U.S. Open at Merion is about more than length, or lack thereof
BY HERB GOULD email@example.com | @HerbGould June 8, 2013 12:52AM
Ben Hogan makes an approach shot to the green at Merion Golf Club during the 1950 U.S. Open, the second of his four career Open victories. Merion hasn’t hosted a U.S. Open since 1981. | Getty Images
When: Thursday-next Sunday.
Where: Merion Golf Club in Ardamore, Pa.
Length: 6,996 yards. Par: 36-34—70.
Defending champion: Webb Simpson.
Updated: July 10, 2013 6:41AM
At 6,996 yards, it seems to be too short for a U.S. Open.
At 111 acres, it’s very confining for the bread-and-butter hospitality business, and the galleries will be limited to 25,000 spectators. That means the USGA will be taking a big financial hit at this year’s U.S. Open, which begins Thursday.
Because, for all the drawbacks, its famed East Course is a historic gem that once prompted Jack Nicklaus to say, ‘‘Acre for acre, it may be the best test of golf in the world.’’
Bobby Jones won the U.S. Amateur at the suburban Philadelphia club in 1930 as part of his unprecedented Grand Slam. Just 16 months after a nearly fatal head-on collision with a bus, Ben Hogan won the 1950 U.S. Open there, the first of his three Open wins in four years.
Reports that Merion, which hasn’t hosted a U.S. Open since 1981, isn’t long enough are greatly exaggerated, experts say.
‘‘I’ve heard that ‘this is a great course for you. They can only do so much to it. It sits on so many acres. Yada, yada, yada,’ ’’ said Zach Johnson, who famously won the 2007 Masters with a flawless short-hitter performance.
Johnson isn’t buying it. Neither, he said, are Rickie Fowler, who played in the 2009 Walker Cup at Merion, and Tiger Woods, who played a practice round there in May.
‘‘We were all sitting around talking about it,’’ said Johnson, mentioning the par-3s of 115, 236, 246 and 256 yards. ‘‘[Woods] says it plays as long as any U.S. Open he’s ever played. [On the short par-4s], guys will be hitting 5‑irons and 4‑irons off some of those tees, and you’re still hitting a mid‑iron in. There’s one par-3 that’s 100 yards, and after that, Tiger said he hit a 4‑iron, 3‑iron and 5‑wood into the par 3s. So you have par-3s where you’re hitting lumber in, and then I think coming down the stretch, there’s not a par-4 under 500.’’
Because the East Course, opened in 1912 and designed by Hugh Wilson, is still a great layout that has a quirky charm, including Scottish-style bunkers and wicker baskets instead of flags atop the pins.
And because even though it fell out of the Open rotation because of its lack of length, there’s great interest in seeing whether the long hitters can feast on the vulnerable portions of the course.
The only two par-5s, which measure 556 and 628 yards, come in the first four holes of this par-70 layout. And three of the final four par-4s measure at least 430 yards, including the 521-yard finishing hole.
‘‘The yardage on the card is very misleading,’’ Johnson said. ‘‘I don’t think it’s as short as the scorecard will show. But you know that going into it. The USGA is not going to pick a chip‑and‑putt.’’
With more expected birdie opportunities than a U.S. Open usually provides, the USGA is taking a risk as well as a financial hit.
‘‘I commend the USGA for coming back to Merion,’’ television analyst Curtis Strange said. ‘‘They’ve gone out on a limb. We’re going to find out a lot this week about what the USGA can do in the future as far as venues, where they can go and they can’t go.’’
Why Merion? We’ll have the ultimate answer this week.