Can big hitters gear back for Merion?


ARDMORE, Pa. – Can today’s most aggressive big hitters gear down in this week’s U.S. Open?

NBC and ESPN analysts calling the action are eager to see how this new generation tactically approaches Merion Golf Club, the shortest U.S. Open setup in nearly a decade.

“I think there are going to be a lot of young guys that potentially could get schooled here,” NBC’s Roger Maltbie said. “They're not used to seeing these old-style golf courses that we saw more of. Obviously, now the courses they play are bigger in scale, longer, much longer, and they're used to bombing away. This is more about finesse.”

While much depends on weather, ESPN’s Curtis Strange wonders if today’s big hitters will show the discipline it takes to dissect Merion at its best.

“These big hitters can win here,” Strange said. “But do they have the patience to lay back on the holes they truly have to lay back and put it in the fairway? Their strength could be very advantageous when they do put it in the rough, but do they have the patience? It’s not in their DNA to lay up as often as they are going to have to lay up at Merion.

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“Jack Nicklaus had the patience. Tiger Woods, we've seen, has the patience. But does Dustin Johnson? Does Phil Mickelson? Does Rory McIlroy? We are going to have to wait and see, but I really think they have to fight their inner selves and lay back when they have to, but it's tough for them to do.”

Count NBC’s Gary Koch among those eager to see how aggressively today’s big hitters will try to play Merion. He can see some disaster holes lurking.

“When we play golf courses where you can make a lot of birdies, it tends to make you feel as though you're Superman and invincible,” Koch said. “If you're not thinking your way around this golf course, when you play a golf course with a lot of birdie holes, and as tough as Merion's tough holes are, you can make a lot of big numbers too.

“So, there could be below scores and could be a lot of birdies, but I think we could possibly see a record number of big number disasters out there because players get a little fat, dumb, and happy and start to think 'I can handle this place.'”