13-16 June 2013
Merion Golf Club, East Course, Ardmore, Pennsylvania
Note: the 2013 field will be determined after Sectional Qualifying completes on June 3, 2013.
The Top60 in the Official World Golf Ranking, two weeks out and when the tournament starts, are guaranteed spots along with: last year’s Top10 placegetters, winners of the past three Players Championships, BMW Champion, US Amateur Champ, US Senior Open champ, participants in the 2012 Tour Championship, etc, etc.
In my opinion, there’s not a lot of point contemplating the field until it’s settled and closer to the event, so I won’t be producing any prices or comparisons until after 3 June.
Only 6 weeks until the US Open on 13 June, the second and arguably toughest Mens Major of the year. So, time to contemplate the famous Merion course and the attributes required to win there.
In fact, the course has stood the test of time so well and, if dry, is going to play so tough that I’d hazard a guess that approximately 136 of the 156 who will tee-off on 13 June will be incapable of contending! It certainly makes golf betting easier if you’re deciding among 20 players and I’ll try and select those players for you in Preview #2, after June 3rd.
History & Heritage
Merion is widely regarded as one of the USA’s great courses and it would comfortably make every Top10 list. It was created in 1910-12 by a Scotsman, Hugh Wilson, who was a Club member and a good player but, surprisingly, with no course design experience.
Nonetheless, Wilson took his commission very seriously and traveled widely in Great Britain for many months studying courses there. What emerged, perhaps fortuitously, was a masterpiece that embraced many British course characteristics of that era and a course that has been described by none other than Jack Nicklaus, as ‘acre for acre, perhaps the best test of golf in the world’. Although it’s a parklands, inland, course it looks to the eye like a links and has even been described as ‘the finest inland links in america’.
Talk about heritage, this place has it in bucketloads! This is where Bobby Jones clinched his 1930 Grand Slam. Where Ben Hogan in 1950, coming back from a near-death car accident, hit that legendary 1-iron to the 72nd hole to get into a playoff, which he won. Where upstart amateur, Jack Nicklaus, in the 1960 Eisenhower Trophy, presaged his greatness in shooting 66:67:68:68 to win by 13 strokes! Where Lee Trevino toppled that same Nicklaus in a playoff in ‘The Battle of Merion’ in 1971. And so on.
Expect drama and expect quality shot-making, allied with great putting under pressure, to prevail.
The Course Itself
Merion, a par 70, occupies a relatively tiny 120-odd acres, measures barely 7,000yds (6,400m). and has bent grass fairways and greens. But don’t let its compactness fool you. It features: narrow fairways, made even narrower for the Open, and penal rough that is not only deep but strong – of the wrist sprain variety! Its greens are heavily contoured, links-style, and typically run 12-13 on the stimp too!
Those bentgrass greens are pitched, undulating, small and complex and on most holes there are no easy bailout options for approaches. Missing any fairway or green means a player is instantly contemplating bogey, or worse!
The 17th, perhaps Merion’s signature hole, is typical – a long 220yds to a tiered green with nowhere to feel safe to bail out. It epitomises what Merion is all about; shot-making.
An additional feature at Merion that you won’t find anywhere else are wicker baskets on top of the flag sticks rather than flags, and they give no indication of wind direction!
Merion places golfers under pressure and, though it relents somewhat in the middle of a round, it starts tough and ends even tougher. It also typically requires that players use every club in the bag. Its fairways are contoured, like a links, and some say unfairly so in sending many a seemingly good drive into the rough.
In short, this would normally be one of the toughest courses any of the players would face in their careers. Factor in the narrowed Open-width fairways and longer 3.5”+ rough and it may just be the toughest golfing test on the planet, perhaps challenged only by Carnoustie on a windy day?
The only factor that can somewhat ameliorate the toughness of the course, and the premium it places on driving accuracy and placement, is if there is a lot of rain and the fairways become soft. Unlikely in June.
Course Tournament History
Along with five US Opens (the most recent, though, David Graham’s way back in 1981), Merion has more recently hosted the 2005 US Amateur, won by Edoardo Molinari though form students should note that one of the two days of stroke play that determined the Amateur matchplay qualifiers was played at the nearby Philadelphia Country Club.
Merion also hosted the 2009 Walker Cup in which a powerful US team (incl Cauley, Fowler, Harman, Tringale & Uihlein) slaughtered a British / Irish team of mostly no-names.
I believe that both the above amateur events are of little value when assessing the 2013 US Open chances of those players; The Walker Cup was a strong team versus a very weak one while the 2005 Amateur was not a vintage year and occurred eight years ago.
For those who love to browse the stats, I recommend ‘driving accuracy’, ‘GIR’, ‘scrambling’ and ‘strokes gained putting’ as the most relevant stats. If you can find a player who can hit it straight, recover with composure from errors or course cruelty, who can putt well under pressure on bent grass greens and who has the intestinal fortitude to stay strong down the most demanding stretch of any Major then look no further!
We’ll all be searching and if such an animal exists he, and nobody else, should be your bet for the 2013 US Open!
Good luck with your punting and keep an eye out after 3 June for Preview #2 in which I’ll name, and rank, those twenty players from which I believe the winner will emerge!