81st U.S. Open/June 18-21, 1981
Merion Golf Club East Course, Ardmore, Pa.
|David Graham, Australia||68||-||68||-||70||-||67||—||273|
|George Burns, United States||69||-||66||-||68||-||73||—||276|
|Bill Rogers, United States||70||-||68||-||69||-||69||—||276|
|John Cook, United States||68||-||70||-||71||-||70||—||279|
|John Schroeder, United States||71||-||68||-||69||-||71||—||279|
Merion East had become one of America’s little golfing gems — a shorter layout with unbelievable hole-to-hole routing, and one of the toughest closing stretches of championship golf in the world.
But that week was all about the precise shot-making — and the near-perfect, final round driving — of David Graham, who became the first Australian to win the U.S. Open.
Not only did Graham blister Merion East for a final round 67, but it also was the first time the course had allowed a golfer to finish under par for four rounds. In fact, the top five finishers did.
Much of that low scoring had to do with the pre-tournament rainstorms, which significantly softened the usual firm-and-fast U.S. Open conditions. Part of that, too, was that Merion East played only 6,544 yards — the shortest course for a national open since 1947.
All of that prompted opinionated former U.S. Open winner Johnny Miller to proclaim that week that he could see a golfer shoot “59 or 60” at Merion East (on a sidenote, Miller shot 5-over 285 that week).
The last thing Graham was concerned about was Merion East. He had his own sagging game to fix. Even though he had won the Phoenix Open earlier in the season, Graham had missed the cut in six of his previous 14 PGA Tour starts. And coming into this U.S. Open, he took three weeks off, then fell ill.
It was George Burns, a New York native, who held a three-shot lead at 7-under 203 with one round to go.
But in the final round, Graham rarely missed a shot. He missed one fairway, hit every green in regulation — and made four birdies.
Burns’ stumble came at the easiest hole on the course — the 10th, a short, dogleg-left par 4. He hit a 1-iron into the rough off the tee, landed his approach shot in a greenside bunker, and left with an unthinkable bogey.
Graham took the lead for good with a 6-foot putt for birdie at No. 14, then added another one a hole later on a 10-footer. Burns bogeyed two of the final three holes, and all that remained was a stroll down the 18th fairway for Graham, the 1979 PGA Championship winner as well.
In all, Merion East yielded 93 rounds of par or better. Fifty-five of them were under par, adding fuel to the growing consensus that the United States Golf Association would not bring its national open to this site again.
Well, it did – in 2013. The layout grew to 6,996 yards. And despite week-long thunderstorms, Justin Rose’s winning score was more to the USGA’s liking — a 1-over 281.