Trip down memory lane reveals Open's true colors

Ben Hogan blasts from the sand trap on the 12th hole during the third round of the U.S. Open Golf Tournament at Ardmore, Pa., on June 10, 1950.

Ben Hogan blasts from the sand trap on the 12th hole during the third round of the U.S. Open Golf Tournament at Ardmore, Pa., on June 10, 1950.

— Starting when I was 18 years old, I tried to qualify every year for the U.S. Open. Every year I submitted my entry; every year I played; every year I failed.

I had no business entering our national championship. I didn’t expect to make it through the local-qualifying round. My goal was to come within 10 shots of the qualifying number.

Back then, local qualifying was 36 holes. Today it is 18.

I grew up with the U.S. Open on my mind. My father and his friends called it the National Open, not the U.S. Open. It was the national championship. The winner was the national champion.

Ben Hogan, the winner of four official U.S. Opens, was my hero. I, like Hogan, counted the Hale America Open in 1942 as his fifth National Open victory.

Just to say I attempted to qualify for the National Open was a big deal. For a handful of years, I was a regular U.S. Open entrant. In my mind, this provided a special designation.

I continued my Don Quixote impersonation after I left college and accepted a newspaper job in Florida. The highlight of my year was that local qualifier in late May.

One year I approached the registration table and was abruptly greeted by Edna Carey, wife of Bill Carey, executive director of the Florida State Golf Association.

“We can’t believe you are playing here,” she said. “This is for the best players.”

I certainly wasn’t among the “best players,” but I did shoot 73-78 that year to achieve my 10-shot objective.

Today I have trouble breaking 80, so the memory of all those U.S. Open qualifying rounds has grown more significant to me.

Here at Merion for the 2013 U.S. Open, with parts of the golf course under water, the favorite may be Noah and his ark (conforming, of course). The U.S. Open is all about diversity. As the name implies, the event is open to all golfers in the world who have the ability to compete.

I still call it the National Open. My father would appreciate that.

My first U.S. Open as a journalist was right here at Merion, in 1971. Lee Trevino pulled a rubber snake from his golf bag on the first tee of an 18-hole playoff with Jack Nicklaus. By the end of the round, Nicklaus was undeniably snakebitten. Leaving bunker shots in the sand on the second and third holes, Nicklaus faltered with a 71, losing by three strokes to Trevino.

Now I’ve gone full circle – 42 years later, I’m back at Merion for my third U.S. Open here.

In 1981, I watched David Graham win the title with one of the most brilliant closing rounds ever seen in a major championship. He shot 67, hitting all 18 greens in regulation and missing just one fairway.

There is something exceptional about the U.S. Open. The Masters may possess the most recognizable golf course in the United States, but the U.S. Open remains the national championship. It is the most important golf competition in America. The Masters is an invitational with a limited field, but the winner of the U.S. Open can boast that he beat every golfer from every continent and every country on earth. He is our national champion.

I remember calling my father after one of my final qualification attempts.

“I didn’t make it, Dad,” I said. “But you know what? With the atmosphere, and the pressure, and the exhilaration, I felt like I made it.”

That, I believe, was the point.

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