Hogan's legendary 1-iron returns to Merion's 18th for first time

Matt Adams of the Back9Network re-creates Ben Hogan's famous pose on the 18th fairway, with the 1-iron Hogan used.
Matt Adams of the Back9Network re-creates Ben Hogan's famous pose on the 18th fairway, with the 1-iron Hogan used. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 12, 2013

Sergio Garcia stopped dead in his tracks.

The Spaniard was already making his way toward the green when someone from his group informed him that the 1-iron was in their presence.

Yes, the 1-iron.

Sixty-three years and one day after Ben Hogan's immortal approach shot to the final hole in the fourth round of the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club, the club he stroked returned to that exact spot on the 18th fairway.

It was a homecoming of sorts, like the Open's return to Merion after a 32-year hiatus. It was the first time the MacGregor 1-iron - now rusty but in safe keeping - returned to Hogan's spot, according to Matt Adams of Back9Network.

Garcia, who just so happened to be playing in one of the few groups while the club was at 18, took a sharp right turn toward Adams once he learned that he had Hogan's 1-iron. Adams, wearing white gloves, then showed Garcia the club.

"I couldn't hold it. Wasn't allowed," Garcia said. "But I could see it."

Adams, a television and radio host, had the honor of holding and swinging the club to re-create the iconic photograph that Hy Peskin took for Life magazine. Why Adams? Because he asked Mike Trostel, curator for the United States Golf Association Museum, and the answer he received was yes.

"I said, 'If you're going to have it on site, can we get that club back to the original site where Ben Hogan actually hit it?' " Adams recalled. "It went up through the ranks and received all the necessary approvals."

So on Tuesday morning, as players made their way around the Ardmore course, Adams and a camera crew brought the 1-iron to the 18th. It was easy enough to locate the exact spot, marked in 2000 with a commemorative plaque that reads:

June, 10, 1950

U.S. Open

Fourth Round

Ben Hogan

1-iron

Through most of the morning, professional golfers both famous and unrecognizable took a moment from their practice rounds to acknowledge the plaque and Hogan's triumph. Peskin's photo - with Hogan in picture-perfect pose at the end of his follow-through - is known by every golfer, although the details sometimes get fuzzy.

"That was to get into a playoff. I think people kind of forget that," Tiger Woods said. "He hit it to about 40 feet and still had some work to do. It's a great photo, but it would have been an all-right photo if he didn't win. He still had to go out and win it the next day."

As great as Hogan's shot and his subsequent 18-hole playoff victory were, it was his perseverance that resonated most. A year before, Hogan's car was struck head on by a Greyhound bus and he nearly died. Doctors initially feared that the 36-year-old would never walk again.

But Hogan worked himself back into shape and started playing competitive golf at the start of the 1950 season. By the time he got to Merion, the 36-hole final day of the Open, and the 18th, he was exhausted.

"The reason he hit the 1-iron was not due to distance. It was because his legs were shot," Adams said. "They had turned to stone. It was 36 holes and he was aching."

But he struck the 1-iron gracefully and Peskin was there to capture it. The next day, Hogan, holding a 4-stroke lead, drove it to nearly the same spot. But he hit a 4-iron. The 1-iron, indecently, had been stolen the night before, along with his cleats.

It was 33 years before it was miraculously recovered. Hogan verified its authenticity. It has been guarded every since. When Adams and his crew arrived at 18, they carried the club in a bulletproof black case.

Before the 1-iron arrived, the plaque drew the most attention. Knowledgeable fans, barricaded by rope, asked a marshal to snap photos of it in between groups. Most of the golfers acknowledged the monument in some way. Some took pictures. One caddie stopped at the marker and waved her hands up and down in "I'm not worthy" fashion.

Argentinean Angel Cabrera tapped the plate with his club, stood back, and surveyed the shot, likely envisioning what confronted Hogan that day.

A few groups later, Adams walked out to the spot with the 1-iron. He swung the club and held the Hogan pose as a camera crew marked the moment.

"I was buzzing," Adams said. "I'm still buzzing because that club is so incredibly significant to the history of the game."

Woods and Garcia said that they don't carry a 1-iron anymore, instead opting for a 5-wood. Twenty-four-year-old Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland joked that he had "no history" with a 1-iron.

Even though all three were born long after Hogan's improbable Merion victory, they knew of its place in the game's history.

"Obviously, it was amazing to see the iron itself," said Garcia, who added: "It was my first time playing the 18th hole, so it was very exciting to be able to see where he hit it from to that kind of green and what he was able to achieve."


Contact Jeff McLane at jmclane@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @Jeff_McLane.

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