David Graham was walking down the 18th fairway of the Merion Golf Club today, the cheers all around him. He was on the green, he had a two-shot lead and he knew he had won the United States Open.
Graham is not an emotional man. But as he made that triumphant walk he looked up and there, standing on the front of the green, was playing partner George Burns, the man Graham had trailed by three shots at the start of the day.
As Graham approached, Burns did what 17,000 others were doing. He applauded. Seeing Burns, Graham grinned and threw his arms up and his head back, with an expression of sheer joy.
"At that moment I knew I had won," he said later. "Seeing George standing their applauding, seeing a class move like that, it was a great feeling."
There was little else Burns could do on this day. Today, Graham seized this tournament and never let go. His three-under-par 67, giving him a seven-under-par 273 for the tournament, was a masterpiece of shotmaking. Graham's tee shot at No. 1 this afternoon landed in the left rough. That was the only fairway he missed and he hit all 18 greens in regulation.
Bill Rogers, whose 69 today earned him a second-place tie with Burns at 276, could only shake his head at Graham's round."No way did George Burns lose this tournament," he said. "David Graham went out there and won it. To hit 18 greens in the final round of the United States Open is unbelievable, absolutely unbelievable."
Burns shot 73 today, making only one birdie, a chip-in at 17. He had said Saturday that he thought he might need 60 to win. He was right.
No one else challenged on this humid, breezy afternoon. John Cook and John Schroeder, who tied for fourth at 279, never got close. Jack Nicklaus birdied the sixth and seventh holes and was within two shots once, but, for the third day in a row, he faltered on the last five holes and he finished tied for sixth with four other players at 280. Jim Thorpe shot 72 today to tie for 11th, thus becoming the third black golfer to qualify for the Masters. t
The final day was match play: Burns, the 31-year-old University of Maryland graduate versus Graham, 35, the Australian citizen who now lives in Dallas. Rogers hung on the fringes of contention until a bogey at 16 but the two men in the final pairing were concentrating on each other from the start.
"He put the gun to my head early," Burns said. "He started out with two birdies and he had everything in the fairway. In the meantime, I was busy scrambling for pars."
The play on the second hole illustrates the day's fortunes. After starting with a 20-foot birdie putt on the first hole, Graham split the middle with his tee shot. Burns was in the left rough.
Burns' second shot flew right, into the rough on the other side of the fairway.Graham eased a four-iron within 75 yards of the pin. Burns' third shot flew right of the green, into the rough again.Graham almost knocked his wedge into the hole, missing by six inches. He tapped in for the birdie. Burns wedged to three feet and saved his par. That was a harbinger -- Burns scrambling to make pars, Graham lining up one birdie putt after another.
"I concentrated as well today as I ever have on a golf course," said Graham. "I religiously stuck to the game plan I had all week and I maintained my composure all day. Under the circumstances, I think this was as good a round as I've ever played in my life."
And Graham was not Burns' only problem today.
At the third hole, both men had long birdie putts. Graham knocked his close and tapped in.Burns rolled his well below the hole, leaving himself six feet for par. After a long look, he make the putt.
According to USGA Vice-President James R. Hand, the following scenario took place: As Burns walked off the green, he walked by USGA officials Harry Easterly and Arthur Rice. Rice had just commented to Easterly that Burns had made a nice par putt. Easterly answered, "Yes, he did, but he hit a lousy first putt."
Burns, walking by, heard only, "He hit a lousy first putt."
Furious, he turned on Easterly, cursing. Moments later, walking down the fourth fairway, Burns repeated his performance. Hand said Burns later told Will Nicholson, USGA President, he was sorry for what he said.
Burns, who after the round called the Open "just another tour event," said he did not apologize.
Moments after his second conversation with Easterly, Burns was obviously distracted. Playing a delicate wedge shot over a creek to the pin, tucked in the front of the fourth green, he left the ball on the bank of the hazard. From there he played out to three feet but missed the putt. Four holes into the round, Burns and Graham were tied.
Burns regained his composure on the fifth hole, where Graham made his only bad mistake of the day and three-putted for his lone bogey. Again, Burns led by one shot.
But he was scrambling. Each hole seemed to invite disaster. On the sixth he saved a par with a wonderful bunker shot. On the seventh he hit a fine wedge from the rough for another par. At No. 8 he had his first possible birdie putt, from 18 feet, but it slid by. At No. 9 he was over the green, but wedged to three feet and saved another par.
Graham was rolling along, splitting the fairways and missing his birdie putts, twice watching the ball rim out. While the rest of the field floundered, Graham seemed out for a Sunday stroll.
Burns was still holding a one-shot lead when the players reached the 312-yard 10th, perhaps the easiest hole on the course. Hitting a one-iron off the tee, he pulled the ball into the left rough, into a tough lie. From there, he knocked the ball into the left bunker. Graham was looking at a 20-foot birdie putt.
As he walked into the bunker, which had not been raked properly, Burns lost his temper again. Turning to the youngster he thought had raked the trap, Burns said, "That's the worst rake job I've ever seen." The youngster told Burns someone else had raked there. Burns shook his head. His shot from the bunker was 25 feet short.
Burns missed the putt for par and he and Graham were even at five under par. Now, it was only a matter of time. Burns scrambled for pars at 11 and 12 while Graham just missed birdies. Both men parred No. 13.
At this point, briefly, Rogers had become a factor. He had put a wedge within five feet at the 12th to make birdie and was four under. "Right then, I thought I had a chance to win," he said. "I thought if I could get to the clubhouse five under, that might be good enough. But I didn't and anyway, David Graham made sure I didn't have a chance."
Graham's final drive began at No. 14, the start of the tough five-hole finish that makes Merion a great course. For the first time all week, Graham hit a driver at 14, the only deviation from his game plan all day.
"I had made five there Saturday from the rough and I decided if I was going to be in the rough I wanted to be as close to the green as possible," he said. "It was a good gamble, as it turned out."
It turned out that Graham's drive was down the middle. From there, he hit a six-iron within eight feet and rolled the putt in. Burns also made a tough eight-footer there, but it was for par. For the first time, Graham led. He never looked back. At 15, he had another eight-foot birdie putt and he made it. Burns had his best possible birdie opportunity of the day, 10 feet, but the ball slid just to the right.
"That deflated me," he said.
The sixteenth hole was the final nail for Burns. He missed the green again and his eight-foot par putt slid off. Graham's lead was three shots and even when Burns chipped in for birdie at 17, Graham stood on the 18th tee with a two-shot lead.
Those seconds on the tee, Graham admitted, were his most nervous of the day. "It wasn't so much being nervous about the situation as being a little scared because I hadn't driven it in the fairway all week," he said. "Not that I was remembering Oakland Hills or anything."
It was at Oakland Hills in 1979 that Graham came to the 18th leading the PGA by two shots only to double bogey and allow Ben Crenshaw to tie him. Graham won the playoff, but the memory of that 18th hole lingers.
Today, though, No. 18 was just another drive down the middle and an iron to the center of the green.
So it was that Graham marched the 18th at Merion to the sound of cheers all around, looking up to see the man he had defeated applauding his excellence. "I've never been emotional on a golf course," Graham said, "because I don't want to ever celebrate prematurely and look like an idiot."
Today, Graham looked like only one thing: a man who richly deserved golf's most coveted title.