U.S. Open Returns, Tradition Remains At Merion
AP SPORTS WRITER
ARDMORE, Pennsylvania (AP) – Stop by the rock near the 11th hole tee box at Merion Golf Club and read up on a slice of sports history.
It’s perhaps the grandest hole in golf.
“On September 27, 1930, And on this hole, Robert Tyre Jones Jr., completed his `Grand Slam’ by winning the U. S. Amateur Championship.’’
Yes, it was on that hole where Bobby Jones closed out Eugene Homans 8 and 7 in the 36- hole final and clinched golf’s only Grand Slam with a win at the U.S. Amateur.
Merion was a second home to Jones – and perhaps a first love in golf. He was just 14 when he played in the 1916 U.S. Amateur, then went on win the 1924 Amateur at Merion. And, of course, he completed the Grand Slam in 1930 at age 28, winning the Amateur to go along with the U.S. Open, British Open and British Amateur.
“It’s `The Moment’ in the history of golf,’’ Merion curator Andrew Mutch said.
And one of many landmarks that helped put Merion on the golf map, even if the road back for a major took 32 years. It’s a course that not includes Jones, but also Ben Hogan and Lee Trevino among its champions.
When Tiger Woods walks the grounds next week for the first time in a tournament, he’ll follow a compact course that still plays roughly the same as it did a century ago. Perhaps he’ll add the latest unforgettable milestone at Merion if he can win his first major in five years.
Part of the reason Merion is so fondly remembered for its four Opens – think Hogan’s 1-iron on the 18th hole of the 1950 Open – is because there hasn’t been much of a present to relive. At least, not for major PGA events.
Not since David Graham closed with a 67 for a threeshot win in 1981, becoming the first Australian to win a U.S. Open, has a major been held at Merion.
So the big moments have had to last at this club tucked away in a tony Philadelphia suburb.
Before reading the plaques (Hogan has one, too), scan the course to find the wicker baskets, the official symbol of Merion, that top the flag sticks at Marion instead of flags. The origin of the baskets remains a mystery.
So also is the maker of the baskets. The club guards the secret so tightly that even Mutch insisted he doesn’t know who crafts them.
Would you like some tea with your tee? The first hole tee box is stuck next to the clubhouse patio, where the tinkling of glasses rings through the air before the first drive of the day, and patrons at the second floor dining room overlook play.
Its Scottish- styled bunkers are known as the “white faces of Merion.’’ Yet, Hugh Wilson designed the course without a rush to create bunkers.
“One of the things he was reputed to have done was to have his crew out in the fairway with bedsheets, spreading them out so that he could stand from the tee and place them in the most strategic positions,’’ Mutch said. “They would wait, sometimes for years, to put in a bunker to make sure that they were in the proper position. I don’t think a club could get away with it now.’’
There’s a steep wooden staircase imbedded in a rock quarry on 17 and deep sand bunkers spread out the course that are sure to make play a challenge.
“ It’s an architectural treasure,’’ USGA executive director Mike Davis said. “From a golf standpoint, you could easily say it’s a landmark. And there are so many wonderful moments in time.’’
Hogan’s 1950 triumph is near the top of the list. A little more than a year after surviving a horrible car crash, Hogan came to the 72nd hole of the 1950 U.S. Open needing a par to force a playoff. In one of golf’s most enduring photos, Hogan is pictured, from behind, hitting a 1-iron from the 18th fairway to a green ringed by spectators. He went on to two-putt for par and won a three-way playoff the next day.
Officials proudly had the club out during a recent media tour.
Before the start of a playoff for the 1971 Open, Trevino pulled a prank on Jack Nicklaus, tossing a rubber snake at his feet while on the first tee. Nicklaus simply shook his head and laughed along with Trevino. Trevino got the last laugh when he bested Nicklaus for the championship.
“He showed no pressure at all in the moment,’’ Mutch said. “That kind of foreshadowed his victory in the playoff against Nicklaus.’’
And it showcased his levity. After the win, Trevino said, “I love Merion, and I don’t even know her last name.’’
Merion has hosted 18 USGA championships, the most of any golf course. The 32 years is the fifth-longest time between U.S. Opens for a golf course.
With a shorter course, birdies could become more expected over the weekend. Davis said Merion will play at 6,996 yards on the scorecard. The last major course that was under 7,000 yards was Shinnecock Hills for the 2004 U.S. Open. Merion will be the shortest since Southern Hills, which was 6,973 in 2001.
So it’s short – a good thing since tee directions and yardage markers are banned at the course. No mulligans are permitted at the first tee.
“I tell people all the time it is my favorite golf course in the world,’’ defending U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson said. “What it demands out of the players is so different than most golf courses.’’
The USGA and Merion have made some concessions to make the event work. The USGA is limiting attendance to 25,000 per round, down from the usual average of about 35,000 to 40,000, and plans are in place for a few smaller merchandise tents, rather than one large tent. Strategically placed grandstands are expected to help crowd flow, and remote satellite parking and hospitality tents are also part of the plan.
The club reached out to the township and nearby Haverford College to help ensure a smooth running event.
“The town is starved for something like this,’’ Philadelphia golf historian Pete Trenham said.
The wait is over.