David Graham • 72 • Dallas, Texas • World Golf Hall-of-Famer
I don’t think of my ’81 US Open triumph every day but perhaps every second day. I also won the US PGA Championship at Oakland Hills two years beforehand so I have a soft spot for both. But Merion was special because of its sense of history and the fact Bobby Jones had won the Grand Slam there. And it was the final round of the US Open.
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The US Open is always difficult to win because of the way they set up the course. It was never a big hitter’s course, although it is sadly becoming that way with the ball and the equipment and the athleticism of the players. But it was always considered an accuracy game to win the US Open. It wasn’t a power game. If you look back at all the years Jack Nicklaus played, he hit so many phenomenal 1-irons off the tee and 3-woods and lay-up shots… It was always about positioning your ball. One mis-hit and you were in two feet of rough and making a double-bogey.
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I have many favourite memories from Merion but one of the most incredible didn’t happen on the golf course. It was a letter from Jack Nicklaus that was in my locker about 20 minutes after I had won. I thought that was wonderful. I also played a practice round with Gary Player the day before the tournament started. He said, “Man, I really like the way you are swinging and you’re striking the ball really well. I think it’s about time you won one of these things.” I remember starting birdie-birdie, which was a huge confidence boost for me. Suddenly I went from three behind to tied for the lead. That was huge. I remember looking at the leaderboard on 14 and seeing Nicklaus had made double on 16. He had been creeping up the leaderboard all day but unfortunately that ended his chances. It gave me a little breathing space and I remember making birdies on 14 and 15, which was huge for me. I had a two-shot lead.
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The weather and tee-times will play a big part in this year at Shinnecock Hills. The winner will be a good ball-striker who can hit it straight, like Justin Rose. It is a very tough golf course and the wind can blow like crazy there. I just love the way Rose plays golf. I think he’s fabulous. And I just love the way Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth go about it. Then again, a big hitter could come out and dominate, like Justin Thomas or Dustin Johnson. There are just so many talented players today.
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Golf might be in the best place it has ever been. Just look at the television ratings for the Masters. The players are all clean, young healthy guys who are playing the game like players in my generation never thought would ever be played. The kids behave themselves and they put on a heck of a show. I think it is going to get even better too. I think we are in the infancy of seeing big, strong people playing golf. It is suddenly ‘cool’ to play golf and there’s a lot of money in it. I would love to see some of that money put towards a pension fund for the huge number of players my age and older who won a lot of tournaments but missed out on the big money. Through no fault of their own they are now struggling to pay their mortgages. I think the US PGA Tour needs to do something for them.
– written with Michael Davis