2009 Walker Cup Adds Another Illustrious Chapter To Merion's Pedigree

Biennial competition will be 18th USGA event at Philadelphia-area venue, where Jones completed 'Grand Slam' in 1930 and Hogan won memorable 1950 U.S. Open


April 23, 2009

By David Shefter, USGA

Ardmore, Pa. - Step inside Merion Golf Club and the history oozes out.

It begins with the Colonial Revival style clubhouse, which in 1992 earned the honor of being named a National Historic Landmark, becoming one of two golf courses to receive such a distinction (Oakmont Country Club, outside of Pittsburgh is the other).

USA captain Buddy Marucci is hoping to keep the Walker Cup in America's possession this September at Merion. (John Mummert/USGA)

No other American club has hosted more USGA championships (17) and the reminders are omnipresent. Walls are adorned with classic photographs and other memorabilia. A trophy case features replicas from each championship, with the centerpiece being the four majors Bob Jones claimed in 1930, the last of which came at Merion when he won the U.S. Amateur for his ninth and last USGA title.

Jones might have been raised and bred in Atlanta, but a good portion of his soul - at least from a golf perspective - was left at Merion. It's the place where in 1916, at age 14, he made his national debut at the U.S. Amateur. It's where he claimed his first U.S. Amateur championship in 1924, and where he completed the historic "Grand Slam" in '30. A plaque near the 11th tee commemorates that achievement, as it was on this downhill par 4 where Jones vanquished finalist Gene Homans, 8 and 7, for that 1930 Amateur. Each year Merion members hold a special black-tie dinner to honor Jones' achievement. They venture down to No. 11 with bagpipes playing in the background and hold a champagne toast to one of the game's greatest champions.

Another plaque in the middle of the 18th fairway memorializes another dramatic achievement. It's the spot where Ben Hogan launched a 1-iron approach shot at the 1950 U.S. Open, a moment permanently captured by photographer Hy Peskin that has become one of the most iconic images in golf history. Hogan, who was returning to the game from a near-fatal car accident, parred the hole and went on to win the title in a three-man, 18-hole playoff over Lloyd Mangrum and George Fazio.

Twenty-one years later, Lee Trevino threw a rubber snake at Jack Nicklaus on the first tee prior to their 18-hole playoff for the U.S. Open. Trevino shot a 2-under 68 and beat the Golden Bear by three strokes.

Another chapter in the illustrious Merion diary will be written this September when the Philadelphia-area club hosts the 42nd Walker Cup Match Sept. 11-13, becoming the first U.S. venue to host the Walker Cup, Curtis Cup and World Amateur Team Championships. The Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland is the only other club that can boast that distinction.

For those unfamiliar with the Walker Cup, it's a biennial competition between 10-man amateur teams from the USA and Great Britain and Ireland. It's like the Ryder Cup, only more intimate.

Spectators can walk the same fairways as the participants. And the match-play format can offer up plenty of dramatics, especially on Sunday afternoon.

     Jim Nantz

"The Walker Cup is a treasure to the game," said CBS lead play-by-play golf announcer and Merion member Jim Nantz, who emceed a media event for the Walker Cup on April 21. "Unfortunately, it's not marquee or sexy enough or whatever the media is looking for, but it really represents a lot of the things when you cut it to its very core about the game of golf."

Some of golf's greatest players have been Walker Cup participants. World No. 1 Tiger Woods played in 1995. Phil Mickelson was a two-time competitor in 1989 and '91. Recent PGA Tour winners Davis Love III Brian Gay, Dustin Johnson, Anthony Kim and J.B. Holmes are all Walker Cup alums. Past GB&I stalwarts have included three-time major champion Padraig Harrington, Paul Casey, Luke Donald, Graeme McDowell, Colin Montgomerie, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and David Howell.

One can be assured that tomorrow's stars will be on display at Merion in September.

While crowds have averaged around 5,000 a day for Walker Cups staged in the U.S., Merion officials are preparing for 10,000 for the two-day competition.

"We're hoping to attract that many people," said Rod Day, the general chairman for the Walker Cup Match, adding the best way for people to purchase tickets is via the Internet. Daily ($20 for practice rounds and $40 for competition days) and season passes ($90) are available at www.2009walkercup.org or by calling (484) 708-1050.

At Royal County Down in 2007, an estimated 13,000 turned out to watch as the underdog Americans posted a 12-11 victory, clinching the Cup when Jonathan Moore, 22, fired a 4-iron approach from 252 yards out to within 3 feet on the final hole to set up an eagle and 1-up win over 39-year-old GB&I veteran Nigel Edwards of Wales.

Captain George "Buddy" Marucci called it the highlight of the entire Match.

Marucci, a longtime Merion member who lost to Woods in the 1995 U.S. Amateur final at Newport (R.I.) Country Club, has the honor of leading the USA squad again in 2009. While his squad likely won't feature the same individuals - many have since turned pro or will turn pro before the Match - he is excited about captaining the team at his home club.

"It's a unique challenge to do this at home," said Marucci, the reigning USGA Senior Amateur champion and a two-time Walker Cup player. "I think it will be a little more stressful. [But] I'm excited for the club. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to [captain the team] anywhere, and to do it at home is really special. We are going to try and put the blinders on about all the other stuff and get down to business here really soon."

Over the next three months, Marucci plans to do as much scouting as possible. He said the timetable is to select a majority of the team after the Western Amateur in late July, with the remaining players picked following the U.S. Amateur in late August at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla.

"I'll be on the road 12 of the next 14 weeks," he said.

Whatever the makeup of the squad, the competitors will find a Merion Course that is plenty challenging. By today's standards it might not seem long at 6,846 yards (par 70), but of the 311 stroke-play rounds played on the Hugh Wilson layout at the 2005 U.S. Amateur, only three competitors broke par, with 1-under 69 being the lowest score. That Amateur showed USGA officials Merion was more than ready to take on another U.S. Open, which it will host in 2013. The Walker Cup Match only adds to the lore.

"As you all know," said Nantz, "it doesn't get any better than Merion.

"And this is going to be Buddy's Walker Cup. It's really one of the neatest fits of all time."

David Shefter is a USGA Digital Media staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at dshefter@usga.org .

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