McDowell: Softer Merion Still No Pushover
Conditions change, don’t lessen, the challenge, Says 2010 U.S. Open champion
By Stuart Hall
ARDMORE, Pa. — As players alter their practice schedules due to recent heavy rains at Merion Golf Club, Graeme McDowell is hopeful early reconnaissance trips to a course that last hosted the U.S. Open in 1981 will work to his advantage.
McDowell, 33, the 2010 U.S. Open champion, played Merion last year, prior to his runner-up Open finish at The Olympic Club. He played it again six days ago. Since then more than 6½ inches of rain have saturated the course.
"It's going to prove invaluable from a preparation standpoint this week," said McDowell, adding that the recent rains have not altered the course dynamics too much. He was scheduled to play his first official practice on Tuesday afternoon.
Under normal, dry conditions, Merion is a course that requires accuracy off the tee and precision iron play. As a result of the rains, the softer fairways will, in McDowell's estimation, play 10 to 15 percent wider, but the rough will be considerably thicker.
There is also a sentiment that the East Course's relative short length of 6,996 yards, combined with soft conditions, could produce radically lower scores.
"Everyone is saying that it's going to be 62s and 63s on this golf course, which I kind of disagree with at the minute," said McDowell, who is ranked No. 8 in the world and has won on both the PGA and European tours this season. "I don't think it's going to be a score-fest. I think it is tough. Like I said about the greens, they're soft and fast, which is a bad combination for tour players. We'll spend the week trying to take spin off wedges. You'll see guys over the back of the greens to the back pins in massive trouble."
While McDowell would prefer firm and fast conditions, he believes Merion will remain formidable, adding that 10 or 11 holes "are as tough as any U.S. Open" he has played.
"I think back pins are going to be very tough to get at now, because of how soft they are," he said. "Yes, it's going to make the fairways more hittable, and yes, it's going to allow those medium iron shots. And those shots into the par 3s are going to be easier with the softness of the greens. Yes, it takes a slight intimidation factor out, but the rough is going to be intimidating enough, I think it's going to keep everybody honest."
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA championship websites.