The 2013 U.S. Open has established itself as a landmark major golf championship and the credit goes to the United States Golf Association. In particular, Mike Davis the USGA’s Executive Director who specializes in golf course setups for its championships, has proven that you can return to the past.
Call Davis a genius because Merion has demonstrated that a golf course doesn’t have to be long to be deserving of a major championship. The great equalizer has been the rough. Players who miss the fairway by six inches might not be able to do more than advance a wedge. During the past couple of days many wedge shots inside 100 yards have been errant failing to find a green.
Merion 2013 has opened the door for future major championships. Other courses that might not measure 7,500 yards in length could be in play for a major. This U.S. Open might have changed everything including any thoughts that the governing bodies have regarding a roll back of the golf ball to help preserve course integrity.
Reg Jones is the onsite coordinator and he somehow was able to build a U.S. Open city inside Merion’s 115 acre grounds. Is it ideal? No, it’s not. But, it has worked and performed under some very tough weather issues. Thursday’s evacuation plans went off without a hitch. That’s no small feat given the fact that the players’ lockers are located a mile from the Merion clubhouse. By the way, that clubhouse was given up by the Merion membership for this Open.
Thursday I spent the day with Tim Clark, Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen. All three players are from South Africa. Schwartzel won the 2011 Masters. Oosthuizen captured the 2010 British Open. Clark won the 2010 Players Championship. The group teed off #11 at 7:33 a.m. and finished at around 4:30 p.m. after the three and a half hour rain delay.
Clark created fame for himself several years ago when he knocked off the world’s number Tiger Woods, in the Match Play Championship. During the past few months, Clark has become the face and spokesman for the anchored putters on the PGA Tour. Tim is affable, respected and well-liked by his fellow players.
Clark is 5’7’ and weighs 165 pounds. He has a slight bulge in the middle and his walk has somewhat of a waddle to it. He had his own fan club at Merion on Thursday. Two guys, sizable in stature, wore t-shirts with Clark’s image on it. Tim had spotted the guys during the round and went over and traded fist pumps as he walked off the 15th hole during the rain delay. It was a classic Clark moment.
On Friday I was fortunate to be with Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker and Keegan Bradley. Mickelson flew out early Thursday morning on a private plane from San Diego. No jet lag for Phil as he opened with a 3-under par 67. The U.S. Open has caused Mickelson heart burn on several occasions. He has seen several chances to win this major pass him by.
Mickelson is using his “Frankenwood” in lieu of a driver. It’s a souped-up three wood. Phil doesn’t even have a driver in his bag. Mickelson has ridden his short game the past two days and it will be interesting to see if he holds up over the weekend.
Merion is intimidating. The fairways are narrow and they force the ball to the rough. Even the best players in the world will find themselves guiding a lot of shots in order to avoid the rough. If the course dries out this weekend it could get real tough to keep the ball in the fairway and the rough will only keep growing.
The 3rd and 17th holes are long and imposing par three’s. The 10th is a drivable par four, but miss the green and you probably won’t make birdie. Don’t hit a wicker basket on top of the flagstick like Lee Westwood did on the 12th Thursday resulting in a perfect shot gone bogey.
Fairway divots might become a factor this weekend. Many of the landing areas feed into condensed areas of the fairway. Balls will collect in tight spots where divots are plentiful. Some have said that this should cause a change in the Rules of Golf. A player hits a perfect tee shot and finds a ‘divoty’ grave. Why not make it Ground Under Repair? Rule 13-1b says otherwise- “The ball must be played as it lies”.
Merion is like that old suit you keep in your closet. It may not be fashionable all of the time, but it’s timeless. And every couple of decades you can drag it out and wear it anywhere, assuming it still fits. And that is what sets Merion apart.
Beginning in 1930 when Bobby Jones completed the Grand Slam with his U.S. Amateur win, continuing with Olin Dutra in the ’34 Open; Hogan in ’50; Trevino in ’71; David Graham in 1981 and again sometime Sunday afternoon in 2013.
Merion still fits and the USGA wears it well.