Cutting up the US Open with a butter knife

Updated: June 12, 2013, 9:42 AM ET
Associated Press

ARDMORE, Pa. -- On a quiet day and on a relatively empty course for practice rounds, just about every player at Merion stops at the plaque in the 18th fairway that commemorates Ben Hogan hitting 1-iron into the 18th green in the 1950 U.S. Open.

To see such a landmark in golf history, players are inspired to try to duplicate the shot.

But this is no longer an option.

Good luck finding a player who even carries a 1-iron. And the shot Hogan hit, which the USGA estimates to be 213 yards, is no longer a 1-iron. Graeme McDowell hit a 3-hybrid, conceding that Hogan would probably roll in his grave.

There was a time when several players carried the club known as the "butter knife." Finding memorable shots in the U.S. Open is not that easy.

Here are five shots with the 1-iron that stand out:

5. JOHN DALY REACHES THE UNREACHABLE PAR 5

The legend of the 17th hole at Baltusrol was that no one could reach the 630-yard hole in two shots. Baltusrol had not seen the likes of John Daly in the 1993 U.S. Open.

Fans and volunteers kept telling Daly they wanted to see him reach the green in two, though that could only happen if Daly hit his tee shot in the fairway. He finally managed in the second round on Friday.

Daly blasted his tee shot, leaving him about 287 yards up the hill. He smashed his 1-iron -- Daly didn't carry a 3-wood back then -- and the ball landed in the thick rough between a pair of bunkers, bounced a couple of times and rolled across the green.

"I swung as hard as I could," Daly said.

He shot 68 that day, though he would not be a factor the rest of the week. No matter. Daly desperately wanted to prove he could reach the 17th in two, and he said he told his caddie, "We may not play good, but at least we'll make history."

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4. JACK NICKLAUS AT BALTUSROL

Jack Nicklaus was leading Arnold Palmer going to the par-5 18th at Baltusrol in the 1967 U.S. Open, but more was at stake than beating Palmer again in the U.S. Open. Nicklaus needed a birdie on the last hole to break Ben Hogan's U.S. Open scoring record of 276 in 1948.

It didn't start out very well.

Nicklaus pulled his tee shot into thick rough and had to pitch back out to the fairway. That left him 238 yards away from a thin lie in the fairway, up the hill to the green. He chose a 1-iron, and the shot was so true that Nicklaus took a couple of steps toward the hole when he hit it.

The crowd told him the rest. The ball settled just over 20 feet from the hole, and Nicklaus made the putt for a closing 65 and a four-shot win over Palmer.

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3. JACK NICKLAUS AT PEBBLE BEACH

If not for the famous photo of Ben Hogan at Merion, what Jack Nicklaus did in 1972 at Pebble Beach might be the most memorable 1-iron struck in U.S. Open history.

Because it struck the flag.

Nicklaus was never out of the lead after every round that week at Pebble, and in the tough wind off the Monterey Peninsula, his 72 in the third round gave him the outright lead. He was comfortably ahead going to the par-3 17th, though it was no picnic. The wind was ripping hard into his face. Nicklaus pulled out his 1-iron and would have been content to be in the front bunker.

Here's where the shot is even more amazing -- Nicklaus had to make an adjustment in the middle of his swing because he felt the club slight off line.

It struck the flag, and Nicklaus went on to a 74 for a three-shot win and his third U.S. Open title.

"The shot I performed, I don't think I could ever do again," he said later.

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2. BEN HOGAN AT MERION

Sixteen months after the car accident that nearly killed him, Ben Hogan was on the cusp of an amazing comeback. He was in control of the final round in the 1950 U.S. Open at Merion. He was two shots ahead when he three-putted the 15th for a bogey, and then found a bunker off the tee on the par-3 17th and failed to save par.

Suddenly, he was tied for the lead with Lloyd Mangrum and George Fazio, who already had finished the final round. He would need a par on the tough 18th just to join them. The final day was 36 holes, and Hogan hit such a good drive in the morning third round that he needed only a 6-iron. But with his legs battered and swollen on his 36th hole of the day, his tee shot couldn't catch the slope of the hill, leaving him about 213 yards.

He was between a 4-wood and a 1-iron, and he went with the 1-iron.

Hogan reached the green, about 40 feet away, and two-putted for par to get into the playoff. He won the next day.

What makes the shot so famous was Hy Peskin, a photographer for Life magazine, who positioned himself behind Hogan and captured the iconic pose.

"I knew as I shot it, I had something really terrific," Peskin later told Golf Digest.

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1. IRON BYRON WINS HIS ONLY U.S. OPEN

The record shows Byron Nelson winning his only U.S. Open in 1939 at Philadelphia Country Club after two 18-hole playoffs. Denny Shute was eliminated after the first 18, and Nelson shot 70 in the second playoff to beat Craig Wood by three shots.

There are no photos of the most significant shot. The occasion wasn't as heroic as when Hogan won across town at Merion 11 years later.

But there is no denying the quality of Lord Byron's shot.

He took the lead in the second playoff with a birdie on the third hole. On the par-4 fourth, Nelson had 215 yards and hit a 1-iron that went into the cup for an eagle. Just like that, he had a big lead and was on his way to victory.


Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press

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