Top 10 moments at Merion Golf Club
By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM
One report on the opening of Merion’s East Course in 1912 said the course was “among experts, considered the finest inland links in the country.” Course architecture is fodder for endless debates, but one thing is certain: few courses in the United States have hosted more historic moments than Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa. It has been the site of 15 USGA championships, including four U.S. Opens. Bobby Jones made his U.S. Amateur debut at Merion before completing the Grand Slam there more than a dozen years later. Ben Hogan won the 1950 U.S. Open after a near-fatal car accident, becoming the subject of a historic photograph in the process. And the world’s top two players at the time, Lee Trevino and Jack Nicklaus, engaged in a memorable playoff at Merion in 1971. Here’s a look at the 10 greatest tournament moments from the course's long history:
1. 1950 U.S. Open
It’s only fitting that this championship is memorialized in one of the game’s indelible images, for Ben Hogan’s victory at the 1950 U.S. Open was not only one of the greatest achievements in this game, but in all of sport.
The famed Hy Peskin photo of Ben Hogan hitting a 1-iron into Merion’s 18th green will be shown countless times this week. Hogan’s strike on the final hole did not immediately clinch victory, though. No, it only earned him the right to walk another 18 holes on his battered legs. It took a fifth round for Hogan to emerge victorious, just 16 months after a near-fatal collision with a bus.
It was questioned if Hogan would ever walk again, let alone play golf. He sat on a collapsible chair between shots at Merion to rest his legs. The championship appeared to be in his hands when he held a two-shot lead on the 15th green. He missed a 30-inch par putt on that hole, though, according to “Great Moments of the U.S. Open” by Michael Trostel and Robert Williams. Hogan failed to get up-and-down from a greenside bunker on the par-3 17th and arrived at the 18th needing par to get into a playoff. That’s when Peskin captured his famed photograph. Hogan hit his 1-iron to 40 feet and two-putted for par and a 7-over 287 total.
Hogan held a one-stroke over lead over both playoff competitors, George Fazio and Lloyd Mangrum, through 13 holes. Fazio made bogey on four of the final five holes, but Mangrum was still just one shot back after 15 holes. That’s when the unexpected happened.
Mangrum marked his ball on the 16th green so Fazio could hole out. An insect landed on Mangrum’s ball after he replaced it. Mangrum re-marked and blew the bug off the ball, but was penalized for marking his ball a second time. The two-shot penalty gave Hogan a three-shot lead with two holes remaining. Hogan holed a 50-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole to seal his victory.
Jones won his fifth U.S. Amateur title at Merion. (Courtesy of USGA)
2. 1930 U.S. Amateur
Merion was the site of many milestones in Bobby Jones’ career. He played his first U.S. Amateur there in 1916, advancing to the quarterfinals at age 14. He won his first U.S. Amateur at Merion eight years later. So it is fitting that the pinnacle of his career also occurred at this course. Jones arrived at the 1930 U.S. Amateur having already claimed the U.S. Open, Open Championship and British Amateur. A victory at Merion would give him the Grand Slam.
Jones, then 28, was dominant at Merion, in spite of the immense pressure weighing on him. He was medalist with a record-tying 142 total for the 36-hole, stroke-play portion; his smallest winning margin in match play was 5 and 4. He beat 1922 U.S. Amateur champ Jess Sweetser, 9 and 8, in the 36-hole semifinal match. Jones was 7-up after the morning round of the final match, eventually beating Eugene Homans, 8-and-7, in front of approximately 18,000 people. It was Jones’ fifth U.S. Amateur title, all won in a seven-year span. A plaque near Merion’s 11th green memorializes the site where Jones completed his greatest accomplishment.
Trevino won the U.S. Open in 1971.
3. 1971 U.S. Open
The 1971 U.S. Open was decided in an 18-hole playoff between two of the game’s greats, a showdown that became memorable before Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino even teed off. Trevino pulled a 3-foot rubber snake from his golf bag and tossed it across the first tee towardNicklaus, drawing a laugh from the crowd and his competitor. “I need all the help I can get,” Trevino shouted cheerfully, according to Sports Illustrated. It’s unlikely the prank provided assistance, but Trevino won the 18-hole showdown, 68-71, to win his second U.S. Open.
“I feel great, especially because I beat a player of Jack Nicklaus’ caliber head-to-head,” said Trevino, who once earned $35 a week as an assistant pro, according to Golf World. “I really think I accomplished something more than just winning the greatest championship in the world.”
Both players had makeable putts for victory on the 72nd hole. Trevino missed an 8-footer for par after backing off his ball when a boy fell while trying to get a better view of the putt. Nicklaus hit his 5-iron approach to 12 feet, but missed the birdie putt. They finished tied at even-par 280, with Trevino shooting a final-round 69 and Nicklaus closing in 71 shots.
Trevino built an early lead in the playoff as Nicklaus struggled out of the sand. He left bunker shots in the trap on both the second and third holes of the playoff, making bogey and double-bogey. Those mistakes gave Trevino a two-shot lead. “My sand shots ruined me,” Nicklaus said in Golf World. “I’ve played badly out of sand before but the two today were not routine, and I played both badly.”
A thunderstorm stopped play shortly after. “The greens were getting really hard and with my low trajectory ball, it was very difficult for me to get the ball close. When we got that downpour for about an hour, it softened the greens,” Trevino said, according to “Great Moments of the U.S. Open.”
Trevino shot even-par 36 on the playoff’s opening nine to take a one-shot lead. He shot a bogey-free, 2-under 32 on the back, including birdies at Nos. 12 and 15. Nicklaus’ bogey at the par-3 17th gave Trevino a three-shot lead.
“I’m a lucky dog,” Trevino, who won $30,000 that week, said in <ital>Sports Illustrated</ital>. “You gotta be lucky to beat Jack Nicklaus because he’s the greatest golfer who ever held a club.”
Nicklaus’ encouragement earlier in the year gave Trevino the confidence necessary to upset him. They were playing a February exhibition match when Nicklaus said, “If he ever realized how good a player he was then it would make it tough for the rest of us to win.”
Trevino said those remarks gave him a boost. “If a man that is the best can tell me that,” Trevino said, “then maybe I can be as good as he says. … Since he told me that, I have played absolutely great.”
Jim Simons, an amateur from Wake Forest, held a two-shot lead after a third-round 65 that still shares the record for lowest U.S. Open round by an amateur. Simons missed a birdie putt at the second-to-last hole that would have tied him for the lead. A double-bogey at 18 left him three shots out of the playoff.
Graham only missed one fairway in 1981.
4. 1981 U.S. Open
Australia’s David Graham won the 1981 U.S. Open with one of the greatest final rounds in the championship’s history. He only missed the first fairway, and no approach shot came to rest anywhere more treacherous than the greenside fringe. He never had to chip. His 67 allowed him to overcome a three-shot deficit in the final round and win by three shots.
Golf Journal wrote that the round, “must surely rank among the finest ever played in championship golf."
Graham birdied the first two holes to pull within a stroke of 54-hole leader George Burns III. He hit 7-iron to 4 feet at the par-4 14th to make birdie and take the lead. He birdied the next hole, as well, hitting 8-iron to 8 feet to take a two-shot lead. He parred the final three holes, hitting all three approach shots to 20 feet or closer. “Today was as good as I’ve ever played in my life,” Graham said afterward.
His 7-under 273 (68-68-70-67) was the second-lowest score in championship history, and good for a three-shot victory over Burns and Bill Rogers, who won that year’s Open Championship.
World Golf Hall of Fame member Dan Jenkins wrote in Sports Illustrated that, “Graham went into Merion with a reputation for being several things: a fine iron player, an accurate man off the tee and a survivor under pressure.” His performance that week only confirmed that assessment.
Chick Evans was the first to win both the U.S. Open and the U.S. Amateur in the same year.
5. 1916 U.S. Amateur
Chick Evans accomplished history at the 1916 U.S. Amateur. His victory at Merion made him the first man to win both the U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur in the same year. Only Bobby Jones has repeated the feat. Evans’ historic may be overshadowed by the debut of Jones, then a 14-year-old phenom from Atlanta, though. He advanced to the quarterfinals in his first U.S. Amateur.
“Young Jones proved one of the sensations of the tournament,” The American Golfer said. Grantland Rice wrote, “Even at 14, young Jones seemed to have everything a champion needed. He had form and style, ease and fine power, stamina, brains and courage.”
Jones overcame an 89 on Merion’s East Course with a 74 on the West, one of the low scores of the championship. The “chubby youth,” as Jones was described in one article, advanced to the quarterfinals before losing to Robert Gardner, winner of the 1909 and 1915 U.S. Amateurs, in the quarterfinals. Still, Jones was impressive in his debut, and would return to Merion eight years later to claim his first U.S. Amateur. He’d complete the Grand Slam at Merion in 1930.
“Master Jones cannot feel that he was at all disgraced for he showed to the gallery a game that was sound as that of the best professionals, an ability to come back when under stress and advers fire, a fearless putt, a beautiful cut mashie and a tremendous drive for one of his years,” John G. Anderson wrote in Golf Illustrated about Jones’ first Amateur appearance. “He is bound to become a national figure in the years to come.”
Dutra overcame illness to win in 1934.
6. 1934 U.S. Open
Olin Dutra worked hard in the months preceding the 1934 U.S. Open to conquer the mental demons that had kept him from realizing his potential. He had to overcome an unforeseen physical ailment to win at Merion, though.
“I have been working on a system to develop self-confidence,” Dutra wrote to his friend and fellow major champion, Leo Diegel, in early 1934. “You know I have the shots to win. Now my inferiority complex is banished. The old chin is out. You boys had better look out for yourselves at Merion. I am going to fight.”
Dutra may have done the proper mental preparation for 1934 U.S. Open, but nothing could prepare him for the physical ailment he’d contract in the days before the championship. Dutra contracted amoebic dysentery, brought on by food poisoning, while traveling from his native California to Pennsylvania. He’d lost approximately 15 of his 230 pounds by the time he arrived at Merion with his brother, Mortie, who also was competing, according to "Great Moments of the U.S. Open.”
“The big fellow looked pretty much like a wreck. He had lost about 20 pounds, which he was engaged in getting back by ounces,” O.B. Keeler wrote in The American Golfer. He was still in considerable pain in the final round.
“For some reason my hands had the keen, thin touch that is always needed,” Dutra said in The American Golfer. “They were working perfectly. And my head was clear. My stomach was gone but my hands and head just happened to feel perfectly fit.”
Dutra contemplated withdrawing from the U.S. Open. His brother convinced him not to. Instead, he ate sugar cubes to maintain his energy and drank plenty of water to ward off dehydration.
In spite of his illness, Dutra was able to overcome a three-shot deficit on the final nine holes. He almost drove the green to make birdie on the 335-yard, par-4 10th hole, while leader Gene Sarazen hooked his tee shot into a ditch on No. 11 and made a triple-bogey. Sarazen made double-bogey on the 12th, but birdied Nos. 13 and 18 to shoot a final-round 76 and post a 72-hole total of 294.
Dutra arrived at the final hole needing only a bogey to win the championship. His brother, Mortie, yelled, “Take it easy, Olin,” from the crowd as he attempted his birdie putt from just off the green. Olin lagged his 4-foot par putt to the lip of the cup, then tapped in for a 72 and a 293 total, one shot better than Sarazen.
Dutra’s win was proclaimed by one reporter as “courageous a victory as any ever scored on the golf links.” As impressive as it was, it was only a harbinger to Hogan’s heroics at Merion.
Jones won his first U.S. Amateur in 1924.
7. 1924 U.S. Amateur
Bobby Jones won his first U.S. Amateur at the place where he’d made his debut in the championship eight years earlier. Jones had already won the previous year’s U.S. Open, but the Havemeyer Trophy had eluded him. That changed in 1924 when he dominated George Von Elm, 9 and 8, in the final.
“Before the championship, Bobby admitted that he had been playing his opponents rather than playing for par,” Grantland Rice wrote in The American Golfer. “He also stated that he intended to shift his attack to par golf, or as close to par as he could get.”
Jones finished second in the tournament’s two rounds of stroke play by shooting consecutive 72s, two shots behind Philadelphia’s D. Clarke Corkran, who shot 67-75. Jones beat him, 3 and 2, in the second round. None of Jones’ other matches were nearly that close. He won two other matches by 6-up margins, and beat famed amateur Francis Ouimet, 11 and 10, in the semifinals. “I knew he was shooting for par against me,” said Ouimet, who won the 1913 U.S. Open and two U.S. Amateurs. “He was paying no attention to what I did or where my ball went.” Jones easily beat Von Elm in the final.
Jones would go on to win four of the next six U.S. Amateurs. His new match-play philosophy made him nearly unbeatable. “I’ve discovered that if you keep on shooting par at them, they’ll all crack, sooner or later,” Jones told O.B. Keeler in The American Golfer. And crack they did.
8. 1960 World Amateur Team Championship
The World Amateur Team Championship was created in 1958 as a goodwill international tournament. Camaraderie was the emphasis over competition in this biennial event. It was hard to overlook Jack Nicklaus’ performance at the tournament’s second playing, though. It may have been one of the most underrated performances of his career. The 20-year-old shot no worse than 68, won medalist honors by 13 shots and led the United States to a 42-shot victory in 1960 at Merion. “To those who know Merion, this sort of play was incomprehensible,” U.S. Golf Association executive director Joseph C. Dey, Jr., wrote in the USGA Journal.
Nicklaus, who’d finished second at the U.S. Open earlier in the year, shot 11-under 269 (66-67-68-68) at Merion. Teammate Deane Beman, the 1960 U.S. Amateur champion, finished second at 282,
Australia, which had beaten the Americans in a playoff at the inaugural WATC at St. Andrews, was the distant runner-up at Merion. “It was a miraculous coincidence that the four United States players happened to be at their peak simultaneously,” Dey wrote.
Nicklaus had half of the week’s sub-par scores; the other four were shot by his American teammates. “The embryo pharmacist who is generally rated as the best possibility for equaling or surpassing the feats of Bobby Jones broke the course record for amateurs the first day,” it was written in Golf World. His second-round 67 included a 100-yard hole-out for eagle on the par-5 second hole. Nicklaus entered the final round six shots ahead of Beman, but shot a final-round 68 to Beman’s 75 to win by 13 shots.
Peter Uihlein won all four of his matches at the 2009 Walker Cup.
9. 2009 Walker Cup
Rickie Fowler closed his amateur career with a dominating performance at the 2009 Walker Cup. He won all four matches to lead the United States to a 16 ½-9 ½ victory over Great Britain and Ireland. Fowler’s victories included a 6-and-5 win in foursomes with teammate and fellow PGA TOUR member Bud Cauley, and a 7-and-6 singles victory. Fowler’s Oklahoma State teammate, Peter Uihlein, also went 4-0. The two Cowboys accounted for nearly half of the team’s points.
Cameron Tringale’s 8-and-6 victory over Luke Goddard gave the USA its 13th point and assured the Americans would retain the Walker Cup. The Walker Cup is amateur golf’s version of the Ryder Cup, with the United States facing Great Britain & Ireland. Less than four years after the matches at Merion, half of the United States’ roster – Fowler, Cauley, Tringale, Brian Harman and Morgan Hoffmann – has made it to the PGA TOUR, while Uihlein is a European Tour member.
“The whole reason I waited around [to turn pro] was for this weekend,” Fowler said. “The days leading up to it and the practice we had was just an awesome experience, and to go 4-0 and get the Cup back, it can’t get any better. It’s going to be tough to top this weekend.”
Molinari won the U.S. Amateur in 2005.
10. 2005 U.S. Amateur
Edoardo Molinari showed what can happen when a player perseveres until the end, never giving up even when defeat seems certain. The 24-year-old had to hole a bunker shot on the final hole of stroke play just to advance to a playoff for the final spots in the 64-man match-play bracket. He eventually advanced to the championship match, but found himself 3 down to Dillon Dougherty after the morning 18. Then a hot putter helped him win the Havemeyer Trophy. He was the first Italian to win the U.S. Amateur and the first European to win the title since 1911.
Molinari needed just 18 putts through the 15 holes of the second round, and holed four putts of 25 feet or longer in the second round of the 36-hole final. “The way I played was a once in a lifetime,” Molinari said. “All of a sudden the putts went in.”
That skill with the putter eventually helped Molinari represent Europe at the 2010 Ryder Cup. He has won five times on the European Challenge Tour and twice on the European Tour. His brother, Francesco, is competing in this year’s U.S. Open.