Merion's many mood swings proved difficult test


ARDMORE, Pa. – This 113th U.S. Open treated us to one of the great comebacks in this championship’s history.

What we witnessed Sunday in suburban Philadelphia ranks up there with Arnold Palmer’s charge from seven shots back in the final round to win at Cherry Hills in 1960.

Right there with Johnny Miller’s final-round 63 to come from six shots back and win at Oakmont in 1973.

No, this isn’t about Justin Rose’s marvelous triumph Sunday. It’s about Merion’s triumphant return.

Dismissed and forgotten as a U.S. Open venue for 32 years, Merion Golf Club is back in a big way as a major player in the championship’s rotation.

At least it should be.

“Whatever else she is, Merion ain’t no lady,” Pulitzer prize winning columnist Jim Murray wrote back in 1971 after Lee Trevino beat Jack Nicklaus in a playoff here.

She ain’t no old lady, either.

That was the fear when the USGA announced that it was bringing the U.S. Open back to Merion. The fear was that this little, old course couldn’t hold up to today’s big hitters and their high-tech toys. The notion that this might be the Massacre of Merion loomed at week’s start with trepidation the old course would yield record scores in an embarrassing birdie blitz.

Merion’s spirit must have chuckled wickedly.

Lucrezia Borgia didn’t break as many hearts as Merion did this week.

In so many ways, Merion stole the show as the stage and the star.

She may be 100 years old, but she is golf’s new femme fatale.

Tiger Woods? Merion spurned him in his quest to win his first major in five years. Woods limped home licking his wounds Sunday after shooting himself out of contention in a 10-over-par weekend.

Rory McIlroy? Merion rejected all his advances. He finished a shot worse than Woods for the week.

The world’s No. 1-2 players were cumulatively 27 over par.

Hey, they fared better than the grouping of Graeme McDowell, Zach Johnson and Jim Furyk. That trio of major championship winners suffered together and all missed the cut with a cumulative score of 40 over par.

Steve Stricker opened Sunday a shot off the lead, but then Merion turned him away as a suitor, too. Stricker blew his tee shot out of bounds at the second hole in the final round. Then, after re-teeing, he blew a long iron from the middle of the fairway out of bounds there. He wasn’t a threat the rest of the day.

Sergio Garcia made the cut but hit five balls out of bounds through the first three rounds and took a 10 on a hole.

Rose won Sunday at 1 over par for 72 holes, exactly the same score Webb Simpson won with at the U.S. Open at The Olympic Club last year.

This U.S. Open, though, played out so differently from last year’s, from any year’s, really.

That’s because the nature of Merion is so different from most U.S. Open venues, where a parade of pars is the winner’s formula.

Merion was a parade of bogeys, and then a parade of birdies, with a parade of pars wedged in between.

Players’ scorecards at Merion read like an EKG report. Up and down ... up and down ... up and down.

What Merion giveth, Merion took away with a vengeance.

Merion is beautifully, wickedly and provocatively bi-polar.

There were kind and gentle moments amid the pain and suffering Merion delivered.

From that little 98-yard par 3 to the itty bitty par 4s to the monster holes in between, the shortest U.S. Open venue (6,996 yards) in almost a decade is wickedly unbalanced.

“There are not many U.S. Opens where I stand on a tee and hit a 7-iron,” Jason Day said after tying for second with Phil Mickelson. “It was a fun course to play. I know it was a very difficult course. There’s a good mix of long holes with short holes, and I think that every club in the bag got a workout this week. So, I think that it would be sad for it not to come back to a U.S. Open.”

This golf course has so much history, with Bobby Jones winning the Grand Slam here, with Ben Hogan coming back from a head-on collision with a bus to win the U.S. Open here, with Lee Trevino beating Jack Nicklaus in a playoff. This week gave the USGA a chance to showcase some of American golf’s great history.

“Absolutely, like a lot of us thought, Merion stood the test of time,” USGA executive director Mike Davis said. “For those that really studied Merion, it's always been short, relative to other championship sites, and it's always, always held its own. It's always a great test of golf. And we knew it would be.”

Rose said winning on such a historic venue adds to the wonder of winning his first major.

“The golf club is steeped in history,” Rose said. “That really sort of hit home when I came here Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday of last week. I was able to appreciate this golf course in the quiet moments, when there was nobody around, when there weren't thousands of people here for the championship. And that's when I did fall in love with the golf course.”

After winning the U.S. Open in 1971, Trevino said he fell in love with Merion, and he didn’t even know her last name. Rose said he joked about Trevino’s line all week. He also came to appreciate Merion’s moods.

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“What I first loved about Merion is how one of the local caddies described it: The first six holes are drama, the second six holes are comedy, and the last six holes are tragedy,” Rose said. “Like a good theatrical play.”

Davis was the man behind the curtain who pulled the strings at this U.S. Open.

Tom O’Toole, the chairman of the USGA’s championship committee, said Davis was pivotal in getting this championship back at Merion. Though he wasn’t executive director when the USGA voted seven years ago to return here, Davis made the case for Merion’s return back when he was head of rules and competition.

“Mike’s not given enough credit,” O’Toole said. “Mike is the one who stuck his neck out.”

You want validation of Merion as a suitable U.S. Open venue? Even with a disappointing sixth runner-up finish in this championship, Phil Mickelson endorsed a return to Merion.

“I thought the golf course was fabulous,” Mickelson said. “I loved the hard holes being really hard, and I loved having the chances to make birdies.”

Davis said before deciding whether a U.S. Open will return to Merion, the club will have to offer an invitation for its return. Davis sounds like a man who wants to come back here.

He isn’t alone.

“I hope we have a chance to come back,” Mickelson said.

Even in the wake of his defeat, Mickelson appreciated a good comeback story.