ARDMORE, Pa. — Heavy rains doused the Merion Golf Club for most of the day Monday, interrupting practice rounds for the 113th United States Open Championship. Following on the heels of torrential rains Friday when remnants of Tropical Storm Andrea moved through the Philadelphia area — raising concerns that portions of the historic East Course might flood — today’s precipitation virtually ensured that when the championship commences on Thursday players will confront an appreciably softened course that could yield lower scores than typical of U.S. Open competition.
The course was closed Saturday, but some players were able to get in practice rounds Sunday. The heavy rains this morning delayed the opening of the course until 11:00 a.m., when practice rounds resumed. However, intermittent deluges continued throughout the afternoon and necessitated two brief course closings.
The greatest concerns centered on the par-4 11th hole, which borders Cobb’s Creek and historically has been prone to flooding. Fortunately, barriers erected by the course grounds crew prevented flooding of the 11th green Friday. Superintendent Arron McCurdy remarked on the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America’s website that the water “was six inches from flooding over the top of the green. We ordered six emergency loads of bunker sand.” Remarkably, the grounds crew was able to double-cut and roll the green Saturday morning.
The USGA had anticipated the possibility of losing the 11th green and adjacent 12th tee, and reserved two holes on the West Course in the event they needed to be called into service as alternates. “We know the 11th hole floods,” USGA executive director Mike Davis told Golf Digest. “Hardly goes a year where the stream isn’t up and over the green at some point. That’s why we’re going to take some precautionary measures on the West Course.”
Monday’s rains did not bode well for the availability of the 11th hole, which was closed all day. Late in the afternoon, Davis and Matt Shaffer, Director of Golf Course Operations, briefed reporters on the condition of the course. Despite the continuing torrential rains, no one appeared to be panicking. Shaffer noted that the 11th hole is lowest part of the course, where two creeks converge, but that so far the green has remained above water. “The water comes up fast but recedes quickly,” he noted. Davis emphasized that the course “is one of the best draining courses I’ve ever seen. The surface drains beautifully. “
At this point, Davis does not anticipate significant changes in the set-up of the course due to the rain. “We might take a look at all of the hole locations Thursday,” he said. “We might go with higher locations so we don’t get puddling around the holes.” When asked about some of the extremely soaked fairways, Davis said the USGA would take that into consideration but does not anticipate any parts of the course being unplayable. The key consideration is whether there is reasonable relief from casual water. As to the possibility of using holes on the West Course, Davis views that as a highly unlikely “worst case scenario.”
The delay and interruption of practice rounds complicates preparation for many in the field who have no previous experience at Merion, which was out of the Open rotation for thirty years. Adam Scott was asked this morning whether he was enjoying the Philadelphia weather. “So far it’s been great,” he joked. “I’ve seen the inside of the clubhouse a lot and restaurants. I haven’t been able to get out much.”
Scott said that it’s been frustrating trying to learn the nuances of the course with little playing time. “I’m a big believer, especially for here, that you have to understand the course very well. You’d like to feel like you’re a local going out there. A lot of blind shots off tees. The fairways move a lot where you can’t see it. So you have to have a really good understanding, a good visual of what’s out there when you can’t see it. I think for me that’s the frustrating part at the moment is I’m not getting to hit enough shots off those tees before we’ll start Thursday.”
Ernie Els predicted that the soft course conditions will yield lots of birdies. “After the rain this morning, it’s going to be very sloppy now,” he said. “You’re not going to see a firm U.S. Open this year, I’m sorry. I don’t care if they get helicopters flying over the fairways, it’s not going to dry up. We’re going to have a soft golf course this week all week. It means that if you’re on your game you’re going to have a lot of birdie putts.“
Els noted that the East Course has a number of short par-4s where players can use irons off the tee and still have a short approach shot. “I can see pin placements are going to be quite tough to protect the course,” he said. “You’re going to see a lot more birdies than ever at U.S. Open venues. But the finish is still very strong. The par-3s are very, very strong.”
Jack Ross, a regular contributor to New England Golf Monthly, is on site at Merion this week.
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