US Open: A beautiful obsession

David Graham
David Graham reacts on the 72nd green at Merion in 1981.

Martin Blake looks at Australia's obsession with winning the US Open...

Thirty-six years ago one of Australia's greatest ever golfers played his finest single round at the fabled Merion Golf Club near Philadelphia to become the first of his countrymen to win the United States Open. David Graham was his name, and sadly, his legacy has been somewhat overlooked in this country in the time that has passed.

Graham's 67 that day at the par-70 East Course at Merion stands the test of time. Always known for the precise nature of his golf and never a swashbuckler, Sydney's Graham made four birdies, not missing a single green, missed a single fairway all day and made only one significant error, a three-putt bogey at the fifth, reaching an overall seven under, extremely low-scoring for a US Open.

It was his second major championship, following the US PGA title that he had won at Oakland Hills in 1979. Affectionately known as 'The Dawg' because of the Texan twang that he developed over years of playing and living in America, Graham indeed had his day in June, 1981.

He had started the final round three shots adrift of his playing partner, American George Burns, but quickly caught his chief combatant and then took the outright lead with consecutive birdies on the 14th and 15th holes. Ultimately he won by three, hurling his ball into the crowd in an uncharacteristically demonstrative exhibition.

"I liked the golf course,'' he told a USGA documentary several years ago. "I had a good feel for it. It wasn't a long ball-hitters' course. It was a good iron-players' golf course. It was a course you played cautiously, you never played aggressively, which is kind of the way I liked to play.''

Graham was one of the world's best players for some years, and was later inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in Florida. He lives quietly in Dallas, Texas, his American base of many years, and recalls that day at Merion with fondness. "It is the most significant major so it's the most significant victory in my career. So therefore, it has to be the most special.''

Both before and since David Graham's triumph a host of Australians have tried and mostly failed to lift the trophy of the American national championship. Not until Geoff Ogilvy's win at Winged Foot near New York in 2006 had anyone managed it, the Melburnian having the distinction of an incredible, last-man-standing win in a brutal week, but a great triumph all the same.

Ogilvy never held the lead in the tournament until it finished with Phil Mickelson's double-bogey from the trees at the 72nd hole, soon after Colin Montgomerie's double after he air-mailed the green at the 18th as well. He watched all this unfold from the scorers' hut with Ian Poulter, his playing partner, having parred the last for a two-over 72 and a five-over par total that he thought may get him into a share for second place, at best.

Ogilvy had chipped in to save par after trouble at the 17th, then drove into a divot on the 18th fairway and eventually had to make a tricky putt of almost 2m at the last to get into position. But not in his wildest dreams did he envisage that it could be for the win. "I thought it was for a playoff at best,'' he told ESPN last year.  "A coin toss for a playoff or to lose by a shot. But I was at peace with it. I felt good about it. I was good with second, it's a good week. Maybe I would have thought differently if I were in the last group and thinking I had a putt to win.''

Ogilvy had other chances to win majors -- notably at Augusta in 2011 when he led the Masters deep into the final round before Charl Schwartzel gazumped everyone with four closing birdies -- but ultimately, Winged Foot has been his only major win in an outstanding career.

Others were tortured by its penal nature. Greg Norman was second twice, in 1984 at Winged Foot and 1995 at Shinnecock Hills, having chances in both cases. At Winged Foot, Norman made a bomb to save par at the 72nd hole after hitting his approach into the grandstand, and back up the fairway, the eventual winner Fuzzy Zoeller waved a white towel at the Shark in mock surrender, mistakenly believing Norman had made birdie.

Ultimately they tied at four-under and went to a 72-hole playoff in which the American was dominant. Norman shot 75, Zoeller a 67 and another chapter was penned for the Norman near-miss catalogue. At Shinnecock, it was Cory Pavin who denied the Shark, hitting a peerless four-wood close to the flag on the 18th and running down the fairway with fists pumping. Pavin won by two shots.

Four Australians have been runner-up, including Jason Day at Congressional in 2011 when Rory McIlroy obliterated the field. Kel Nagle in 1965 and Perth's Stephen Leaney in 2003, when his steady golf brought him in three shots behind Jim Furyk, also were second, while the great Peter Thomson's best finish was tied-fourth in 1956, the same year he won the third of his five Open Championships, at Royal Liverpool.

Day is certainly due to win. He was also fourth in 2014 at Pinehurst behind Martin Kaymer, of Germany, and fifth last year in the wake of Dustin Johnson at Oakmont Country Club.

Day, Adam Scott, Wade Ormsby, Marc Leishman and Nick Flanagan are teeing it up this week at Erin Hills, Wisconsin.

Needless to say, they will have a few butterflies lurking. After all, it is our beautiful obsession ...

Result

Player

Year

Course, Location

Won

Geoff Ogilvy

2006

Winged Foot Country Club, Mamaroneck, New York

Won

David Graham

1981

Merion Golf Club, Ardmore, Pennsylvania

2

Jason Day

2011

Congressional Country Club, Bethesda, Maryland

 

Stephen Leaney

2003

Olympia Fields Country Club, Olympia Fields, Illinois

 

Greg Norman

1995

Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, Southampton, New York

 

Greg Norman

1984

Winged Foot Country Club, Mamaroneck, New York

 

Kel Nagle

1965

Bellerive Country Club, St. Louis, Missouri

T3

Mark Hensby

2005

Pinehurst Resort, Pinehurst, North Carolina

 

Craig Parry

1993

Baltusrol Golf Club, Springfield, New Jersey

T4

Adam Scott

2015

Chambers Bay Golf Club, University Place, Washington

 

Jason Day

2014

Pinehurst Resort, Pinehurst, North Carolina

 

Peter Thomson

1956

Oak Hill Country Club, Rochester, New York

T5

Jason Day

2016

Oakmont Country Club, Oakmont, Pennsylvania

 

Greg Norman

1990

Medinah Country Club, Medinah, Illinois

 

Bruce Crampton

1963

The Country Club, Brookline, Massachusetts

 

Jim Ferrier

1950

Merion Golf Club, Ardmore, Pennsylvania

 

Joe Kirkwood, Jr.

1950

Merion Golf Club, Ardmore, Pennsylvania




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