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Saturday, June 15. 2013
Miss Merion is giving the boys a spanking.
At a paltry 6,900 yards, probably the shortest U.S. Open since the last time they played at Merion in 1981, the pundits were all raving about how it wouldn't stand up to the modern beefed-up player and his technological bag of tricks in the form of 12th-generation Big Bertha drivers and multi-faceted computer-generated putters. They were predicting scores of 8 or 9 under par, easy.
The current tied two leaders after two days of play?
There are three playing at even par and the entire rest of the field is in the plus column.
Like I said, a spanking.
Of the four masters, the Open is usually considered the 'nastiest' of the lot. While the others might rely upon ultra-long holes, ultra-slick greens and ultra-tough pin placements, the Open is usually defined by a zillion sand traps and rough that goes halfway up your calf.
And there's even more to it than that, such as the toughness of the grass. Merion uses a particularly tough grass around the greens, a lesson Tiger Woods handily learned just yesterday. The ball was a few feet off the green, embedded in some short, gnarly rough. He took the proper swack at it and the ball plopped about 10 inches. He took another swack and it flopped onto the green a few feet and stopped nine feet from the pin. Welcome to Merion Golf Club, Mr. Woods, still catering to that old, pre-modern tough-love style.
They also don't have pin flags at Merion; they use straw baskets which were originally used to store the players' lunches so they'd stay safely out of reach of deer, caddies, and other course varmints. What this means is that the players are forced to use such ancient, archaic means of determining wind direction as "blowing tree branches" and "clouds". This 'getting back to the basics' approach is enough to throw the strongest player off his game.
What's going to add to a spanking good time is that Merion was drenched with rain in the week up through Thursday, so it's actually been playing slow these last two days. As things dry out, the fairways will become even faster (giving the ball an even greater chance of rolling off into the rough, something that happened over and over again on a couple of particular holes yesterday, even to the greats like Mickelson and Woods) and, of course, the greens will make a big jump on the Stimpmeter. They were already in the 'scary' category yesterday (it was raining Thursday to the point where they were basically putting around small lakes, so yesterday was the first day in which the course could actually be judged), so today should take a fairly dramatic jump in green speeds.
A bit more below the fold. Go, Team Merion!
— While Mickelson was originally lauded for 'being such a great dad' by jetting back to the West Coast to catch his daughter's 8th grade graduation a few days before the event (he got back at 11 pm the night before kickoff), he only posted one birdie yesterday — on the last hole, no less — so now the pundits are saying he might have lost that something extra and/or run out of gas with all the jetsetting.
Sat Update: Phil is leading the pack, once again proving the pundits wrong.
— While the stat on Tiger is that he's never won a major when he was over par after 36 holes of play, this might be the one where he breaks the mold. If he can get his full game on, and with the competition falling by the wayside as Merion plays nothing but tougher and tougher, this is the situation where Tiger shines. When you start playing at age 3, not a lot cows you.
Sat update: Tiger's now about 50 shots over par, once again proving the pundits wrong.
— My personal fave is Rory McIlroy, who won the U.S. Open two years ago. If I were going to ascribe two words to him, they'd be determination and confidence. He doesn't quail from the tough shots and he's not afraid to attack the ball. You really don't often see a pro totally pull the trigger and give it 100%, but Rory let out a few on Thursday that... that... that Merion's rough promptly gobbled up and spat out, thus imparting another old-timey welcome to them-thar fancy city boys who've come a'visitin'.
Let the battle between them commence.
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Much-much thanks for the reminder. I've been out of touch the last few days and totally spaced on it. I love the "Team Merion" concept -- well played.
I love this sport. And thanks for the nice write-up on Merion, I live kinda nearby and my dad played there a couple of times, years ago. "Not for the weak of heart" were his exact words. :-)
I love seeing golf referenced on my favorite web site. Thanks, Doc! Also, you'll have to change your picture - Merion uses baskets, not flags, on the sticks. Seems that the course designer saw this method of storing ones' lunch in a basket up on a stick being employed by shepherds in Scotland. It was how they kept their charges from eating their lunch.
Good suggestion, and taken. I also noted how not having pin flags does nothing but make the course even harder. I'm starting to feel sorry for these guys!
With just a basket and no "windsock" those 'crosswind' slices of mine would certainly do me in.
That was the best Open I've seen in years, and that was a great lead-up to it. I, too, read the articles claiming how the modern players would "dominate" the course, but Miss Merion gave 'em all a sound comeuppance. When the winner of a major ends up one over par, that says a lot.
I had the good fortune to attend on Saturday, and it was one of the most interesting (and tiring) days I've spent on a golf course.
Of course, most days spent on a golf course are with friends and family complaining about yet another slice or missed putt.
This was my third pro golf event (the others being the Senior Open, in the mid-90's, and the PGA Championship when it was nearby at Baltusrol in 2005.
Why was it so interesting? Because the stuff you expect was so different at Merion due to a combination of weather and space.
As you noted, it's the shortest course. Yet Merion had to add about 400 yards just to qualify to get the Open. As a result, there was very little space for hospitality. So many homes that line the course were rented out to large corporations and had tents set up. These homes, of course, had to have views of at least one hole. Or they had temporary decks built to provide views.
The number of spectators was about 10,000 less than a typical Open, but you'd never know it from wandering around. The crowds were massive and navigating the course took considerable time.
Finally, the mud. It was everywhere. What's astounding is that they were even able to transmit pictures. I was wandering back around the media trailers, which were conveniently placed in a small valley. I was told that during the storms the area flooded (since there was no place for the water to go...). It apparently came very close to causing significant damage to the transmission trailers, which were set up several feet to begin with. With all the covered areas, the water flowed to its lowest point and these transmission trailers were one of those points.
I noticed more than one person with mud covered legs, or mud on their backside (I imagine lots of slipping and sliding going on) and hands. The place smelled like a barn due to all the hay they'd thrown down to soak up the water.
But none of this phased the golfers. They had a job to do, and they got out there and battled as best they could. For all the calls that Merion was going to set records for low scores, you had to love the fact that a traditional, old style, course with tight fairways and curving greens could just beat the pants off these guys.
Bobby Jones, who made his first big splash at Merion, would have been proud.
Thanks for the great rundown. Must have been great being there in person. As for the crowded conditions, the streamcast caught a few examples of it, like how one tee actually shares part of a putting practice green, and another tee is about 10' from the front porch of some building.
As for the tough conditions, when Tiger was doing his post-round interview yesterday, he flat-out stated that the pin placements "were even tougher than I expected." But, back in the booth, one of the guys noted that "this is the U.S. Open, Tiger."
On the other hand, admittedly, Shawn Stefani made it look downright easy. "Piece o' cake!", he later remarked.
Stefani's hole-in-one (which occurred the day after I was there), was an ugly shot, but as in all things golf, even the worst shot can turn good with a nice bounce a little roll.
The pin placements were the least of Tiger's problems. He couldn't read a green to save his life this past week, and he was having trouble with a few fairways, too.
On Saturday, the pin placements were considered "favorable", in an attempt to raise scores. No such luck. The course is flat-out tough. I'm not sure they needed to add the 400 yards to make it any tougher. I sat at the 13th hole (a par 3) and watched several pros miss the green. Considering how short that hole is, I thought I could hit it easily and I probably could. But if the pros couldn't do it every time (and they didn't), I have to wonder if I really could've.
Point of fact - I am terrible at golf, but I can hit par 3 greens fairly regularly.