ARDMORE, Pa. — Justin Rose walked the 18th fairway and thought of Ben Hogan, and a chance to emulate one of the most famous shots in golf.
That very moment Sunday made the U.S. Open’s return to Merion Golf Club worth all the bother.
It was about history, about putting up with extra shuttle rides and wicker baskets on top of hole pins to enjoy the charm and legacy of this compact course tucked away in a Philadelphia suburb.
About 15 feet short of the famous plaque that commemorates Hogan’s 1-iron approach in 1950, Rose went about finishing off a new chapter in Merion’s place in the sport.
He went with a 4-iron — technology’s come a long way in 63 years — and parred the hole to become the first Englishman in 43 years to win America’s national championship.
“It’s hard not to play Merion and envision yourself hitting the shot that Hogan did,” Rose said. “And even in the moment today, that was not lost on me.
“When I walked over the hill and saw my drive sitting perfectly in the middle of the fairway, with the sun coming out, it was kind of almost fitting. And I just felt like at that point it was a good iron shot on to the green, two putts, like Hogan did, and possibly win this championship.”
Rose shot an even-par 70 for a 1-over 281 total for his first major title, two strokes better than Jason Day and Phil Mickelson. Mickelson extended a record that gets more frustrating as the years go by: He’s finished second six times at the U.S. Open without a win.
“Heartbreak,” said Mickelson, who had a solo lead after 54 holes for the first time at the Open and was playing on his 43rd birthday.
“This is tough to swallow after coming so close. This was my best chance of all of them. I had a golf course I really liked. I felt this was as good an opportunity as you could ask for. It really hurts.”
Hogan won in a playoff after his 1-iron approach, immortalized in one of the sport’s most famous photos, led to par and forced a playoff.
The Open came back in 1971 and 1981 and wasn’t expected to return again because its yardage was thought to be too short for the modern game and its tiny footprint thought to be too small to contain all the amenities of a modern-day major.
Somehow, they worked it out, even if it meant putting tents in people’s yards, shuttling the players a mile to and from the practice area and drastically cutting back on ticket sales.
USGA executive director Mike Davis said the typical U.S. Open scores showed that “time hasn’t passed Merion by” and that officials would “absolutely” consider coming back.
Rose would, in a heartbeat.
“What I first love about Merion is how one of the local caddies described it: The first six holes are drama, the second six holes are comedy, and the last six holes are tragedy,” Rose said. “Like a good play, like a good theatrical play.”
Rose’s winning round more or less reflected that very script. Five birdies. Five bogeys. He took the lead for good because of others’ mistakes. He was in a three-way tie with Mickelson and Hunter Mahan before Mickelson bogeyed No. 15 and Mahan double-bogeyed the same hole.
But Rose needed 18 to seal the deal. No one birdied the hole in the final two rounds. The tee shot had to be in the fairway.
The 4-iron approach rolled near the pin and settled precariously against the collar of the green, but he used a 3-wood to bunt the ball to an inch of the cup for par.
He then looked through the patchy clouds and point to the sky, a nod to his late father, Ken, who died of leukemia in September 2002.
“Father’s Day was not lost on me today,” Rose said. “You don’t have (many) opportunities to really dedicate a win to someone you love, and today was about him.”
England has waited since Tony Jacklin at Hazeltine in 1970 for a U.S. Open winner, although Rose adds to a run of recent dominance from the British Isles. Graeme McDowell (2010) and Rory McIlroy (2011), both from Northern Ireland, won back-to-back titles.
Rose first made his mark on the major scene as a 17-year-old amateur who chipped in on the final hole at Royal Birkdale in the 1998 British Open and tied for fourth. He turned pro the next week and missed the cut in his first 21 tournaments.
But he stuck to it and slowly picked off big tournaments — including the AT&T National in 2010 just down the road at Aronimink.
“Probably, at times, it feels 25 years since Birkdale, and other times it feels like it was just yesterday,” Rose said. “There’s a lot of water under the bridge. My learning curve has been steep from that point. Sort of announced myself on the golfing scene probably before I was ready to handle it. And golf can be a cruel game.”
Certainly, it can.
On Sunday, it was cruel for Mickelson.
And for Steve Stricker, who is still without a win in the majors after hitting the ball out of bounds twice at the second hole to card an 8. He was one shot off the lead when the round began, but finished five back after his round of 76.
And it was cruel for Tiger Woods, who also hit out of bounds at No. 2 and closed with a 74. That gave him his worst 72-hole score (13-over 293) as a pro in the U.S. Open, and it tied for his high score in any major.
“I did a lot of things right,” Woods said. “Unfortunately, I did a few things wrong, as well.”
Still, Woods appreciates history, and he joined those who could see the Open coming back to Merion — logistics permitting.
“I’m sure it will come back,” he said. “Obviously there are some vendors that are going to make more money with hospitality and that nature (at other venues). But I think that overall as a golf course, yes, it can be played.”
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