The National Open at Merion Country Club in Pennsylvania (Ardmore?)

I was tied for the lead after eight holes in the final round; Number 9 was a dog-leg to the right. I had a good drive and a simple wedge shot to the green. I remembered the green was hard and fast. The hole was near the back of the green. I thought I had had enough green to carry the ball on the putting surface and I’d still be short of the pin and I’d have a short, up-hill putt for my birdie. I hit a perfect shot, but it was faster than I figured. The gallery was one foot off the green. They all spread open and my ball trickled off the green on bare ground, five yards down a hill. I played a super chip 5 feet from the hole, but missed the putt.

Ben Hogan was in the group following me. He figured he could stop the ball with his wedge. He was wrong. His shot bounced high on the hard green. Someone from the same gallery held his arm up, caught his ball, threw it down and it rolled 5 feet from the cup. He putted it in for a birdie.

When I got word of how he scored the bird and what that gallery did for him, I was so pissed off that I 3-putted the next two holes and bogeyed 17 and made a tough par the last hole. I finished 3 shots from winning the National Open. I was really feeling sorry for myself until I heard what happened to Joe Kirkwood, Jr. (Joe Palooka in the movies) and a good friend of mine.

They took bets on who would win. A gambler (you can’t mention his name), I think it was J. Roth, took a bet at 100 to 1 for Kirkwood to win at $100. He sent one of his hunch men out to talk to Kirkwood. This man looked up Joe and said, “Joe, I’m sure sorry to hear about your Dad.”

The man said he was killed in an auto accident in Texas that morning. This really shook Joe to pieces and he came apart in the closing holes.

Bill Nary, 18 June 2008