Snakes, Dysentery and a Grand Slam: The U.S. Open at Merion

The course has seen some of the sport's most epic performances.

By Justin Ray
|  Friday, Jun 14, 2013  |  Updated 11:32 PM EDT
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Snakes, Dysentery and a Grand Slam: The U.S. Open at Merion

Lee Trevino, left, and Jack Nicklaus get together at Merion Golf Club on June 20, 1971. Trevino won an 18-hole playoff to win the U.S. Open title.

The golf world said hello this week to an old friend: Merion East, the famed course at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Penn., known for its fast greens, deep bunkers and overall small size.

The course, considered one of the most challenging ever created, dates back to 1912. Now, it's considered one of the most influential courses in the sport. It's hosted the U.S. Open four times. From June 13 through 16, it is hosting it for a fifth time.

“Acre for acre, it may be the best test of golf in the world,” golf legend Jack Nicklaus once said.

Merion has hosted some of the most memorable games in golf history. Amazing performances by  Olin Dutra, Lee Travino, Ben Hogan and Bobby Jones all took place at Merion — and the stories behind their wins are also epic.

The Dysentery Kid

In 1934, Olin Dutra was not favored to win the U.S. Open. Dutra's health didn't help: He lost 20 pounds from amoebic dysentery in the weeks leading up to the tournament.

As he ended the first round, he ate sugar cubes to maintain energy under doctor's orders. After two rounds, he trailed by eight strokes. Then, during the third round, the wind picked up. Dutra had developed his skills in windy conditions, giving him an advantage.

He had a stellar final day, though, and beat Gene Sarazen by on stroke to win the U.S. Open.

From Hospital Bed to Championship

In February 1949, golf legend Ben Hogan was in a car accident with a Greyhound bus in Texas that was almost fatal. He wasn’t expected to walk again, let alone play golf. Sixteen months later, though, he faced Merion's 18th fairway, needing an impressive drive into a fierce wind to have a shot at an improbable U.S. Open championship.

Using one of his irons, he nailed a 200-yard drive that landed on the green, according Golf.com. The drive was memorialized in a famous photo of Hogan finishing up his swing, and a plaque at Merion that lays at the location of Hogan's memorable stroke.

He two-putted to make par and force an 18-hole playoff with Lloyd Mangrum and George Fazio. He won the playoff and the title.

Snake Charmer

A much-anticipated face-off between the notorious bad boy Lee Trevino and sharp shooter Jack Nicklaus took place at the 1971 U.S. Open at Merion. Drama started at the very first tee when Trevino  showed his wild side, pulling out a fake snake and throwing it at Nicklaus, much to the audience's delight.

On the course, Trevino matched Nicklaus birdie for birdie. Trevino and Nicklaus were tied after the regulation 72 holes, both ending at par.

Trevino won the tie-breaker by three strokes.

"You gotta be lucky to beat Jack Nicklaus, because he's the greatest golfer to ever hold a club," Trevino said

The Grand Slam

In 1930, Bobby Jones achieved what many considered unachievable. The golfer, who hailed from Georgia, won all four major championships in golf during the same year.

No golfer has matched the feat since. The New York Times called the it "the most triumphant journey that any man ever traveled in sport." A plaque at Merion highlights the achievement.

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