Walker Cup to test changes at venerable Merion

By Associated PressApril 21, 2009, 4:00 pm
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USGAARDMORE, Pa. ' The history of golf and future of the game will collide again at Merion Golf Club.
 
The venerable East Course that tested Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus will challenge the modern golfer when it hosts the Walker Cup Match in September, a sort of dress rehearsal for hosting the 2013 U.S. Open.
 
Merion showed its mettle only a few years ago. Its narrow fairways, deep rough and sculpted greens held up against some of the countrys top nonprofessionals during the 2005 U.S. Amateur. Not long after, the United States Golf Association awarded Merion its fifth Open, but its first since 1981, igniting a debate as to whether the Hugh Wilson design on Philadelphias Main Line is a worthy test for todays long hitters.
 
U.S. Walker Cup captain and Merion member Buddy Marucci is convinced changes to the course, including adding about 300 yards, makes the storied layout a legitimate test for all golfers, including the best amateur players from the United States battling those from Great Britain and Ireland.
 
Part of the genius of what has been done here is that the difficult holes were made more difficult, and the easier, shorter holes pretty much stayed the same, Marucci said at a Walker Cup press event on Tuesday. I think what has happened is the architecture that was there for 100 years just popped out even more, and the challenges are back to where they were.
 
At some places, 300 and some yards might not be significant, but it has made a tremendous difference here, just by allowing that architecture to come back out.
 
Marucci captained the U.S. team to a dramatic 12 1/2-11 1/2 victory over GB&I in 2007 in Ireland. That victory extended the Americans record in the biennial competition to 33-7-1, though the teams have split the past 10 competitions. Scotlands Colin Dalgleish will captain the GB&I squad.
 
A two-time Walker Cup player with a 3-0 mark in alternate shot matches and a 1-1-1 singles record, Marucci is eager for some of the worlds finest amateurs to take on Merion, the site of 16 USGA championships or international team events which will play to 6,846 yards and a par 70.
 
The Walker Cups fourball and singles matches might not compare to the stroke play of the pros. But the players plan of attack in two days of morning fourball matches and afternoon singles on Sept. 11-12 should shed light on how the course will be attacked four years down the road.
 
Marucci is convinced Merion wont be muscled.
 
From a power standpoint, there will be some perspective given, said Marucci, who was runner-up to Tiger Woods in the 1995 U.S. Amateur.
 
Marucci has spent nearly his entire life at Merion, growing up near the course and ultimately becoming one if its high-profile members. He knows what it takes to tame the layout and will share his knowledge with the U.S. team he puts together through the summer.
 
The one thing that I know you cant play Merion from the rough, he said. I wont be preaching a great deal to them, but will certainly educate them to the fact that, and they will learn pretty quickly, you cant be competitive from the rough at Merion.
 
Merion has a reputation of being a golf treasure.
 
Its where Jones played his first Amateur as a 14-year-old and returned 10 years later to claim his first U.S. Amateur title. He completed the Grand Slam by winning the 1930 Amateur to go along with the U.S. Open, British Open and British Amateur.
 
Theres a plaque commemorating Jones final hole in a competitive event on Merions 11th tee. It was on that hole he closed out Eugene Homans 8 and 7 in the 36-hole final.
 
Hogan left his mark, too.
 
Just over a year after surviving a horrible car crash, Hogan was on the 72nd hole of the 1950 U.S. Open in need of a par to force a playoff. In one of golfs most enduring photos, Hogan is pictured, from behind, hitting a 1-iron from the 18th fairway to a green circled by spectators. He went on to two-putt for par and won a three-way playoff the next day.
 
Before the start of a playoff for the 1971 Open, Lee Trevino pulled a prank on Nicklaus, tossing a rubber snake at his feet while on the first tee. Trevino went on to win.
 
Marucci is ready for more memories to be made at Merion.
 
To me, what makes it special is when you walk out onto the first tee, every shot requires thought and is challenging, Marucci said. The minute you step onto the first tee, you have to think about where youre going. And that doesnt necessarily mean you have to hit it far.
 
You have to hit a certain kind of shot, and if you dont hit that kind of shot, youre going to be penalized and if you do hit that shot, youre going to be rewarded.
 
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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.  

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Height of irony: Phil putts in front of 'rules' sign

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 1:36 pm

A picture is worth 1,000 words and potentially two strokes for playing a moving ball under Rule 14-5 but not Rule 1-2.

Phil Mickelson has been having some fun during his Open prep at Carnoustie hitting flop shots over human beings, but the irony of this photo below is too obvious to go over anyone's head.

Mickelson also tried tapping down fescue two weeks ago at The Greenbrier, incurring another two-shot penalty.

And so we're left to wonder about what Phil asked himself back at Shinnecock Hills: "The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’”

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Rory looking for that carefree inner-child

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:28 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Eleven years later, Rory McIlroy cringes at the photo: the yellow sweater with the deep V-neck, the chubby cheeks and the messy mop that curled under his cap.

“You live and you learn,” he said Wednesday, offering a wry smile.

The last time McIlroy played at a Carnoustie Open, in 2007, he earned the Silver Medal as the low amateur. He tied for 42nd, but the final result had mattered little. Grateful just to have a spot in the field, courtesy of his European Amateur title, he bounced along the fairways, soaking up every moment, and lingered behind the 18th green as one of his local heroes, Padraig Harrington, battled one of his favorite players, Sergio Garcia. Waiting for the trophy presentation, he passed the time playing with Padraig’s young son, Paddy. On Wednesday, McIlroy spotted Paddy, now 15, walking around Carnoustie with his three-time-major-winning father.

“He’s massive now – he towers over me,” he said. “It’s so funny thinking back on that day.”

But it’s also instructive. If there’s a lesson to be learned from ’07, it’s how carefree McIlroy approached and played that week. He was reminded again of that untroubled attitude while playing a practice round here with 23-year-old Jon Rahm, who stepped onto each tee, unsheathed his driver and bombed away with little regard for the wind or the bounce or the fescue. McIlroy smiled, because he remembers a time, not too long ago, that he’d attack a course with similar reckless abandon.


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I just think, as you get older, you get a little more cautious in life,” said McIlroy, 29. “I think it’s only natural. There’s something nice about being young and being oblivious to some stuff. The more I can get into that mindset, the better I’ll play golf.”

And so on the eve of this Open, as he approaches the four-year anniversary of his last major title, McIlroy finds himself searching for a way to channel that happy-go-lucky 18-year-old who was about to take the world by storm, to tap into the easygoing excellence that once defined his dominance.

It’s been a year since he first hinted at what he’s been missing. Last year’s Open at Royal Birkdale was the final event of his long run with caddie J.P. Fitzgerald. The chief reason for the split, he said, had nothing to do with some of the questionable on-course decisions, but rather a desire to take ownership of him game, to be freed up alongside one of his best friends, Harry Diamond.

That partnership has produced only one victory so far, and over the past few months, McIlroy has at times looked unsettled between the ropes. It’s difficult to compute, how someone with seemingly so much – a résumé with four majors, a robust bank account, a beautiful wife – can also appear disinterested and unmotivated.

“I think sometimes I need to get back to that attitude where I play carefree and just happy to be here,” he said. “A golf tournament is where I feel the most comfortable. It’s where I feel like I can 100 percent be myself and express myself. Sometimes the pressure that’s put on the top guys to perform at such a level every week, it starts to weigh on you a little bit. The more I can be like that kid, the better.”

It’s a decidedly different landscape from when the erstwhile Boy Wonder last won a major, in summer 2014. Jordan Spieth had won just a single Tour event, not three majors. Dustin Johnson wasn’t world No. 1 but merely a tantalizing tease, a long-hitting, fast-living physical freak who was just beginning a six-month break to address "personal challenges." Two-time U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka hadn’t even started playing in the States.  

McIlroy’s greatest asset, both then and now, was his driving – he put on clinics at Congressional and Kiawah, Hoylake and Valhalla. He was a mainstay at or near the top of the strokes gained: tee to green rankings, but over the past few years, because of better technology, fitness and coaching, the gap between him and the rest of the field has shrunk.

“I think at this stage players have caught up,” Harrington said. “There’s many players who drive the ball comparable and have certainly eaten into that advantage. Rory is well on pace to get into double digits with majors, but it has got harder. There’s no doubt there’s more players out there who are capable of having a big week and a big game for a major. It makes it tough.”

It’s not as though McIlroy hasn’t had opportunities to add to his major haul; they’ve just been less frequent and against stronger competition. In the 13 majors since he last won, he’s either finished in the top 10 or missed the cut in 11 of them. This year, he played in the final group at the Masters, and was on the verge of completing the career Grand Slam, before a soul-crushing 74 on the last day. His U.S. Open bid was over after nine holes, after an opening 80 and a missed cut during which he declined to speak to reporters after both frustrating rounds.

“I’m trying,” he said Wednesday. “I’m trying my best every time I tee it up, and it just hasn’t happened.”

A year after saying that majors are the only events that will define the rest of his career, he recently shrugged off the doom and gloom surrounding his Grand Slam drought: “It doesn’t keep me up at night, thinking, If I never won another major, I can’t live with myself.”

Eleven years ago, McIlroy never would have troubled himself with such trivial questions about his legacy. But perhaps a return to Carnoustie, to where his major career started, is just what he needs to unlock his greatness once again.