The 1-iron may be dead, but Hogan's shot lives on at Merion
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
ARDMORE, Pa. -- Ben Hogan is alive and well. Or at least his 1-iron is.
When Sergio Garcia was playing a practice round earlier this week at Merion Golf Club, he sprinted across the 18th fairway to see it.
“It looks so tiny,” Garcia said, gazing in amazement at the steel club that was being held by another pair of hands in white gloves so as not to damage what's become one of golf's great artifacts. “Not a lot of loft on it.”
More than 60 years have passed since Hy Peskin took golf’s most famous photo of Hogan’s majestic approach to the final hole of regulation at the 1950 U.S. Open. Not much has changed at Merion and the pre-Revolutionary War neighborhood that surrounds it.
The bells at St. George’s Episcopal Church, which sits about 150 yards from the sixth green, still ring every 30 minutes.
Commuter trains still rumble past various holes, air horn and all.
And a plaque from where Hogan hit the historic shot still sits in the fairway on No. 18.
One thing that has changed? That no one will ever again have a plaque dedicated to a shot hit with a 1-iron.
“When I played here 12 months ago I hit a good drive right up beside the Hogan plaque on the last,” Graeme McDowell said. “I hit a 3-hybrid. I remember thinking to myself, I'm sure Mr. Hogan is probably rolling in his grave right now.”
Luke Donald played Hogan-brand irons in his first two years on the PGA TOUR, though he’s not sure if he’s ever hit a 1-iron.
But the 35-year-old was rummaging through his basement last week when he came across one. Perhaps it was an omen for Donald, who is seeking his first career major championship.
“I'm not sure if I ever used that 1-iron or not,” he said. “I think it was more of a 2-iron or 4-wood for me.”
Given the advances in technology, it’s more likely today’s players would hit a 6- or 7-iron from the historical spot, says Steve Stricker.
“That’s 200 yards to the front, conditions get firm and fast, at some point I can see some of those big hitters hitting maybe three clubs less than what he did,” Stricker said. “But back in the day when he hit that 1-iron, it's pretty incredible, really, when you think about it.
“The thing that strikes me the most -- I've looked at that picture, I looked at the plaque, and it looks a lot shorter in person when you're there than when you're looking at it in that picture.”
As Tiger Woods points out, most people also don’t remember that Hogan -- just 16 months removed from a car accident that nearly killed him -- needed to par the difficult closing hole to force a playoff with Lloyd Mangrum and George Fazio.
He did, two-putting from 40 feet before winning an 18-hole playoff the next day .
“The running joke out here was when I got here in my teens I used a 1-iron,” Woods said. “In my 20s, I used a 2-iron, and in my 30s I used a 5-wood.
“You see where this is going, right?”
Even those who are old enough to have played with one didn’t necessarily use one.
“I don't remember hitting 1-iron too much throughout my whole career,” said 46-year-old Steve Stricker. “My longest iron was probably a 2-iron. It was just hard to hit. Since that utility club has come out, I've pretty much carried one of those.”
Added Garcia: “I remember I used to have -- it was called a driving iron. It wasn't even a 1-iron. I used to hit it miles with it. It was a great club for playing the British Amateur and British Boys and things like that. But I think that the game has changed. And I think that's probably why everybody's kind of moved a little bit away from them.”
Yet the legacy lives on, thanks in large part of course to Peskin’s iconic image that was originally published in the June 19, 1950 edition of Life magazine.
“To me, it is the most famous picture in golf history,” legendary sports photographer Walter Iooss Jr. told Golf Digest. “It's a magical picture.
“A lot of times, history goes by and makes something interesting. Other times, it was a moment that was perfectly captured. Peskin's Hogan shot is one of them. It just has everything, and that's what makes a picture stand out and stand the test of time.”
Even for those too young to have used a 1-iron.
“There is no history,” joked Rory McIlroy, who turned 24 years old earlier this year. “I know what a 1-iron is. I think my dad might have had a 1-iron, a PING Zing. I probably can’t hit one.”
But like everyone else who walks past the Hogan plaque, he still appreciates one.