After 32 Years Merion Returns for a 5th Time
(Photo Credits: USGA)
The Northeast USA has sustained a cooler and wetter spring and the pace of the turf may be held in check. If that happens — remember the birdie-fest at Congressional in 2011? Soft conditions at Merion / East — couple with a total course length under 7,000 yards — the first since Shinnecock Hills in 2004 — could very well mean a record number of birdies and a serious run at the record 268 total Rory McIlroy shot when winning two years ago.
Merion / East if firm and fast presents a completely different course — there’s still sufficient time for that to happen but the days are indeed counting down. How the course fares could well determine if the 32-year wait for the US Open for the Ardmore layout was worthwhile. A substandard Open could very well mean the last time the fabled layout earns a major host site designation. We shall see.
Overall Logistics …
Merion / East has 126 acres of land — given today’s needs for championship golf that’s literally a band box. As a result the USGA maxed out daily tickets to 25,000. The practice area and media compound are both on the sister West Course — one mile from the championship layout. The area around the clubhouse will be especially crowded as a several tees and greens bump up against one another.
What does this all mean? Simple. Possible gridlock. The players, and even the fans, will be in tight quarters and maximum patience will be needed in a big time way. Since this is Philadelphia — brotherly love will be an absolute must to survive the week.
Handling the final trio of holes …
No matter how many birdies are made on the first 15 holes — the key for any contender is handling the final trio of holes at Merion / East.
The 16th is the start of the famed quarry holes. Playing 430 yards the hole will likely mean anything less than a driver — once in the fairway the green is enormous and requires a fine approach to have a reasonable putt for birdie. The 246-yard par-3 17th is fraught with danger. The putting surface has a number of protecting bunkers but the green is the main story here — one needs to hit deep enough into the green to avoid a false front that can easily keep approaches from getting to the desired location.
The home hole is one of the five longest par-4’s in US Open history and if played at max length the carry is no less than a 250-yard carry just to get to the fairway. Even on the fairway the ball will likely be situated in anything other than a flat lie. Birdies will be limited and pars will be dearly sought here.
Up the sleeves of Mike Davis …
With this the 5th US Open and 17th USGA Championship — Merion / East has a storied history but no matter how good the pedigree you can count on Executive Director Mike Davis to have a few tricks up his sleeve with the 113th US Open. The par-3 3rd now can be stretched to 251 yards — previously it played 181 yards in past events at the club. The 5th was demanding already at 418 yards — but the par-4 hole now plays a max 504 yards. These are just two examples.
Davis switched gears on the final round last year at Olympic — pushing the tees up on the par-5 16th no less than 100 yards. The result was players being unprepared — just ask Jim Furyk. Expect Davis to re-position tees as conditions warrant — including the most recent twist the driveable par-4 hole. All players should be forewarned that no tee box can be assumed to be in the same spot for all four days.
Tiger’s date with destiny?
In the last three US Opens held at Merion / East — the winners were vindicated for past achievements. The success each had at the Ardmore, PA club simply stamped those impressions permanently. Ben Hogan overcame a near fatal car accident and handled not only 36-holes in one day — but was successful in winning a three-man playoff over 18 holes. In 1971 Lee Trevino proved to all his first US Open win at Oak Hill in 1968 was no fluke — the win at Merion / East was the first of three national titles — Canadian and British – that Trevino won in four weeks. The Merry Mex’s standing was forever assured. Ten years later Australian David Graham became the first winner from Down Under with an airtight final round. Graham had won the PGA in 1979 — his US Open victory showed he was no one trick pony.
Tiger Woods has not won a major title since his ’08 US Open win at Torrey Pines — the event he claimed by essentially playing on one leg. Tiger has reclaimed the #1 position in the world but no major win has happened since that playoff victory against Rocco Mediate. A win at Merion / East gives Woods his record tying 4th US Open, his 15th overall major and momentum to overtake the record 18 major titles claimed by Jack Nicklaus.WHAT'S YOUR REACTION?