s Corey.’’
For some time, such analogies categorized Pavin - all grit, no majors. He had won 12 PGA Tour events entering the 1995 Open, including a second-place finish at the 1994 PGA Championship and eight top-10s, but never quite got over that hump.
Until he struck that drive on 18 and ran after the shot, as if he were chasing down that elusive win.
Sitting in the clubhouse, Haas watched Pavin’s final two holes, and knew it was over.
“I just think that anybody, when they win that major, it validates what they’ve been doing all the time,’’ Haas said. “To do that, to get over that hurdle, to have that on your résumé, there’s just nothing like it. He beat the best on one of the greatest golf courses there is, under the most intense pressure.’’
Pavin has come close to replicating that greatness. He lost in a three-way playoff with Bubba Watson and Scott Verplank at the 2010 Travelers Championship in Cromwell, Conn. (Watson won for his first victory on the PGA Tour). On Feb. 12, he scored his first Champions Tour victory, besting Peter Senior in a playoff at the Allianz Championship.
But nothing will compare with that blustery Sunday at Shinnecock.
“It was Corey’s day for sure,’’ Haas said.Alex Prewitt can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on twitter @alex_prewitt.