Robert Alvarez has never been more popular than at the 113th U.S. Open.
This week, Alvarez, the USGA Museum’s collection archivist, is the keeper of two of golf’s most revered artifacts: Calamity Jane, Bobby Jones’ famed putter, which he used to complete the Grand Slam at the 1930 U.S. Amateur at Merion; and Ben Hogan’s 1-iron made famous by his approach to the 18th green at the 1950 U.S. Open at Merion. This is believed to be the first time the clubs have been showcased at an Open.
“Unless you come to the museum (in Far Hills, N.J.), you never see them,” Alvarez said.
The Hogan 1-iron hasn’t been back at Merion since the day Hogan hit one of golf’s iconic shots, immortalized in Hy Peskin’s photo and framed on countless walls. Adding to the lore of the club is the fact that it went missing that day for more than 30 years.
Alvarez is the man responsible for making sure history doesn’t repeat itself. It’s a job he doesn’t take lightly, on par with guarding the Stanley Cup. The clubs travel in a black, foam-fitted, hard-shelled, waterproof case that looks like it might contain a rifle.
As a matter of fact, the other night Alvarez was in line at a Subway, grabbing a bite to eat with the case by his side, when a customer asked him, “Is that a gun?”
No, but he ought to have two armed guards by his side rather than a simple padlock protecting two of golf’s priceless artifacts. The clubs should be locked in a Brink’s truck. This is history and everyone seems to want a piece of it this week.
“If we put Hogan’s 1–iron on display in the press tent, it would be the most popular thing other than Tiger all week,” said Michael Trostel, the USGA’s museum curator.
If only it could talk. Still, Hogan’s 1-iron has been in high demand, appearing in countless television features, and will be the main attraction at the R&A dinner this week, held at the Philadelphia Art Museum. Everywhere it goes, it attracts a crowd. Those blessed with the chance to admire Hogan’s 1-iron snap pictures and marvel at its tiny face and the wear spot on the heel that is no bigger than a quarter. Jose-Maria Olazabal and Sergio Garcia happened to be approaching the Hogan plaque in Merion’s 18th fairway, marking the exact spot where Hogan struck his 1-iron for the ages, during the filming of one video segment with the club and stopped to show their appreciation. On the other hand, when a superstitious Tiger Woods was asked if he wanted to touch it, he declined.
Even at its usual home at the USGA Museum, Hogan’s 1-iron is the most asked for item by visitors. Interestingly, it is not housed in the Hogan Room, but rather in a non-descript part of the museum paired with memorabilia from Babe Zaharias in an exhibit called “The Comeback Age.”
As the story goes, Hogan’s 1-iron was lifted from his locker room before the 1950 U.S. Open playoff. Its whereabouts were a mystery for decades until the club resurfaced in 1982 in a golf collector’s shop. When it eventually was returned to Hogan, he reportedly said, “Good to see my old friend back. Give it to the USGA.”
Alvarez wouldn’t disclose how much the clubs are insured for, but noted the appraiser equates Bobby Jones with Babe Ruth. So a team of Secret Service agents must be guarding these prized possessions over night, right? Not exactly. They are safely ensconced in Alvarez’s room, where presumably he sleeps with one eye open.
“I don’t go anywhere without it,” he said.