When I first took a glance at this question my thought was how in the world could I possibly pick a single hole out of all the incredible courses and holes I have been so fortunate to play. Would I choose it based on beauty, great strategic design, its place in history or that I hit a memorable shot? Then just in a blink of a eye the answer came to me very clearly. The one hole that I chose would be based on the way I felt as I played it and a big part of it was its place in history. My favorite hole I have ever played is the 18th on the east course at Merion just outside of Philly.
The east course at Merion also happens to be my favorite course I have ever played . The 18th at Merion as most avid golfers know is the setting for arguably the most iconic photograph in golf history, the 1 iron shot by Ben Hogan on the 72nd hole of the 1950 US Open. Now, I will admit I am one of countless golfers who is a Ben Hogan fanatic. Merion is so rich in history that it is palpable as soon as you step on the property. When you make the walk from the 10th green to the 11th tee you walk by a plaque commemorating that on the that hole Bobby Jones completed the Grand Slam on September 27, 1930. If that wasn’t enough you still get to look forward to playing the 18th which I believe was a big part of the biggest comeback in sports history. 18 months earlier Mr. Hogan was seriously injured in a head on collision and yet was able to win that US Open. What is truly amazing is that Mr. Hogan hit a blistering 1 iron to the green while experiencing unbearable pain. A few holes earlier his legs cramped up so bad he almost had to quit. That’s another story in itself. When I got to the tee I could barely focus as I just wanted to get to the spot on the fairway where he hit his laser like shot. Somehow I put it in play and my caddy led me right to the spot. If it is your first time playing the hole the caddy puts another ball down on the spot and you give it a go before you play your actual ball. Clearly the equipment has made a difference as the Ping 1 iron I hit for the occasion sailed 30 yards over the green. Then I walked up to my real shot and my caddy says, you have 185 to the wicker. One of the coolest traditions at Merion is that they do not have flags on top of the sticks, instead they have red wicker baskets. I played the entire hole with goosebumps and a lump in my throat. I felt so fortunate that I was able to play the same hole and hit a shot from the exact spot as my idol Ben Hogan. That is one of the things that makes golf so great, I love Willie Mays but I could never go play centerfield in Candlestick, but I could play the same holes as Ben Hogan and Bobby Jones.
I have played a lot of great holes before that memorable day and a lot of fabulous holes since then but I have never felt the way I did when I played the 18th at Merion.