2009 USA Walker Cup Duo Making A Merion Return
PGA Tour players, ex-Oklahoma State teammates Morgan Hoffmann and Rickie Fowler relishing their chance to play venerable course for 2013 U.S. Open
By Stuart Hall
ARDMORE, Pa. – Not long after the USA’s Walker Cup victory at Merion Golf Club in 2009, Morgan Hoffman made qualifying for this week's U.S. Open one of his main goals.
"So many great memories come back, from walking on the premises to walking into the locker room with the metal lockers," said Hoffman, who participated in a USGA Member Clubhouse panel Wednesday, where he was reunited with Walker Cup and Oklahoma State teammate Rickie Fowler as well as captain Buddy Marucci. "There's just so many fond memories of being with the guys and great shots hit."
The Americans romped to a 16.5-9.5 victory over Great Britain & Ireland on that September weekend. Hoffman went 2-0-1, while Fowler, who turned professional the following week, went 4-0-0. Fowler, also a member of the winning 2007 team, finished his Walker Cup career with a 7-1-0 record.
At the time, Marucci categorized Fowler's 2009 performance as one of the greatest in Walker Cup history, a bold claim given the competition's 91-year history and the great players who have competed. On Wednesday, Marucci did not waver in his opinion.
"I'll always agree with that statement," Marucci said. "When Rickie played in Ireland the first time, we picked him when he was 17, and ended up playing when he was 18, but he was just a youngster traveling across the pond. I wouldn't say it was a hostile environment, but it was difficult at Royal County Down [Northern Ireland]. I had to lean on Rickie to help me with some of the more 'mature' players. He was far beyond his years – his play was brilliant, but his demeanor was even more impressive. We would not have won that match [by a 12.5-11.5 score] without him."
With the Walker Cup in hand, the Americans returned stateside. Two years later, with Marucci as captain for a second time, the matches were held at Merion's East Course, a home game for Marucci. A member of Merion for more than 20 years, Marucci had lived down the street from the club as a youngster.
Marucci did not consider his roots to be much of an advantage for his squad.
"I think the team we had in  we could have played anywhere and been successful," said Marucci, who has competed in more than 40 USGA championships, winning the 2008 USGA Senior Amateur and finishing as runner-up to Tiger Woods in the 1995 U.S. Amateur.
"Certainly it was nice for me to share some of the fond memories I had of the club, and with the tradition it has it was fun. It was a very rewarding experience to do it at home, but I don't think my knowledge really mattered. It was more the emotional connection I had with the place and hopefully they were able to feel that and it helped."
On that Saturday in September, the Americans won the first three morning foursomes matches, then won three singles matches and halved four others to take an 8-4 lead into Sunday. After winning three of four foursomes on Sunday morning, the United States was in firm control. Marucci and Fowler, though, were well aware of how quickly momentum can switch sides in a team competition.
Two years earlier, against a GB&I team that included Rory McIlroy, the Americans led 10-6 heading into Sunday afternoon singles matches. GB&I front-loaded its lineup with McIlroy and Rhys Davies, and when they both won — McIlroy defeating Billy Horschel and Davies downing Fowler — the momentum shifted.
The teams were tied after the fifth singles match. The USA won two of the final three singles matches to claim its first win on foreign soil since 1991 at Portmarnock Golf Club in Dublin.
In 2009, led by Fowler, Hoffmann and Peter Uihlein, a third Oklahoma State University teammate, the Americans won three of the opening four singles matches to clinch the Cup.
The party at Merion was ready to commence.
When asked about his memory of that victory, Fowler recalled "the bus ride back [to the team hotel] after we won on Sunday night, just having the whole team together celebrating and reliving the whole week. But being a part of the '07 and '09 teams are two of the greatest experiences I've ever had in golf, especially the team atmosphere."
For this week's 113th U.S. Open, Hoffman and Fowler will be of a singular mindset. They are two of just 13 players in the 156-player field who have prior competitive playing experience on the Hugh Wilson design. In addition to the Walker Cup, Merion most recently hosted the 1989 and 2005 U.S. Amateur Championships.
Both players agreed that this week’s setup is very similar to the way it played in 2009.
“The greens, there is nothing that has really changed,” Hoffman said. “I’d say they’re not as firm yet, but I know they’re going to get there this week. On the shorter holes where you can hit iron off the tee, the rough is more penal. They didn’t have fescue three feet off the fairway [in 2009].”
At that, Marucci interjected to say it’s not 3 feet.
“OK,” Hoffman joked, “four feet.”
Fowler agreed with his former teammate, adding that while the early week storms have softened the 6,996-yard course, Merion can still prove to be a difficult test. He added that the club has shifted a couple of fairways since 2009 and “mellowed out” the greens at Nos. 12 and 15.
As for a winning score?
“I think some of the weather [on Thursday] will dictate that,” Fowler said. “It was starting to dry out some today, but even if we get more rain, with the staff they have in place here, I think [the course] will be pretty tough this weekend.
“I’m not expecting it to be very low. I’m not saying there won’t be a low number out there. If somebody goes out and drives the ball very well and puts themselves in a good position, yeah, they can shoot in the low 60s. But doing that on a consistent basis isn’t going to happen. I don’t see anything being in double digits, maybe five-, six- or seven-under par possibly, but I can also see it being around even par.”
Whatever the score, Marucci would be thrilled to see either Hoffman or Fowler lifting the U.S. Open Trophy on his home course come Sunday night.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA championship websites.