The iconic image of Ben Hogan striking a one iron into the 72nd green of the 1950 US Open is very much part of Merion history, prompting plenty of discussion around the use of the one iron in today’s game.
It was interesting to note that Ian Woosnam practised with a one iron ahead of this week’s Speedy Services Wales Senior Open to combat the 35 mph winds at Royal Porthcawl, a decision that looks to be bearing fruit as he takes a one shot lead into the final round.
“Porthcawl is a brilliant test of shot-making and the conditions here can sometimes make the modern technology hard to use,”” he said. “The modern equipment in golf is amazing, but none of those clubs can help you keep the ball low to the ground into a 30 mile an hour wind.
“Sometimes the modern equipment can be difficult for the older players to use. I like to shape the ball and it is becoming more and more difficult to do that.”
Woosnam was always a master of the one iron but what of today’s golfers?
Most of the field took the pilgrimage to the plaque on the 18th fairway from where Hogan struck that beautiful one iron. It simply says “JUNE 10, 1950. U.S. OPEN. FOURTH ROUND. BEN HOGAN. 1-IRON”
The shot was immortalised by Hy Peskin on assignment for Life magazine, as he captured the elegant perfection of Hogan’s swing at the apex of his follow through, an image perfectly framed by the crowd.
The photograph captured Hogan en route to winning his second US Open and fourth Major Championship. His one iron found the putting surface and he safely two putted to tie the lead at seven over par with Lloyd Mangrum, the 1946 champion, and George Fazio, a Philadelphia professional. Hogan prevailed the next day in an 18 hole play-off, a performance all the more remarkable as it came just 16 months after both his legs were crushed in a near fatal car crash.
It was a shot that will always hold a special place in the annals of the game, but the one iron is almost extinct from the modern game.
Luke Donald however found one rummaging around in his basement last week. “I happened to come across a Hogan one iron. I don't know if it was a good sign or not. I don't even remember if I ever used that one. My first two years on Tour I was with Ben Hogan, played their equipment. But I don't remember using the one iron. I think it was more of a two iron or four wood for me.”
Graeme McDowell recounted a story of how Arnold Palmer got him to hit a one iron on the range at Bay Hill as a bit of fun. “He threw me under the bus and threw a ball there on the range and got me to hit this one iron with about 15 degree loft on it, in front of Mr Palmer, which was pretty nerve wracking. I managed to hit the first one pretty good.”
Steve Stricker has only vague memories of using a one iron. “My longest iron was probably a two iron. I think I tinkered with a one iron sometime in my career but I couldn't even tell you when, but it's been a long time.
“It was just hard to hit. I didn't see much need for it. Since that utility club has come out, I've pretty much carried one of those.”
Sergio Garcia had the pleasure of being out on the 18th in practice earlier in the week when a USGA historian appeared with the Hogan one iron.
“I couldn't hold it,” he said. “You weren't allowed. But it was amazing to see the iron itself. It looks really, really tiny. Not a lot of loft on it. And it was my first time playing the 18th hole, so it was very exciting to be able to see where he hit it from to that kind of green and what he was able to achieve."
World Number Two Rory McIlroy was also asked what his history of using a one iron was. “There is no history,” he remarked. “I think my dad might have had a 1 iron but it was a Ping Zing. So if he can hit one, I should be able to!”