At first glance, it would seem that Steve Jones is an unlikely U.S. Open champion. Except that winning Opens is not about glitz and glitter. It's about guts and perseverance.
And those are two things Jones has in ample supply, as he showed Sunday with a sturdy final-round 69 for a 2-under-par 278 and a one-stroke victory over Tom Lehman and Davis Love III.There were no major titles attached to Jones' name before this victory. And few fans would know him if they ran into him on the street.
But Jones drew inspiration from the gutsiest of all golfers - Ben Hogan, who returned from a crippling car crash to be one of the best ever - and even from Lehman.
This is a guy who was out of golf for three years after a dirt bike accident damaged his left ring finger. This is a guy who had to win a playoff in a sectional qualifier just to get into the Open.
Yet this is a guy who played in the last group and managed to par No. 18 - the hardest hole on the course - for the victory after everyone else failed.
"That one-foot putt was probably the longest putt I ever had to make in my life," Jones, 37, said about the tap-in on No. 18 that gave him the victory. "The last 24 hours I was so nervous my gut was just wrenching."
On a day when the Oakland Hills monster and the pressure teamed up to do in Ernie Els, Colin Montgomerie, Greg Norman, Frank Nobilo and especially Lehman and Love, Jones hung on to shoot the lowest 72-hole score in the six Opens played here.Jones, the first sectional qualifier to win the Open since Jerry Pate in 1976, said he found inspiration early in the week from a book about Hogan, the man who said when he won the Open here in 1951: "I'm glad I brought this course - this monster - to its knees."
"I couldn't put the book down for three days," Jones said. "Basically, what I got from the book was that he never quit. I couldn't have won this tournament without that book. I learned it takes guts to win."
Guts and the kind of perseverance Jones showed when he struggled for three years to get back on the tour after his accident, working intensely on a physical conditioning program and "spending time with my family and watching a lot of Phoenix Suns games."
This was his first victory since 1989.
Jones, who shares a deep religious belief with Lehman, said he found comfort and courage from his final-round playing partner.
"On the first hole, Tom said the Lord wants us to be courageous and strong," Jones said. "I was trying, but I was really, really nervous. I don't know how strong I was, but I know I was nervous."
Lehman repeated the encouraging words later in the round.
"He said it to me again as we were going down the 16th fairway," Jones said. "That helped calm me. The way he fired at that pin (on 16) I knew he meant what he said. I knew he was courageous and strong, and I just tried to hang on."
Jones hung on when no one else could.
Both Love and Lehman had a chance at a playoff - or to win outright. But both faltered on No. 18.
First Love three-putted from 20 feet, missing a 3-footer as he desperately tried for the Father's Day victory for his dad, the golf teacher and best friend killed eight years ago in a plane crash.
"I don't know what to say," Love said. "I thought I hit a good putt at 18. It didn't roll down there."
Then Lehman drove into the bunker at 18 and missed a 15-foot par putt that could have put him in the playoff.
It was also another disappointment for Love, who carries the label of being the best American golfer not to win a major championship.
When final-round play started, Lehman was a stroke ahead of Jones and two better than Love.
As has been the case all week, the real test was the brutal back nine.
Nobilo was 2 under at the turn and shot 41 on the back. Montgomerie was even par then faded with a 38 on the back. And Norman got back into the hunt at 1 over par but played the final five at 2 over to finish four strokes back.
Lehman lost the lead for the first time all day at No. 12 when again he bogeyed and Jones made a birdie - the second two-shot swing.
For Jones, it was a stunning, unexpected victory, a complete bonus for a man who two years ago wondered if he would ever be able to play professionally again.
Ben Hogan would be proud.