ARDMORE, Pa. — Whoever wins the 113th US Open will join an elite roster of champions at Merion Golf Club, and add to the club’s rich history, which rivals any in the country.
They’ve got the pictures and plaques and trophies and memorabilia to prove it, not to mention those wicker baskets that serve as flagsticks.
Want proof? Let’s take a stroll inside Merion’s clubhouse. Remove your cap, please (club rule), and head for the trophy room. True, many clubs have nice displays, but Merion’s collection includes replicas of all the US Golf Association championships the club has held. That’s a healthy list, since no club in the country has hosted more USGA championships than Merion; this week’s US Open makes a very symbolic 18. There’s the Walker Cup (2009) in the corner, close to the lunch patio, which is no more than 20 feet from the first tee.
In the middle of the room are duplicates of the four trophies won by Bobby Jones during his Grand Slam year of 1930. The US Amateur (six times) and US Open (now five) have long relationships with Merion; the British Open and British Amateur have never been played here, obviously, but those replicas honor the 1930 accomplishment of Jones, who made his major championship debut at Merion in the 1916 Amateur, then won it for the first time here in 1924.
Look closer, at the framed scorecard from Jones’s victory in the final match of the 1930 US Amateur, which capped his remarkable year and gave him the impregnable quadrilateral. Later shortened, thankfully, to the Grand Slam. He beat Eugene Homans in the 36-hole final, 8 and 7. But on the next-to-last hole, the short par-4 10th, both players took double bogey, for an ugly, unlikely halve. Jones circled both 6s on the scorecard, then wrote “Ha ha” above it. Funny.
Let’s head out to the course, and visit the site of Jones’s victory, the 11th hole. A plaque recognizing the win is on a rock near the tee, which peers down toward the green on the short, downhill par 4, the lowest point on the property. Guarded by Cobbs Creek — which can easily overflow, especially when it rains like it might on Thursday afternoon — it figures to attract some golf balls this week, possibly sinking someone’s chances at winning.
Up the hill, on the other side of the clubhouse, we’ll find another plaque, signifying a performance and a photograph that deserve equal billing when it comes to golf importance. Standing in the middle of the 18th fairway, roughly 200 yards from the green, this is the spot where Ben Hogan played his second shot to the final green in the final round of the 1950 US Open. Needing a par to force a playoff, Hogan — racked by leg pain after surviving a near-fatal car crash the year before — used a 1-iron for his shot. Hy Peskin used a camera for his, catching Hogan from behind at the top of his followthrough, in perfect form. It’s the most famous photo in golf, capturing Hogan (who made his par, naturally) a day before he won an improbable US Open.
So, Jones has won Merion. Hogan, too. Add Jack Nicklaus to the list, although his victory didn’t come in a USGA event. Representing the US in the 1960 World Amateur Team Championship, Nicklaus led the Americans to a 42-stroke victory, taking the individual competition in convincing fashion with rounds of 66-67-68-68. He called it some of the best golf he ever played in his brilliant career.
Nicklaus lost to Lee Trevino at Merion in the 1971 US Open, a playoff remembered mostly for two reasons: Either the rubber snake Trevino tossed at Nicklaus as a joke on the first tee, or the comment he made afterward.
“I love Merion, and I don’t even know her last name,” Trevino said.
Almost everyone who comes here loves Merion, which was known as the Merion Cricket Club until 1942. The East Course was designed in 1912 by little-known Hugh Wilson, who got his inspiration from a scouting trip he took to study the courses in England and Scotland. Good thing he chose to extend his stay in the UK; he held a ticket on the Titanic, which went unused.
Legend has it that on his trip to Scotland, Wilson saw the wicker basket flagsticks being used that would become Merion’s calling card, although their true origin remains unconfirmed. Red on the front nine, orange on the back, they give the club its distinctive look; there’s even miniature versions on the putting green. This week will be the only time that USGA flags won’t be used at the US Open; they actually tried conventional ones at Merion in 1950, when Hogan won, but caught enough heat that the wicker baskets have been used whenever national championships have returned.
They’re excited about the US Open returning to Merion for the first time since 1981, when David Graham became the first Australian to win the US Open. Adam Scott just became the first Australian to win the Masters, and more than a few Merion members — there are 535, and 500 will be here volunteering — fancy his chances this week.
Scott will have company, with 155 others hoping to write their own chapter into Merion’s voluminous history. If the past is any indication, we’re in for an unforgettable week.