U.S. Open: Farewell to the Merion Masterpiece

One of the interesting things about a U.S. Open is that it appears that the media center is “open” too. A regular Tour event has perhaps three to five transcripts from players at the top of the final leaderboard. At the U.S. Open they seemed to interview every player who was a factor or who played well enough to attract the attention of the television broadcast’s director. For this final Sunday, there were twenty-eight interview transcripts with twenty-six different players.

And in reading them all looking for some sort of masterful player revelation, I was amazed at how little they talked about themselves other than the mundane shot details. They were all talking about the Merion golf course.

Most of the comments were around questions that dealt with this short course holding up to the best players in the world, the USGA’s setup, the operations logistics required due to the postage stamp footprint of the course and the ardor of the membership to make sure that their beloved old course shined. And boy did it. 

This is very unusual for a the course to play such a big part in a tournament. Augusta does because of its history but also because of its rolling property, lightening fast greens and beauty. But the boys routinely shoot masterful scores there while the best anybody could do at Merion was winner, Justin Rose, who finished at 1-over.

So, as the Tour moves on to Hartford and the Travelers Championship, I thought it would be interesting to see what the key players in this humbled field had to say about the old girl. To a man, they seemed to love her. Here’s a sampling:

Justin Rose:  “Yeah, this golf club is steeped in history.  That really sort of hit home when I came here Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, last week.  I was able to appreciate this golf course in the quiet moments, when there was nobody around, when there weren’t thousands of people here for the championship.  And that’s when I did fall in love with the golf course.  Trevino says, “Fell in love with a girl named Merion, I just didn’t know her last name.”  I’ve been sort of joking about that all week. I don’t think anybody expected this golf course to hold up the way it did.”

Phil Mickelson:  “I thought it was a great setup all week.  I thought that the golf course was fabulous.  We had weather and we had some conditions with Sunday pins, it was difficult.  But I thought that it was really well done and, you know, it was — I loved having the hard holes be really hard.  And I loved having chances on the birdie holes.”

Jason Day:  “I think it favors a straight guy, the shorter guys, I think.  For the big hitters, we don’t have to hit the [driver] as much.  We can just take it out and maybe hit a 3‑wood or 2‑iron, like I have, I think it worked out great.  It’s a tough old course.  Merion is a good mix of short holes with long holes. And at the start of the week everyone was talking about how they were going to rip the course up.  So I guess that shut everyone up.”

Tiger Woods:  “It played tricky.  The rough was up.  They were raking the rough up every morning into the grain.  And the pins were really tough. Kuch and I were talking about that this morning.  We knew all the areas they were going to put [the pins], but sometimes we would be three paces off within the area, they put it so close to the edge.  A couple of times there, a step over a hump.  I didn’t think they were going to be that difficult, but given the soft conditions, I think that’s what they tried to do.”

Adam Scott:  “It’s very different than anything else because they’re having to play the golf course so much to get it, to have this even par number.  And the difference between shooting even par and shooting 3‑over is a very fine line.  It’s a very fine line and they tread every year with it.  They do the best they can, you just have to play very well.  There is no room for error on a U.S. Open course like this setup this week.”

Brandt Snedeker:  “The golf course, day one, I got here I knew it was going to be a tough golf course.  I knew it was short, but it played to a great test.  The long holes played really tough and the shorter holes, if you played them the right way, you could make some birdies.  But if you didn’t, they were tough too.  It was a great test.  I thought it was fair.  A few pin positions probably got a little bit out of hand and a few of the greenside stuff got out of hand, but they try to do what they usually do to get the score around par and they got what they wanted.”

Rory McIlroy:  “I thought it was a really good test…I thought it was a great venue and a venue that hopefully we come back to…It’s so different.  We rarely play golf courses now that are under 7,000 yards.  And everyone coming in the week, it’s short, it’s wet, it looks like it’s going to get ripped apart.”

Hunter Mahan:  “It was hard.  It was a difficult test.  The pins were brutal.  They’re sitting on three to four degree slopes.  So it was tough.  I tried hard all day and had some opportunities, but just didn’t make a few putts.  But, man, it was brutal out there.  It was tough finishing.”

Padraig Harrington:  “The course is great.  It was a surprising golf course to come to from what maybe had been portrayed in the media.  It was a big test.  Massive greens.  Real difficult.  Glad they weren’t firm and fast.  I think the golf course played super as it was this week.  Firmer greens would have meant you would have — I wonder what it would be like with firm greens out there, it would really be interesting.  But you can still virtually get up‑and‑down from everywhere out there, which is a big help. I think it was a great track. I, for one, would come back.”

Rickie Fowler:  “I thought it was great.  Being here for the Walker Cup in ’09 and getting a sneak peak at it that week, it played different with the rough and some of the fairway routings, and the fairways being a little narrower, but I thought it was a great test.
Obviously I think it surprised a lot of people with some of the scores.  It didn’t play easy out there.  It was tricky at times.  You had to be in control of your game and golf ball.”

Jason Dufner:  “I think the golf course was set up pretty fair for the most part.  There are some holes that they kind of pushed a little bit that really challenged you.  But then there are some easier holes out here if you can be in the fairway.”

Ernie Els:  “Absolutely [he would like to see the Open return to Merion].  It’s been an unbelievable venue this week.  The course definitely held up.  Started the week with people saying there could be record scores.  I totally disagreed with that.  It was a great setup.  The rough was tough.  Yeah, everything about it was just wonderful. And the fans were unbelievable.  It definitely shouldn’t stay away another 32 years.”

Nicolas Colsaerts:  “It’s an exhausting course to play and very difficult.  It was blowing quite a lot when we went out, then firming up.  It’s basically a case of limiting the damage on the long holes and even the short holes.  Pars feel like birdies.  That’s why the scores are how they are.”

Hideki Matsuyama:  “The course setup wasn’t any more different than the other three days, in fact I think it was very fair and much the same as we have experienced the last three rounds. It was great to play here.  It was a great experience for me to be able to play a course that was so difficult and the setting was very difficult too. But to play well the final day has given me a lot of confidence and I’m looking forward to more experiences like this.”

So there you have it. Uniformly great reviews from the guys who had to actually go out and play Merion.

And no matter where they ended on the leaderboard, they all came away with raves for the course and the USGA for bringing the Open back after 32 years. You don’t see that very often.

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