Soggy Start to U.S. Open Week
Unwelcome rain causes delays and alters game plans of USGA and Merion Golf Club officials
By Greg Midland, USGA
ARDMORE, Pa. – Mother Nature was the topic on everyone’s mind during a soggy first day of practice rounds at the 113th U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club.
The rain came down early and often, causing two separate suspensions of play and the closing of the par-4 11th hole, whose green sits at the lowest point of the property.
While the wet weather did not deter thousands of spectators from attempting to get a glimpse of Tiger Woods, Keegan Bradley, Sergio Garcia, defending U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson and several other big names, it is requiring a Herculean effort on the part of the grounds crew to keep the course playable.
The weather issues began last Friday, when Tropical Storm Andrea dumped 3½ inches of rain on Merion. The course was closed for practice on Saturday but had dried out considerably by yesterday, when dozens of competitors played and practiced. Still, with the ground already saturated from Friday’s deluge, more significant rainfall was not welcomed.
Today’s estimated rain totaled 1½ inches, with a handful of downpours that started shortly after 7 a.m. In addition to saturating the course, the weather caused problems elsewhere. At 4:45 p.m., the USGA announced the temporary closure of one of the two main spectator parking lots, the Rose Tree Park (RED) Lot in Media, Pa., due to flooding.
That lot will be closed until further notice, meaning all those who travel to the U.S. Open via car should utilize the PPL Park (BLUE) Lot in Chester, Pa., where complimentary shuttle buses will transport spectators to and from Merion Golf Club and will run continuously from 5:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. each day.
Spectators are being encouraged to take public transportation to Merion, utilizing two options in the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA) system: the Rosemont Station of the Paoli/Thorndale Regional Rail Line, from which free shuttle service is provided to Merion, or the Ardmore Avenue Station on the Norristown High Speed Line, which is within short walking distance of the club.
The extreme weather prompted a late Monday afternoon press conference by USGA Vice President Tom O’Toole Jr., USGA Executive Director Mike Davis and Merion Golf Club Director of Grounds Matt Shaffer to provide an update on course conditions. While it appears Merion won’t be firm and fast like they had hoped, the three officials were mostly positive about the outlook for the championship.
“This golf course is not built on sand, so it’s got the heavier soils, but it surface drains beautifully,” remarked Davis. “In terms of [course] setup I really don't think you’re going to see us do much different.”
Shaffer, who has been at Merion for 11 years, shared his insights on the golf course and its ability to handle water.
“No. 11 is the lowest point on the golf course; it’s where two creeks come together,” said Shaffer. “But we’ve had two major rain events and the green has managed to stay above water, which is a good thing.”
While the greenside bunkers around No. 11 took on several inches of water and were being pumped out, Shaffer remained optimistic.
“The good thing down on 11 is that the water comes up fast, but it also recedes very quickly,” he said. “And it will dry really, really quickly. We just need a little bit of sunshine.”
It looks like he may get his wish, as the forecast for the next 72 hours is better. Following a 50 percent chance of storms on Tuesday, things take a turn for the better, with a 30 and 20 percent chance for rain, respectively, on Wednesday and Thursday. The extended outlook for Friday and Saturday is even better.
However, one thing is certain: Shaffer, his staff, and the more than 100 volunteer superintendents from around the world who have joined the maintenance effort at the 113th U.S. Open will be working around the clock to prepare Merion Golf Club for the best players in the world.
Pan Looking to Pass Open Test
Cheng-Tsung Pan is reading more than just his yardage book this week at Merion Golf Club.
When the U.S. Open concludes this weekend, the University of Washington sophomore will fly back to the Seattle campus to take the last of his final exams on Monday.
Call it the test after golf’s toughest test.
“Psychology,” said the 21-year-old native of Chinese Taipei, who brought his books with him. “It’s hard. You are trying to do well in both.”
Washington is on the quarter system and classes didn’t end until last week. That’s why Pan flew home from the NCAA Championships in Georgia to play his U.S. Open sectional qualifier at Tumble Creek Club in Cle Elum, Wash.
When Pan earned one of the two qualifying spots there, he joined teammate and 2011 USA Walker Cup player Chris Williams in the Open field. With Cal qualifying three golfers, the Pac-12 Conference can boast of five of the 10 amateurs in the field. Cory McElyea, a rising senior at the University of San Francisco, played his first two collegiate seasons at Washington.
Williams, who completed his eligibility, earned an exemption into the U.S. Open by earning the 2012 Mark H. McCormack Medal as the No. 1 golfer in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. Williams plans to make the U.S. Open his amateur finale, forgoing his British Open exemption.
Although Pan qualified for the U.S. Open two years ago at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., he said his game has matured a lot since then.
“I was obviously nervous,” he said. “It feels great to be back again. Last time, I was probably overexcited about the tournament and the whole thing. That’s probably why I didn’t play well. Now I feel comfortable being here.”
Pan will spend six weeks at home before returning to the U.S. in mid-August for the U.S. Amateur, where he is a two-time quarterfinalist (2007 and 2012).
The USGA had held six spots for any player who was in the top 60 in the Official World Golf Ranking as of June 10. Kyle Stanley, at No. 60, was the only golfer to meet the criteria who wasn’t previously in the field.
That left five available spots, which went to first alternates from various sectional sites. Rikard Karlberg (England), Mike Weir (Columbus, Ohio), Ryan Palmer (Dallas), Harold Varner III (Rockville, Md.) and Ryan Yip (Springfield, Ohio) garnered those spots on the allotment list. Varner and Yip are the only two U.S. Open rookies. Yip reached the quarterfinals of the 2005 U.S. Amateur at Merion.
Eddie Merrins, the famed “Little Pro” who coached UCLA to the 1988 NCAA golf championship and was a longtime teaching professional at Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles, made a return trip home of sorts to the U.S. Open.
Merrins, 80, has enjoyed a playing, teaching and coaching career that spans six decades, but his professional career began in 1957 here at Merion Golf Club when he accepted a job as an assistant club pro. He stayed for three years before succeeding Dave Marr as head professional at The Rockaway Hunting Club on Long Island.
“I fell in love with this golf course from the first time I saw it,” Merrins said Monday after walking Merion’s East Course with his son Michael. “This golf course gave me an appreciation for good golf courses.”
A Mississippi native, Merrins competed in six PGA Championships and eight U.S. Opens, including the 1971 championship at Merion. He shot an opening-round 74 and was only two over par in his second round and inside the cutline until a fateful 7-iron at the 15th hole.
“I was in the middle of the fairway,” said Merrins. “Two bogeys and two pars and I would be playing on the weekend. Instead, I put that 7-iron into a grove of trees on the right and made a triple bogey. Shot 79 and went home. That's Merion. It's the finest test of golf in the world in my mind.”
By the Numbers
5: Number of golfers in the field who competed in the 1989 U.S. Amateur at Merion, including 2003 U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk and four-time major champion Phil Mickelson.
7: Number of golfers in the field who competed in the 2005 U.S. Amateur at Merion, including defending champion Webb Simpson.
21: Active U.S. Open streak of two-time champion Ernie Els.
20: Number of players in the field who advanced through local and sectional qualifying. Matt Harmon and Randall Hutchison each qualified out of the Portage, Mich., local qualifier, while Yip advanced from the Jupiter, Fla., site, the first of 111 local qualifiers that took place between May 3-16.
256: Length in yards of Merion’s third hole. It is the second-longest par 3 in U.S. Open history behind the eighth hole at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club, which measured 288 yards in 2007.
Greg Midland is the director of editorial and multimedia content for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com. USGA senior staff writer David Shefter and Ohio-based freelance writer Dave Shedloski also contributed.