Merion, where Ben Hogan defined his greatness, ready for U.S. Open test

Posted Saturday, Jun. 08, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
U.S. Open When: Tournament rounds are Thursday-Sunday. Where: Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa. Yardage/Par: 6,996 yards, par 70 Purse: $8 million Winner’s share: $1,440,000 Defending champion: Webb Simpson Television: Thursday-Friday rounds (ESPN, 8 a.m.-2 p.m; KXAS/5, 2-4 p.m.; ESPN, 4-6 p.m.). Saturday-Sunday rounds (KXAS/5, 11:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m.). Monday playoff, if necessary (ESPN, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.; KXAS/5, 1 p.m. to conclusion). Notable: Tiger Woods, the world’s top-ranked golfer, seeks his first major championship since the 2008 U.S. Open but is coming off a T-65 finish at the Memorial Tournament on June 2. ... Memorial champ Matt Kuchar, runner-up to Boo Weekley at last month’s Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, has two tour triumphs this season. Kuchar, 34, seeks his first major title. … Adam Scott, who won his first major at the 2013 Masters, is chasing a Grand Slam during the 2013 calendar year. … Merion Golf Club has red wicker baskets, rather than flags, atop its flagsticks. ... Fort Worth native John Peterson, a former standout at Fort Worth Paschal High School and LSU, tied for fourth in his U.S. Open debut last year to earn a spot in this week’s field at Merion. Title winners since Tiger Tiger Woods, the world’s top-ranked golfer, heads into the U.S. Open with more victories this season (4) than any player on the PGA Tour. But Woods has not won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open, the longest drought of his career in golf’s elite events. Below is a look at the 17 golfers who have combined to win 19 major titles since Wood last hoisted the hardware five years ago:
YearGolfer (Title)
2008Padraig Harrington (British Open), PadraigHarrington (PGA)
2009Angel Cabrera (Masters), Lucas Glover (U.S. Open),Stewart Cink (British Open), Y.E. Yang (PGA)
2010Phil Mickelson (Masters), Graeme McDowell (U.S.Open), Louis Oosthuizen (British Open),Martin Kaymer (PGA)
2011Charl Schwartzel (Masters), Rory McIlroy (U.S.Open), Darren Clarke (British Open), KeeganBradley (PGA)
2012Bubba Watson (Masters), Webb Simpson (U.S.Open), Ernie Els (British Open), Rory McIlroy (PGA)
2013Adam Scott (Masters)
Last 10 U.S. Open champs
2012Webb SimpsonOlympic Club1 over
2011Rory McIlroyCongressional16 under
2010Graeme McDowellPebble BeachEven par
2009Lucas GloverBethpage4 under
2008Tiger WoodsTorrey Pines1 under*
2007Angel CabreraOakmont5 under
2006Geoff OgilvyWinged Foot5 under
2005Michael CampbellPinehurstEven par
2004Retief GoosenShinnecock Hills4 under
2003Jim FurykOlympia Fields8 under
*won in playoff

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Based on the scorecard, Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., projects as one of the shortest U.S. Open venues in recent history. The par-70 course will measure 6,996 yards for Thursday’s opening round.

That is more than 200 yards shorter than Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth (7,204 yards), site of the PGA Tour’s annual Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. It is 647 yards shorter than Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla, Calif. (7,643 yards), site of the 2008 U.S. Open that remains the longest layout in tournament history.

Mike Davis, executive director for the U.S. Golf Association, said today’s power players might be able to reach the green with their tee shots on four of Merion’s par-4 holes: Nos. 1, 7, 8 and 10. The most inviting will be No. 10, which covers only 303 yards and is one of five par-4s on the course listed at shorter than 400 yards. The 13th hole, a par-3, measures only 115 yards.

Despite those eye-catching numbers, Davis said he is not expecting a birdiefest at an event where golfers who post even-par totals over 72 holes usually find themselves in contention for a title. Nor does he anticipate an all-out-assault on the U.S. Open scoring record of 268, set by 2011 champ Rory McIlroy at Congressional Country Club, a 7,574-yard facility. At Merion, a 268 total would translate to 12 under par.

Although some golf analysts predict a prolific run on red numbers this week, Davis said he does not because Merion, like Colonial, requires players to shape tee shots that trace the paths of narrow, dogleg fairways leading to small, well-guarded greens. Bogeys and double bogeys will surface, Davis said, and birdie opportunities may be less frequent than the scorecard suggests because of Merion’s unique par-5 and par-3 holes.

The course has only two par-5s, both on the front nine, and one of them (No. 4) will be stretched to a robust 628 yards, making its green unreachable in two shots to all but a handful of the longest hitters.

Although the 13th hole is short, the course’s remaining par-3s cover 256 yards (No. 3), 236 yards (No. 9) and 246 yards (No. 17). The Merion fairways also slope more than their counterparts at Colonial, theoretically redirecting more errant drives into the graduated rough.

“This golf course requires more precision than most other U.S. Open golf courses. It’s still a great test of golf,” Davis said of a venue where Bobby Jones completed his 1930 Grand Slam with a victory at the U.S. Amateur and Ben Hogan captured the 1950 U.S. Open title in his first appearance in a major championship after a near-fatal car wreck in 1949. “A part of the test of golf should be, ‘Can you think through a situation under pressure?’ This course will make you think because you really have got to work your ball in both directions.”

At its tightest points, Davis said Merion fairways will measure 24 to 25 yards in width. The widest landing areas will be in the 30- to 35-yard range. And the course has its share of difficult driving holes, bounded by hazards and more out-of-bounds areas than most courses.

“When you stand on the second tee, when you stand on the 15th tee, if you’re not thinking about out of bounds, you have fallen asleep,” Davis said. “Those are definitely characteristics to those two holes.”

In selected rounds, Davis said USGA officials may tweak some tees and shorten the layout to roughly 6,800 yards. Ideally, Davis said the organization hopes to prove that a vintage course like Merion, opened in 1912, remains relevant in today’s power-golf era.

“For the good of the game, we can’t not come back to a place like this,” Davis said. “It’s too important from a historical standpoint… This place is just magical. It’s an architectural treasure.”

When the tournament starts Thursday, the course also will be a U.S. Open venue for the first time since 1981.

Hogan hook

To golf fans in Tarrant County, Merion is best known as the site of Ben Hogan’s historic victory in the 1950 U.S. Open, just 16 months after a near-fatal car accident.

It marked the Fort Worth golf legend’s first appearance in a major championship after his wreck, and Merion became the backdrop for one of golf’s most iconic photos: Hogan’s follow-through after hitting a 213-yard, 1-iron approach to the 72nd green, taken by Sports Illustrated photographer Hy Peskin.

Hogan parred the difficult closing hole to force an 18-hole playoff, which he won the next day over Lloyd Mangrum and George Fazio.

Soon after Hogan’s historic shot, the 1-iron disappeared and did not resurface until 1983, when a golf-club dealer in Florida noticed it had been mixed in to an otherwise matched set of used clubs he purchased for $150.

Bobby Farino, the dealer who purchased the club, returned it to Hogan, who donated it to the USGA Museum in July 1983.

King of qualifiers

In many ways, it should not be surprising that former UT Arlington golfer Zack Fischer played his way into the U.S. Open field at the Dallas sectional qualifier.

Fischer, who defeated touring pro Ryan Palmer in a 12-hole, sudden-death playoff, has made it into the last four PGA Tour events that offered open qualifying spots for non-Tour members: the Valero Texas Open, Zurich Classic of New Orleans, HP Byron Nelson Championship and the U.S. Open.

Fischer, 23, finished 68th at the Nelson but missed the cut in his other two starts.

Asked about adding the Open to his 2013 schedule, Fischer said: “I had planned to make it to Merion, honestly. I didn’t have a backup plan. I had made three in a row. So, I was like, ‘Why not four?’”

Merion memories

Merion Golf Club, opened in 1912, has been the site of many notable golf moments on the national stage during the past century. Some selected highlights:

1916: Bobby Jones, winner of the 1930 Grand Slam and one of the founders of the Masters Tournament, competed as a 14-year-old in the 1916 U.S. Amateur. It was Jones’ first appearance in the event and Merion’s first national tournament.

1924: Bobby Jones, 22, claimed his first of five U.S. Amateur titles.

1930: Bobby Jones earned the final title of his unprecedented 1930 Grand Slam by winning the U.S. Amateur at Merion. In 1930, Jones swept all four of golf’s most prestigious titles in that era (U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur, British Open, British Amateur).

1934: Olin Dutra defeated Gene Sarazen, a future Hall of Famer, by one stroke to win the 1934 U.S. Open.

1950: Ben Hogan defeated Lloyd Mangrum and George Fazion in an 18-hole playoff to win the U.S. Open.

1971: Lee Trevino defeated Jack Nicklaus in an 18-hole playoff to win the U.S. Open.

1981: David Graham defeated George Burns and Bill Rogers by three strokes to win the U.S. Open.

1989: Chris Patton won the U.S. Amateur.

2005: Edoardo Molinari won the U.S. Amateur.

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch

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