This week, all of the attention in the golf world will be focused on Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pennsylvania for the 113th playing of the U.S. Open. Typically known as the toughest test in golf, the U.S. Open will challenge the players to be at their very best, as the USGA will be doing whatever they can to ensure that their reputation is upheld.
As for Merion, it’s the first time since 1981 that it will host the U.S. Open, so it’s a chance for a whole new generation of golf fans to see one of the world’s most iconic designs. The Fanatico A-Z Guide To The U.S. Open takes a look at what we can expect this week at Merion, as well as some of the historic value and moments that the event and course have provided us with over the past 117 years.
A Is For Acre For Acre
“Acre for acre, it may be the best test of golf in the world.” 18-time major winner Jack Nicklaus was referring to Merion’s 126 acres with this quote, and it’s going to be interesting to see how a new generation of players tackle one of the game’s most respected landmarks. At just 6,996 yards from the tips and a par-70, Merion is the first U.S. Open to be played under 7,000 since 2004 when the USGA pegged Shinnecock Hills in New York to host the national open, and no one in the field this week will have played the course as a professional, though some will have played it in amateur events. It’s one of only 26 courses to be ranked for all 49 years of Golf Digest’s 100 Greatest Courses in America, coming in at number six this year, and peaking at five in 1989-90 and 95-96.
A Is Also For Anchoring
You’re going to hear the term ‘anchoring’ an awful lot this week, so get ready. The USGA and R&A, the two organizations that make up the governing bodies of the game, decided to ban the use of anchored putters a few weeks ago after much debate. Players like Adam Scott, Webb Simpson, Tim Clark and Ernie Els use the anchored putter method, and will have to adjust before the ban takes effect in 2016. There’s been talk of a lawsuit by the players, and although we haven’t heard anything concrete about that yet, there’s likely too much smoke without there being a fire. Obviously these guys all want to win tournaments, but a player who uses an anchored putter would love nothing more than to stick it to the USGA by winning their event while anchoring.
B Is For Blind Shots
There’s nothing that’s more disorienting to a player than having to play into a target that they can’t fully see, and the players will have to deal with a boatload of blind and semi-blind shots at Merion this week. USGA executive director Mike Davis puts the number at 11 of the 18 holes featuring some kind of element that blocks the view of a player, whether it’s the green or a fairway landing spot. Talking to the media in April, Davis said “If you’re a member here and you’re playing it every day you get used to it. But for players coming here for the first time, or not even the first time, that does add an element of difficulty.”
B Is Also For Bunkers
Yes, there are bunkers on every golf course, but you’d be hard pressed to find any course in North America with deeper bunkers that are as well placed as the ones at Merion. The traps have been given the name of “the white faces”, as they were the first hazards to have raised lips on the back, giving off the impression that the bunkers are staring back at the players from hundreds of yards away. It shouldn’t affect the players in any way really, but it does make for a cool aesthetic on TV.
C Is For Chris Berman
There will be 33 hours of TV coverage this week for the U.S. Open between ESPN and NBC in North America, and unfortunately, a good portion of that will have ESPN’s Chris Berman at the helm. Despite having quality golf anchors in their stable, like Mike Tirico and Scott Van Pelt, ESPN frequently trots out the obnoxious, nickname loving Berman on the broadcast to the delight of just about nobody. If you have access to Twitter during the event, keeping a ‘Chris Berman’ search up while he’s on the air is always a good bit of fun. I’m really hoping that nobody has told him that Thorbjorn stands for Thunder Bear.
D Is For David Graham
The Australian-born Graham won the last U.S. Open held at Merion in 1981, finishing at 7-under par. He was one of only five players to be under par for the entire week, and at the time, was only one shot back of the all-time U.S. Open scoring record of 8-under par, set by Jack Nicklaus in 1980 at Baltusrol. Graham entered the final round on Sunday three shots back of George Burns, who had just fired rounds of 69-66-68, but Burns faded on Sunday as Graham picked Merion apart, hitting all eighteen greens and missing only one fairway.
D Is Also For Drivers
When Graham won in 1981, he pretty much hit driver on four of the fourteen available holes. Mike Davis said he thinks players will hit driver maybe six or seven times, while Tiger Woods says he might use it eight times. It’s going to be interesting to see how it plays out this year, with this being one of the shorter but more punishing courses that these players have ever seen.
E Is For Eighteen Hole Playoff
The U.S. Open is the only of golf’s four majors that contains an 18-hole playoff in the event of a tie after four rounds. The 18 holes are played on the Monday after the final round, and in the event of a tie after the playoff, the format moves to sudden death. The last U.S. Open to go to a playoff was in 2008 when Tiger Woods defeated Rocco Mediate in sudden death, while Merion has seen a pair of playoffs, with Ben Hogan defeating Lloyd Mangrum and George Fazio in 1950 and Lee Trevino triumphing over Jack Nicklaus in 1971.
F Is For Fabulous Finishing Five
The final five holes at Merion have been dubbed as the “Fabulous Finishing Five” by many people, with Mike Davis suggesting that this stretch of holes is the toughest ending for any U.S. Open course ever. There are definitely birdie opportunities throughout the course, but this final stretch will likely be the deciding factor for many players, especially when they get to the 521 yard par-4 18th, which will likely play as the most difficult hole on the course this week.
F Is Also For Father’s Day
The U.S. Open traditionally ends on Father’s Day, and this year will be no different. One of the big selling points of golf is the time that you get to spend with family, which is something that I know of first-hand, but it’s also become apparent that it’s a big deal even for the professionals. In recent years at the U.S. Open, we’ve seen emotional moments with Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy, celebrating with their fathers after they’ve won the tournament and it’s become a focal point for both ESPN and NBC in their broadcasts.
G Is Also For Guinea Pig
The decision to play this year’s U.S. Open at Merion, made in 2006 by the USGA, came as a surprise to many based on the way the game has evolved since Merion last hosted in 1981. The prevailing thought was that not only had technology made courses like Merion nearly obsolete, but the commercial aspect of the event had grown far too big for Merion’s 126 acres of property. How would the necessary corporate tents fit on the layout? ESPN and NBC need tons of real estate for camera crews and TV towers, not to mention that the USGA wants to make money on ticket sales, which would be severely slashed if Merion were to host another U.S. Open. With the increased broadcast rights fees in recent years, the USGA felt comfortable with the potential loss on a site like Merion in exchange for returning to one of their historic landmarks. This event is definitely a guinea pig for the USGA, and if it works out, it could open the door for other venues to get a shot in the rotation again.
H Is For Horace Rawlins
Horace Rawlins holds a major spot in golf history, even if most people have no idea who he is. Rawlins won the very first U.S. Open at Newport Country Club in Rhode Island back in 1895, beating out ten other players to claim the victory. He shot scores of 91 and 82 over the 36-hole championship, defeating Willie Dunn by two strokes, coming away with $150 and a $50 medal as his reward. By contrast, Webb Simpson took home $1.44 million for his victory at Olympic Club last year.
H Is Also For Hugh Wilson
Golf is littered with famous designers and architects, but very little is known about Wilson, the man who was selected to design Merion back in the early 1900’s. What we do know is that he was born in Scotland, but came over to America when he was in college, attending Princeton. An avid golfer, Wilson was given the responsibility of designing a new course in the Pennsylvania area, and it’s said that he went back home for a few months to study course design and take sketches before returning to the States to start working. Several traits of Scottish and English course design are present at Merion, but unfortunately, Wilson never got to see his vision host the U.S. Open, as he died early at age 45 in 1925.
I Is For Infatuation
When the golf community loves something, they tend to go overboard in their praise, and that’s exactly what’s happening right now with Merion, but I’m not sure that it’s unjustified this time. Merion is a throwback to traditional course design that you just don’t see very often these days, and with the historical value that it carries, there’s nothing but love being showered on the course right now. That’s not to say that there aren’t questions about how playable it’s going to be inside today’s modern game, but the love that the course is getting right now is something I haven’t seen, outside of Augusta National, in a very long time.
J Is For Jim Simons
Unlike Rawlins, Jim Simons couldn’t get it done in a U.S. Open, but he has become equally forgotten. Simons was a local Pennsylvania boy when he started the 1971 U.S. Open at Merion as an amateur to very little fanfare. After the opening two rounds, he was tied with Lee Trevino for third place and proceeded to fire the round of the tournament on Saturday with a 6-under par 65, which gave him a two-shot advantage over Jack Nicklaus into Sunday’s final round. He led by one heading to the back nine, but ended up making a few bogeys and missing out on the Nicklaus-Trevino Monday playoff. Simons was considered an underachiever after he turned pro, winning only three events on the PGA Tour before quitting the game at age 38. He came back to play on the Champions Tour briefly but passed away at the age of 55 due to an accidental overdose. He may have been forgotten by most of the golf world, but Jim Simons is a big part of the history of both the U.S. Open and Merion.
J Is Also For Johnny Miller
Hey, did you know that Johnny Miller won the 1973 U.S. Open at Oakmont by posting a final round 63? Well, you do now and Miller will make a point of bringing it up on the NBC broadcasts this week whenever he can. As NBC’s lead colour commentator, Miller has made a second career of reminding people about his past successes and for his ‘Millerisms’, where he tries to get overly technical with explaining what’s going on on the course. For some, his style is refreshing. For others, he’s a pompous windbag. The “Johnny Miller” Twitter search seems to side with the latter.
K Is For Kuchar
Outside of Tiger Woods, there probably isn’t another American who has a better chance to win this week than Matt Kuchar. He’s won pretty much everything you can win as a professional golfer with the exception of a major championship, and his game suits the course very well.
L Is For Length
We’ve talked about this already, but Merion is very short. From the tips, it plays at 6,996 yards, but the USGA has already made it clear that it won’t be playing that long on all four days, which will make it the shortest U.S. Open course used in the last ten years. With the way the course will be set up, there will be an even bigger premium placed on accuracy off of the tee, but Merion is an oddity in that is has five short par-4’s that are under 400 yards, and also boasts some of the longer par-3’s and par-5’s in the game.
M Is For Moments and Mystique
Even though there hasn’t been a professional event at Merion for the last thirty plus years, it has housed some of golf’s greatest moments. From Bobby Jones dominating the course as an amateur to Ben Hogan’s miraculous recovery and the duel between Nicklaus and Trevino, three of the most iconic moments in American golf happened on these grounds. It might not be immediately apparent to those in the field this week, but Merion is unique in that it’s one of the rare courses in the world that has housed all of the best players to ever tee it up, which is pretty special when you stop and think about it.
N Is For Nationalism
In the years between Hogan’s win at Merion in 1950 and Graham’s in 1981, only two non-Americans won the U.S. Open. In the thirty-one years since Graham’s triumph, nine non-American’s have come away victorious, and while that doesn’t sound like that many, it certainly has become much more even in recent years. American golfers take a lot of pride in being able to win the U.S. Open, much like a British player would love to win the Open Championship, and make no mistake, both NBC and ESPN want nothing more than to see a leaderboard packed with Americans this week.
O Is For One-Iron
There is perhaps no better story in golf than that of the one-iron used by Ben Hogan at the 1950 U.S. Open. Sixteen months prior, Hogan had been in a massive car accident when his vehicle crashed head-on into a Greyhound bus. In an attempt to shield his wife Valerie, Hogan threw himself over her and in the process, likely saved his own life, as the steering column destroyed the driver’s seat. Hogan shattered his pelvis, fractured his collarbone and ankle, and gave him terrible blood clots, which he would deal with for the rest of his life.
He made Merion his return to the game, even though doctors told him that he would never play again. He needed a par on the 18th to get into the 18-hole playoff and took out his 1-iron from 213 yards, a notoriously difficult club to hit and one that most players refused to even swing. The approach, which became one of the most iconic photographs in sports history as taken by Hy Peskin, allowed him to make par and win the event on Monday. Making the story even better was that the 1-iron was stolen shortly after the event, and randomly re-appeared over fifty years later in a set of other MacGregor clubs. Josh Sens posted a great story about it over on Golf.com just a few weeks ago.
P Is For Penal
If there’s one thing the U.S. Open is truly known for, it’s for how difficult the USGA makes the courses they play the event on. Thick rough, lightning fast greens, difficult driving angles and the optimization of weather can make the course play completely different from one day to the next. Some players like the idea of the toughest test in golf and others don’t, but there really isn’t anything like it in the game.
Q Is For Qualifying
The U.S. Open might be the most democratic event in all of professional sports, allowing anyone who’s good enough to attempt to qualify for the event and play with the best players in the world. Prove to the USGA that you have a handicap of 1.4 or lower, and you can go to one of 111 local qualifying sites and try to punch your ticket to the sectionals. Get through the sectionals, which is usually littered with PGA and European Tour players who aren’t exempt yet, and you get to tee it up with the pros. The odds are long though, as 9,860 people signed up for qualifying this year, with only 104 spots available.
Q Is Also For Quotes
Here’s a sample of quotes about both Merion and the U.S. Open:
“There are more bogeys in the last nine holes of the U.S. Open than in any other tournament in God’s creation.” – Ray Floyd
“Probably the most precise golf course [where] we play a U.S. Open.” – Mike Davis
“The U.S. Open is my favorite week of the year. To a lot of people, it is the worst week of the year. To me, you should be punished if you miss the fairway. You should be punished if you miss the green.” – Colin Montgomerie
“Did he play every hole?” — Bobby Locke, after Ben Hogan shot a final round 67 on the last day of the 1951 U.S. Open
“Nobody ever wins the National Open. Somebody else just loses it.” – Bobby Jones
“A difficult golf course eliminates a lot of players. The U.S. Open flag eliminates a lot of players. Some players just weren’t meant to win the U.S. Open. Quite often, a lot of them know it.” – Jack Nicklaus, on the traditional Open setup
“The U.S. Open has never been exciting to watch. It has always been a sad tournament. There is no excitement, no enjoyment. It is all defensive golf, from the first tee to the last putt.” – Seve Ballesteros
“I love Merion…and I don’t even know her last name.” – Lee Trevino
R Is For Rough
We talked before about how penal the USGA will make the entire course, and the one area where this will be truer than anything will be the rough. They will grow it out as thick as can be, especially because of the recent and potential weather in the area. There’s been a lot of rain around the property, and that will continue to be the case this week, which should make scoring a little easier. To combat that, the USGA will let the rough go as much as possible, as if this picture tweeted out by Justin Rose’s caddie wasn’t nasty enough to begin with.
R Is Also For Rubber Snake
Ahead of the playoff for the 1971 U.S. Open at Merion between Trevino and Nicklaus, the underdog Trevino thought that there was a tremendous amount of tension on the opening tee. Being the lighthearted entertainer that he is, he was carrying a rubber snake and a hatchet in his bag in an attempt to joke with the fans in previous rounds with regards to how high the rough was. The snake was still in his bag, so he decided to taunt Nicklaus with it, to which the Golden Bear asked him to throw it over to him. Both players said that it helped ease the tension and nervousness on the opening tee, and you can watch it in the embedded video below:
S Is For Sergio Garcia
Whether he likes it or not, Sergio Garcia is going to be a major focus this week, and not just for the usual reasons when it comes to a major championship. It’s a well known fact that Garcia hasn’t won a major championship to this point in his career, and it’s also well known that the American faithful have never been overly fond of the fiery Spaniard, but after his moronic nonsense with Tiger Woods, the heat will be turned up even higher. Garcia’s skill set should allow him to be a factor at Merion, but he’s going to have to put the other stuff aside, including potential rough treatment from the Philly faithful, if he’s going to have a chance to break his major championship goose egg.
T Is For Tiger Woods
Well, you can’t mention Sergio without talking about Tiger, but even if that stuff didn’t happen a few weeks ago, Tiger would be the focus this week. He has said that he’s a big fan of the course, but much like most of the players in the field, he hasn’t actually teed it up there in a professional event. He’s won four of his nine worldwide events this year, which is a ridiculous number, but none of that will matter to people until he gets his first major win since winning this U.S. Open back in 2008. For what it’s worth, the Vegas bookmakers have him down as the heavy favourite, at roughly 5-1.
U Is For USGA History
Even though it’s been 32 years since it’s hosted a U.S. Open, there is no course in that has hosted more USGA events than Merion. The 2013 U.S. Open is the 19th time that the USGA has returned to Merion, which no doubt played a part in the USGA’s desire to return with a marquee professional event for the first time in over three decades.
V Is For Variance
Mike Davis to the Morning Call back in May:
You’ve got big greens, you’ve got tiny greens, you’ve got greens that slope from back to front, you’ve got greens that have plateaus and undulations,” Davis said. “You have the 18th green that kind of reminds you of a Pinehurst No. 2 green that’s almost humpbacked. You got the 11th green, which is pretty flat. So one of the characteristics of Merion’s greens are that there’s not really a trait that runs through them. I would contend that, if you saw Merion firm for four straight days versus soft for four straight days, you may see an 18- to 20-shot difference in the winning score. We can’t control that.
W Is For Webb Simpson
Last year’s U.S. Open champion isn’t considered one of the favourites this year, partially because of the substandard year he’s been having, but he’s one of the few guys who actually has played this course in a real event. He did it back in 2005 at the U.S. Amateur, and he said a few weeks ago that Merion is his favourite course. He usually thinks his way around the course, and he shouldn’t be dismissed this easily.
W Is Also For Wicker Baskets
Merion’s most recognizable and distinct feature might be the wicker baskets that are present on the top of every pin on the course. Hugh Wilson allegedly drew inspiration from sheepherders while in England, as they kept their lunches inside baskets high up on sticks to keep their food away from the animals. These days, there’s one woman who makes the baskets for the club, and the grounds crew takes them down each night to avoid theft. For the players on the course, they usually rely on the flag to help them out with wind direction, but there will be no help from the wicker baskets this week.
X Is For X Marks The Spot
Yes, I used this when I did the A-Z Guide To The Masters, but hey, ‘X’ is pretty tough. With Merion’s lack of length, it is more about pinpoint control, and those who can find their spots on the course and avoid the nasty rough, will be in a much better position to score. With there being very little in the way of course experience though, expect to see a lot of guys who just don’t know where to go and having that lead to mistakes.
Y Is For Youth
As of right now, there are 35 players in the field this week at the age of 25 or younger, with Pitsford, New York native Gavin Hall being the youngest at just 18 years old. If you’re looking for the best bets for players from this group to win, look at Rickie Fowler, who has a history of quality play at Merion from the 2009 Walker Cup and hits tons of fairways. Italy’s Matteo Manassero is coming off the biggest win of his career at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, and that McIlroy guy, who yes, is still just 24-years old.
Z Is For Zigzags
Most people call them doglegs, but that doesn’t start with a ‘Z’, so you’re getting zigzags. Merion has very few straightaway holes, and many of the pins will be tucked behind trees or bunkers, especially with Sunday locations. The players who can play both cuts and draws are going to give themselves a massive advantage at winning the year’s second major championship.
The U.S. Open at Merion kicks off on Thursday morning at 6:45 AM ET.