21 Jul 2020 | Professional golf | Feature stories |

Great Australian Moments 25: Graham's clinic at Merion

by Martin Blake

David Graham 1981 image
David Graham acknowledges the crowd at Merion during his final round in 1981. Photo: Getty

David Graham’s victory in the US Open at Merion in Philadelphia in 1981 was a triumph for precision over power.

Famously, the Australian who would become the first-ever of his countrymen to win the men’s US Open, hit all 18 greens in regulation in his final-round 67, and missed just one fairway, the first.

Graham, who grew up in Sydney but spent his early golfing years in Melbourne as an assistant professional at Riversdale Golf Club, loved the cut of the storied Merion.

“It was a course that you played cautiously, and you could never play aggressively. Which was kind of the way I liked to play,” he told the USGA in an interview some years later. “I was not going to lose the tournament by making poor decisions.’’

The Australian began the final round three shots shy of American George Burns, but he birdied the first hole and caught Burns after four holes. With brilliant iron shots at the 14th and 15th to set up birdies, he took the lead and parachuted in with a string of superbly-hit irons into the greens.

His final round included just one bogey, at the fifth, where he three-putted. In three previous Opens at Merion, not a single player had broken par over the 72 holes. Graham managed seven-under.

Ultimately he won by three shots to add a second major to the US PGA Championship he had won in 1979. With eight wins in America, an Australian Open and victories in Europe and Asia as well, Graham was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2015.

Still living in the US today, he takes pride of place in the hall of fame alongside a glittering list of Australians – Peter Thomson, Karrie Webb, Greg Norman, Jan Stephenson, Walter Travis and Kel Nagle.

Not bad for a player who started out as a left-hander. He was already undertaking his traineeship under the legendary George Naismith at Riversdale as a young man when Naismith convinced him to stand on the other side of the ball. “I don’t know why I did that,” he said of his dalliance with left-handedness. “Thank goodness I listened to him.’’

Graham settled in America, living in Dallas for years before moving to Montana where fly fishing has become his passion.

The 1981 US Open was the high point of an incredible career. “It’s hard to explain,” Graham said. “Relief, pride, satisfaction. You work so hard and you achieve what you’ve worked for, it’s the most significant major so it’s the most significant victory in my career. So therefore, it has to be the most special.’’

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