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LIVING GOLF

Journey To Merion Golf Club

Aired June 6, 2013 - 00:00:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


MANISHA TANK, CNN HOST (voice-over): It's just across from the Israeli- controlled Golan Heights. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says rebels now control the crossing there. It's the only one between Israeli controlled territory and Syria.

North Korea has offered to meet with officials from the South to discuss reopening the factory complex shared by the two countries. The Kaesong Industrial Park was crossed down in April amid heightened tensions across the border. South Korea has welcomed the proposal it says it hopes a meeting will help build trust on both sides.

More rain is forecast this weekend for parts of central Europe that are already suffering severe floods. At least 13 people have died in the worst flooding in more than a decade. The River Elbe is expected to reach its highest level on Thursday night near the German cities of Meissen and Dresden at about 9 meters.

Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi says she wants to run for president. She was speaking at the World Economic Forum in Myanmar's capital. Suu Kyi says the majority of Myanmar's people are not seeing the benefits of reform. The next election is set for 2015.

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TANK: Those are the headlines for you. I'm Manisha Tank at CNN London. "LIVING GOLF" starts right now.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC PLAYING)

SHANE O'DONOGHUE, CNN HOST: Philadelphia, at the heart of American history, from the Declaration of Independence to the creation of "Rocky," but more than 30 years now, something has been missing.

Fear not: the U.S. Open is back. Welcome to LIVING GOLF.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

O'DONOGHUE: I'm going on a journey to the outskirts of the city to Merion Golf Club (ph). It's my first time to Merion. She hasn't hosted a U.S. Open since 1981. Bobby Jones and my idol, Ben Hogan, both won there.

It's a bit of a drive. So why not travel in style?

Coming up on the program, behind the scenes at the host club.

LEE TREVINO, PRO GOLFER: When I left Harrison (ph), I fell in love with Merion and I don't know her last name.

(LAUGHTER)

O'DONOGHUE: Faith (ph) on tour, viable breakfast (ph) with the defending champion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You believe in a future savior, you can walk with him and eternal life is guaranteed.

O'DONOGHUE: And playing with the president, the rise of the Harmons to golf royalty.

CLAUDE HARMON, GOLFING COACH: He had some good shots. And it's --

BUTCH HARMON, GOLFING COACH: We'd love to show you the film with the lesson we gave with the Secret Service. As soon as he walked out, took everything.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

O'DONOGHUE: The story of Merion begins here at Merion Cricket Club, whose members founded the golf club a couple of miles down the road in 1896.

The esteemed task of designing this course went to Scottish member and Princeton graduate Hugh Wilson.

And the layout Wilson came up with owed much to his homeland.

Before starting on the project, Wilson went on a tour of Britain's finest links courses, and came here to Scotland's East Coast and, in particular, the North Berwick Golf Club, where he clearly drew inspiration from such design ideas as revetted bunkers, which have become such a distinguishing feature of the East Course at Merion.

SCOTT NYE, HEAD PROFESSIONAL, MERION: They've become known as the white faces of Merion. In the beginning, they were revetted. Now over time, they've just become very natural. And you can see how sloped they are and how visible they are to create an intimidating feel for the player.

O'DONOGHUE: Roll under the breeze (ph). Oh, short!

You know, Scott, the bunkers are notorious. I mean, why are they so difficult to play?

NYE: Well, first and foremost, they're as deep as you'll see anywhere. So the need to get the ball up really high is paramount. And then you have to stop it. So you've got to hit high and get it to stop quickly on the green.

I'm going to go in and take on this challenge.

O'DONOGHUE: The very best of luck to you, Scott.

NYE: I need it.

Oh, beautiful.

There it is. Hit it. Oh!

O'DONOGHUE: The wicker baskets, I mean, they're just unique to Merion. What's the story behind them?

NYE: Very unique. Well, there are several stories and we're not sure which one is legitimate. But we feel as though they came from Stoke Poges, England. So they've come here. Several courses in the United States have them, but we are the only ones that really stayed with this.

O'DONOGHUE: Now every winner of a USGA event here at Merion gets a wicker basket, but they also win one of these precious trophies. But I suppose 1930 was the year that really put Merion on the map with that fantastic win by Bobby Jones.

RICK ILL, CHAIRMAN, MERION: Bobby Jones, as everyone knows, won the grand slam here by winning the U.S. Amateur.

And one of the things that we've done at Merion is we've gotten replicas of all the trophies that were emblematic of the grand slam at that time, the British Amateur, the Open, the U.S. Open and the amateur championship, which completed the grand slam for Bobby Jones. So it was a terrific accomplishment by him. And it's something that some people -- golfers have strived for ever since.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Broadway is a fairway for a day. Hogan's Alley, they call it, in honor of Ben Hogan, Mr. Big of golfing. Confetti, cheers and civic honors for the comeback guy from Texas.

O'DONOGHUE: It was 1950 really that transformed both Ben Hogan and really copper-fastened Merion's place in golfing history. It was the victory that thrilled America, given what he had gone through.

ILL: Well, absolutely. Most people know that he was in an automobile accident and almost didn't live, let alone win this open and three of the next four opens after 1950. That's one of the reasons that he was so idolized by a number of people in the golf world.

You have the iconic shot to the 18th hole to get into a playoff, which he won the next day.

This was his 36th hole that day and having to hit a 1-iron to any distance on the green after 36 holes in his condition was absolutely fantastic. And you see this all over the world.

TREVINO: I can't recall in my time of a more famous photo than that particular one of Ben Hogan, hitting that 1-iron and holding that pose. And you actually can't see his face. I mean, you know, you're looking at his back. But you know what? You can show that to any professional in the world and they can tell you who it is. They don't have to see his face.

And that's what makes it so special.

O'DONOGHUE: I just want you to identify this golfer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's Ben Hogan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was Ben Hogan. I think it was a 1-iron, but I'm not sure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's Hogan on the 18th at Merion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ben Hogan, 3-iron, Merion, U.S. Open 1951?

O'DONOGHUE: '50.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: '50? Oh, no.

(LAUGHTER)

O'DONOGHUE: Beautiful pose though, isn't it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it is. It's nice. It's great. It's a great picture.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

O'DONOGHUE: Well, nothing really compares to the original in my travels or -- should I say native pilgrimage to the USGA Museum here in Far Hills, New Jersey, to see the photo and to really just absorb all of this Hogan culture.

Mike, how many people come to visit here and particularly this Hogan Room?

MICHAEL TROSTEL, COAUTHOR, "GREAT MOMENTS OF THE U.S. OPEN": There's quite a few that come into the USGA Museum, especially to see the Ben Hogan Room and this photo here by Hy Peskin and this 1-iron here that Hogan used on the 18th hole in the final round of the 1950 U.S. Open.

O'DONOGHUE: That's what I really came here to see. I thought it was going to be in a case. You're actually holding it. And for me to hold it, I presume I have to wear gloves like that?

TROSTEL: You will. You will have to wear some gloves, but I have some right here for you.

(LAUGHTER)

TROSTEL: If you want to slide those on, we can get the 1-iron in your hand.

O'DONOGHUE: This is amazing.

And you could cut butter with this club.

TROSTEL: You really could. You really could. And you can see the -- that the sweet spot right there where Hogan hit it so many times and on a club so small, you know, to hit that shot when the pressure was the most.

(CROSSTALK)

TROSTEL: (Inaudible) this one over to you so you can feel it yourself.

O'DONOGHUE: Wow. This is an amazing moment for me.

(Inaudible), that victory, it transformed Hogan's image.

TROSTEL: Yes. And you know, I think that moment at Merion was really a turning point for Hogan. He was known as being, you know, a bit separated, a bit icy when it came to it. He really liked to do his own thing, but when he came back from that near-fatal crash and won the open at Merion, it really changed a lot of people's perception of Ben.

And at the time, coming off of World War II, you know, a lot of other people were sitting around the United States with crippling injuries. And they saw Hogan was able to come back from his own injury, win at Merion. And there was just really an outpouring of love for Hogan in the years that followed.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ben's wife, Valerie, shares in his glory as Merion, Belotari (ph), and all New York say, "Well done, Big Little Man of Golf."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'DONOGHUE: Now Merion also played host to another dramatic 18-hole playoff back in 1971, when the already eight-time major champion Jack Nicklaus battled it out with the one and only Tex-Mex himself, Lee Trevino.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

TREVINO: When I went there to play in the U.S. Open, it was one of the finest golf courses I had ever seen. It was tight; it was short. It had a lot of trouble, a lot of tall grass, everything. It was just beautiful. It had big trees just to the left of 18. I thought that I would do very well.

I heard Jack in the beginning of the week make a statement, and said that if you can shoot 280 here, you'll probably win the (inaudible). And that's what I shot, 280. And he shot 280. And we tied. And then we went into the playoff. And then I shot 68 and he shot 71.

The first time since I'd been on tour in 1968 I felt like I belonged to the fraternity. I'd beaten the best in an 18-hole playoff at Merion for the U.S. Open and then I said, you know, maybe you do belong out here.

And when I left there, I said I fell in love with Merion and I don't know her last name.

(LAUGHTER)

WEBB SIMPSON, 2012 U.S. OPEN CHAMPION: Still to come, me, Webb Simpson, how my face helped me win the U.S. Open.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'DONOGHUE: Welcome back to LIVING GOLF here in Philadelphia.

Now the man who defends his U.S. Open title here this month has something in common with many of his fellow PGA tour professionals: Webb Simpson, Bubba, a few would think Ben Crane are just a few of the pros and caddies who pack their Bibles with their clubs when they head out on tour. LIVING GOLF has been granted rare access to witness faith on tour.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jesus, he came to make bad people good. He came to make dead people alive. And so right now acknowledge to him, God, I'm just separated from you, because.

SIMPSON: You know, when I became a Christian, I didn't become a better golfer. But what it does help me with is it helps me handle the pressure a little better, knowing that golf is not my identity. You know, my score is not what I'm most concerned with.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible) I believe Jesus died on the cross to (inaudible).

SIMPSON: I had a huge mountain to climb to try to beat the field at U.S. Open. And that's where Scripture comes in, to, you know, practically help me on the golf course.

My verse that week was II Corinthians 12:9, "God said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.'" And I just meditated on that verse all week. And surely, that back nine holes, I felt very weak. I felt like -- you know, I felt physically weak; my legs were shaking.

And so more than anything, it just reminded me that when I am weak that God's power is made perfect and that he'll help me if I ask him to and not necessarily help me to win, but help me to be able to try to execute shots under that pressure.

And then Paul and I were able to talk about that verse, what it means to us and, you know, it's funny. Once we started talking about that, our minds got off trying to win the U.S. Open and on something else, which was a big benefit for me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you will show them great and mighty things, that you have a plan for each person here, not plans (inaudible) but (inaudible).

SIMPSON: We're in a unique time right now. There's a lot of Christians on tour. It's a great help for us, you know, on the road, a lot of times away from our families, just to have some fellowship. And this breakfast is great. What it does for the local community, local FCA.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible). (Inaudible) share a little story (inaudible).

(APPLAUSE)

KEVIN STREELMAN, 2013 TAMPA BAY CHAMPION: We probably have between 40-50 Christians on tour, I would say there's a great number of caddies as well and wives and children running around and media officials and rules officials.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

STEWART CINK, 2009 THE OPEN CHAMPION: Faith serves as a major foundation for me to stay consistent, to have something that does stay the same on a daily basis when I'm seeing a new city. Oftentimes, you know, three or four times in a week, it just gives me something to really rely on and stay grounded in.

DR. BOB ROTEILA, SPORTS PSYCHOLOGIST: When you play golf, what you want more than anything is peace of mind. And I think a belief in a God gives a lot of people tremendous peace of mind. And it takes some of the pressure off the game. I mean, I think some players get it from having a family.

I mean, maybe it's a wife who's going to love him anyways or parents who are going to love him anyways or children who are going to love him unconditionally. Because what you're dealing with out here a lot is fear and doubt. And some people become much more religious while they're playing their career, and when their career ends, they move away from it, which is fascinating.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

PAUL TESORI, WEBB SIMPSON'S CADDY: I've been caddying about 13 years now and when I first came out, there was probably three or four guys who were really outward about their faith. I started noticing 4-5 years ago a lot of young guys were coming out.

I can't name them all now, but I mean there are literally a dozen to 2 dozen young guys that are very aggressive in their faith. They're just not afraid to talk about.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think Twitter is a great resource for learning; a lot of great articles. Also it's the easy way -- I have 98,500 followers. So it's the easy way to encourage a lot of people with one verse.

BEN CRANE, PGA TOUR WINNER: Yes, we've been using that to tweet out a scripture maybe that we're meditating on or something that's really impacted us and it's -- Twitter's been a great tool.

There's so many ups and downs with the game of golf. And guys who have been out here for 5-10 years, all of a sudden you start to expect to play a certain way. But those expectations are very hard to deal with.

And when you first come out on tour, you're extremely nervous. You want to do well. And your identity is so much wrapped up in how you play. And that's how other people see you. And you think that's how much people like you, is based on your performance.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible) will perish one day, but the trophies that we will receive to lay at the feet of Jesus one day will never perish.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible).

(APPLAUSE)

AARON BADDELEY, PGA TOUR WINNER: (Inaudible) and on the last hole, I had to putt and I was pretty nervous and so I quoted II Timothy 1:7, which is, "For God did not give us a spirit of fear but of power, of love and of a sound mind."

So I was quoting that as I was nervous around the putt. (Inaudible) I stood behind the putt and (inaudible).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not like a Jedi mind trick, like, hey, if I really act like this is for God, then I'll play better. But in actuality, if my heart is right, I'm more at peace. And certainly life works better from there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We wake up every day (inaudible) today I'm covered by His grace. I can't do anything to make Him love me any more. And I can't do anything to make Him love me any less, which is a pretty amazing thing.

SIMPSON: Day to day, how does it practically look to be a Christian on tour? I think there's just less pressure on me, because, you know, I don't have to prove myself; I don't have to shoot a score. And so that's why I think, you know, I tell people I think being a Christian on tour is an advantage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You believe in him, he's your Savior. You can walk with Him and eternal life is guaranteed. The more I learn about Him, the more I love Him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Awesome. Thank you for taking time with us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks, guys.

(APPLAUSE)

O'DONOGHUE: Still to come on LIVING GOLF, the first family of coaching.

OLD HARMON: President Obama loves golf. He's not very good.

CLAUDE HARMON: But we got him where he could hit about 250-260.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC PLAYING)

O'DONOGHUE: Welcome back to LIVING GOLF and the locker room here at Merion. Now behind every major champion there's a coach. And there's one family that has dominated that profession for decades now, the Harmons.

Everyone from Greg Norman to Tiger, from Adam Scott to Ernie Els and Dustin Johnson, they've all benefited from the wisdom of the First Family of Swing Gurus.

BUTCH HARMON: I don't think people realize really how long we've done this. I've been a golf pro for 47 years. And that's a long time. That's older than -- more years than he is old. And yet I feel like I've done it my whole life because I didn't know anything else as a kid. That's what it was. That's who my dad was.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's the Masters Tournament with Claude Harmon of Winged Foot, competing against Bobby Locke of South Africa and many other top-flight golfers.

BUTCH HARMON: Claude Harmon won the Masters in 1948. He was really the last club pro to win a major championship.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Harmon, Georgia-born pro, increases the two-stroke margin he held at the start of the final round, playing a sure and steady game on the 18th he holds out with a -2 par 70 to win. His total ties the (inaudible) for the Masters. Bobby Jones presents Harmon the trophy, new master of the Masters.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BUTCH HARMON: He had the greatest eye, I think, of anyone that's ever taught. He'd watch you hit five or six balls and he'd know exactly what you were doing wrong and he'd tell you. And he had a way of communicating it. It was very simple, which my brothers and Claude and I have tried to carry on in the way we do things.

In our family, with four boys, it's interesting that you would have four sons that would go into the same business that your father was in, especially when he was pretty much a legend even while he was still alive.

And Dad was -- he was tough. I mean, he was a tough guy. His philosophy was that he would beat you down, not physically -- verbally -- just to make you angry and get mad so you would do better and (inaudible).

HARMON: He's got the same philosophy, too.

O'DONOGHUE: Briefly, need and want: when did you feel that you needed to be a teacher?

CLAUDE HARMON: It was just always something that was a part of my life. And very much like my dad, I realized once I'd actually started getting into giving golf lessons and actually teaching it, I'd learned so much from being around my dad and being around all of my uncles. First time Tiger came to take a golf lesson with my dad, I was there that day in '93. And took the video of that lesson.

The amazing thing about that day is every time you asked him to hit a shot, you'd say, listen, if you have a -- let's say the pin's back here and you have to hit a shot like this, what do you do? And at 16 years old, he said, "I don't have that shot."

But he always said to you, "If you show me how to do it, I'll try and do it and I'll try and learn how to do it. But I don't know how to do that."

That's one of the things of that first day that always stuck with me, that at that age and at that, you know, stage of his golfing career, the honesty that he had with his own evaluation of his own game was always something that surprised me and, like my day, you know, it was no surprise to us to see him (inaudible).

I mean, recently, when we got to work with President Obama at our club, at the Floridian, for us to see the President of the United States and Tiger Woods playing golf together, it was so surreal for me.

BUTCH HARMON: If you had told me 20 years ago that a black man would be the President of the United States, I would have said you're crazy. And if you had told me 20 years ago that a black golfer was going to be the greatest golfer that ever walked the planet, I'd say you're crazy. And there they go.

(LAUGHTER)

BUTCH HARMON: I mean, it was really amazing.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

O'DONOGHUE: How did this come about?

BUTCH HARMON: The president was just looking for a place to take a long weekend with his friends, away from the press. He literally could just relax with three of his best friends, with Claude and I and golf and Tiger Woods, and he just had the greatest weekend that he could have.

President Obama loves golf. He's not very good. He's probably an 18 or 20 handicap, plays left-handed. Didn't hit the ball very far with a weak fade, but we got him where he could draw and hit about 250-260. And he said, "Man, I'm coming back here. This is really nice."

CLAUDE HARMON: He's such a normal guy and just --

(CROSSTALK)

BUTCH HARMON: Couldn't have been more --

CLAUDE HARMON: -- made us all feel really normal. And it was just all chilled out. And he hit some good shots. And hit some bad shots --

BUTCH HARMON: We'd love to show you the film of the lesson we gave, but the Secret Service, as soon as he walked, took everything.

In this day and age of the multimedia stuff all over the world, they didn't want it to show up on YouTube or anything. And I said to this one Secret Service guy, I said, well, I actually went on YouTube to look at the president's swing, and it was terrible. You actually might want some of these swings to go out on YouTube, because these look pretty good now. I did.

(LAUGHTER)

BUTCH HARMON: I think if our father was still alive, he'd be very proud of all of us. He'd be proud of the four sons; he'd be proud of his grandson because, in reality, we're just carrying on what he taught us. He'd look at the amount of money you can make today versus what he made and just shake his head and go, really? You make all that and you don't know anything? I taught you everything you know.

He'd be a very proud dad.

O'DONOGHUE: Well, that's it for this edition of LIVING GOLF. Next month, we'll be looking ahead to the Open championship with Sir Nick Faldo, who won two of his three Open titles at (inaudible). And do go online to see my exclusive interview with former PGA Tour commissioner Deane Bemin. But for now, from Merion Golf Club, in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, it's been an absolute blast. Cheers.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

END