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Column: Merion, the little course that could, did.
When he tapped in for par at No. 18, he looked up at the sky in tribute to his father, kissed the golf ball he pulled from the cup, doffed his cap briefly and then waited to see whether Mickelson, playing in the final group behind him, could birdie a hole that hadn’t yielded even one the last two days.
But in a nice bit of serendipity, a few moments earlier as he stood in the 18th fairway, Rose was only five paces behind the bronze plaque embedded there to recall the famous 1-iron that Ben Hogan hit here in 1950 to earn a spot in a playoff he won the next day.
Six decades later, for all the things that have changed in the game, the demands on a champion were the same: one solidly struck iron shot, two putts.
“It’s hard not to play Merion and envision yourself hitting the shot that Hogan did,” Rose recalled. “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. …
“So I felt like I did myself justice,” he added, “and probably put enough of a good swing where Ben Hogan might have thought it was a decent shot too.”
Endorsements flowed in from other quarters, too. Rose, Mickelson, Woods, Day and just about every other contender interviewed Sunday said they would welcome the chance to come back for another major, stand in Hogan’s spikes and see if they measured up.
Many in the golf community viewed this visit to Merion as a referendum of sorts on whether some of the game’s other grand old venues _ perhaps Chicago Golf Club, Riviera and The Country Club _ would get the chance to face the test of time as well.
Standing alongside the 18th green just ahead of the trophy presentation, Tom O'Toole, chairman of the USGA’s championship committee, wasn’t prepared to commit to any site beyond those already awarded through 2020.
“The question with Merion was always whether the other things that go into staging an Open _ infrastructure, logistics, those things mostly _ would work out. It took a lot of creativity,” he said.
“The naysayers dominated the early part of that conversation,” O’Toole added. “But they’ve gone by the wayside now.”
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.
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