ARDMORE, Pa. – Golf’s best like to play with ghosts.
It’s no different today.
Ask two-time Oklahoma State All-America selection Rickie Fowler.
In Walker Cup practice with fellow Americans Adam Mitchell and Nathan Smith at Merion Golf Club, the trio couldn’t resist.
The 1-iron got Hogan into a playoff with Lloyd Mangrum and George Fazio that would win Hogan more than a trophy. Just 16 months after his car collided head-on with a Greyhound Bus, Hogan limped to that U.S. Open title, changing the way golf fans mostly viewed this cold and aloof competitor.
Hogan’s memory is so inescapable at Merion that Fowler, Mitchell and Smith couldn’t resist trying to duplicate Hogan’s shot.
“Took a picture with the background the same as Hogan,” Fowler said.
Except Fowler hit 4-iron.
The Walker Cup begins Saturday at Merion Golf Club, where the young members of the American and Great Britain & Ireland teams are relishing gallivanting among the game’s great ghosts. The East Course, created by Hugh Wilson, a club member, was opened in September of 1912.
Merion’s full of great memories.
“It’s fabulous coming back here,” said Mike Davis, the U.S. Golf Association’s senior director of rules and competition. “You almost get tingles coming, the place reeks with such history.”
The history here can feel more like mythology with Merion’s rich past remembered mostly in grainy, black-and-white images.
Though Merion has been host to 17 USGA championships, more than any other club, its mostly ancient history to today’s young players.
Smith is the only player in this week’s Walker Cup who was alive the last time a U.S. Open was played at Merion. He was 3 years old.
This venerable course is where Bobby Jones played his first and last U.S. Amateur. He completed the Grand Slam here, defeating Eugene Homans, 8 and 7, to win the U.S. Amateur in 1930. A plaque commemorating Jones’ victory can be found at the 11th hole, where he clinched that match. On the last Friday of every September, Merion’s membership honors the victory in a black-tie affair, marching behind a bag piper out to the 11th tee, where the club president offers up a toast.
“Probably one of my favorite holes here,” Fowler said.
Merion’s also where Lee Trevino threw that rubber snake at Jack Nicklaus before beating the Golden Bear in an 18-hole U.S. Open playoff in 1971.
This year’s Walker Cuppers are part of Merion’s resurgence as a championship venue.
Time seemed to have passed Merion by after David Graham won the ’81 U.S. Open. The ’89 U.S. Amateur title won by Chris Patton looked like it was going to be the club’s last hurrah. The East Course appeared too short for the modern game, not suitable for meaningful lengthening within its smallish boundaries. The U.S. Open also seemed to have outgrown the venue logistically. The property couldn’t hold enough spectators to suit the championship’s growing needs, or enough hospitality tents, but this weekend’s Walker Cup is proving to be part of Merion’s big comeback.
After successfully hosting the 2005 U.S. Amateur, Merion was awarded the 2013 U.S. Open.
Merion membership and the USGA did some hard work making sure the championship test was more than strong enough, and that property on the club’s West Course could be used to meet U.S. Open hospitality and other needs. Attendance may be limited when the U.S. Open is played here, but the possibilities no longer are. The demanding exactness of Merion’s East Course layout, its rough and diabolical greens still make it a supreme test.
“Merion has always been the poster child for what equipment’s done to championship courses,” Davis said. “To be able to bring the Open back here, it’s one of the most exciting things that’s happened in the 20 years I’ve been with the USGA.”
Today’s Walker Cup competitors hope to add to the club’s great memories this week.
“Knowing some of the history here just makes it even more special,” GB&I’s Wallace Booth said.