Merion's many mood swings proved difficult test

By Randall MellJune 17, 2013, 2:22 am

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.

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Watch: Is this the up-and-down of the year?

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 19, 2018, 3:30 pm

Play away from the pin? Just because there's a tree in your way? Not Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano. Watch him channel some Arnie (or, more appropriately, some Seve) with this shot in the Valderrama Masters:

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Cut Line: Farewell to the mouth that roared

By Rex HoggardOctober 19, 2018, 2:06 pm

In this week’s edition we bid farewell to the most outspoken and insightful analyst of his generation and examine a curious new interpretation that will require players to start paying attention to the small print.

Made Cut

Here’s Johnny. After nearly three decades Johnny Miller will hang up his microphone following next year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Miller called his first tournament as NBC Sports/Golf Channel’s lead analyst in 1990 at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and he told Cut Line this week that at 71 years old he’s ready to relax and spend time with his 24 grandchildren.

“I was the first guy with an open microphone,” Miller said. “That requires a lot of concentration. It’s not that I couldn’t do it but the handwriting was on the wall; it would be more of a challenge.”

Miller will be missed for his insight as much as his often-blunt deliveries, but it’s the latter that made him one of a kind.

A long ride to the right place. After nearly four years of legal wrangling a group of PGA Tour caddies dropped their class-action lawsuit against the circuit this week.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in early 2015 in an attempt by the caddies to secure marketing rights for the bibs they wear during tournaments as a way to create better healthcare and retirement benefits.

The district court largely ruled against the caddies and that ruling was upheld by an appeals court earlier this year, but better healthcare options may still be in the cards for the caddies.

“I told the guys, if we really want a healthy working relationship with the Tour, we need to fix this and open the lines of communication,” said Scott Sajtinac, the president of the Association of Professional Tour Caddies.

Sajtinac told Cut Line that the Tour has offered a potential increase to the longtime stipend they give caddies for healthcare and in a statement the circuit said talks are ongoing.

“The PGA Tour looks forward to continuing to support the caddies in the important role they play in the success of our members,” the statement said.

It’s rare when both sides of a lawsuit walk away feeling good about themselves, but this particular outcome appears to have ended with a favorable outcome for everybody involved.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

A long haul. Tiger Woods acknowledged what many had speculated about, telling a group this week at his annual Tiger Woods Invitational at Pebble Beach that his season-ending push and his first victory in five years took a physical toll at the Ryder Cup.

“It was just a cumulative effect of the entire season,” Woods said on Tuesday. “I was tired because I hadn’t trained for it. I hadn’t trained this entire comeback to play this much golf and on top of that deal with the heat and the fatigue and the loss of weight.”

Woods went 0-4 for the U.S. team in France and appeared particularly tired on Sunday following the European victory at Le Golf National.

For Woods the result was worth the effort with his victory at the Tour Championship ending a five-year drought, but his play and concession that it impacted him at the Ryder Cup does create some interesting questions for U.S. captain Jim Furyk, who sent Woods out for both team sessions on Saturday.

Tweet(s) of the week: @BobEstesPGA (Bob Estes) “I spoke to a past Ryder Cup captain yesterday. We both agreed that there should be a week off before the [Ryder Cup] to adequately rest and prepare.”

Given Woods’ comments this week it seems likely he would agree that a break – which may become the norm with the Tour season ending three weeks earlier – would be helpful, but Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts had a slightly different take in response to Estes’ tweet. “I’m afraid a different schedule wasn’t gonna make the fairways wider. On that particular course with how we played, [the United States] had absolutely no chance. Hasn’t more than half the euros played playoffs too?” Colsaerts tweeted.

It’s never too early to get a jump on the 2020 trash talking.

Missed Cut

By the book. The USGA and R&A’s most recent rulemaking hill involved the use of green-reading materials. On Monday the game’s rule-makers unveiled new interpretations on what will be allowed starting next year.

Out will be the legal-sized reams of information that had become ubiquitous on Tour, replaced by pocket-sized books that will include a limited scale (3/8 inch to 5 yards).

While the majority of those involved were in favor of a scaled-back approach to what to many seemed like information overload, it did seem like a curious line to draw.

Both sides of the distance debate continue to await which way the rule-makers will go on this front and, at least in the United States, participation continues to be a challenge.

Banning the oversized green-reading books may have been a positive step, but it was a micro issue that impacted a wildly small portion of the golf public. Maybe it’s time for the rule-makers to start looking at more macro issues.

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S.Y. Kim leads Kang, A. Jutanugarn in Shanghai

By Associated PressOctober 19, 2018, 10:24 am

SHANGHAI  -- Sei Young Kim led the LPGA Shanghai by one stroke at the halfway point after shooting a 5-under-par 67 in the second round on Friday.

Kim made six birdies, including four straight from the sixth hole, to move to a 10-under 134 total. Her only setback was a bogey on the par-4 15th.

Kim struggled in the first half of the year, but is finishing it strong. She won her seventh career title in July at the Thornberry Creek Classic, was tied for fourth at the Women's British Open, and last month was runner-up at the Evian Championship.

''I made huge big par putts on 10, 11, 12,'' Kim said on Friday. ''I'm very happy with today's play.''

Danielle Kang (68) and overnight leader Ariya Jutanugarn (69) were one shot back.

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''I like attention. I like being in the final group. I like having crowds,'' Kang said. ''It's fun. You work hard to be in the final groups and work hard to be in the hunt and be the leader and chasing the leaders. That's why we play.''

She led into the last round at the Hana Bank Championship last week and finished tied for third.

Brittany Altomare had six birdies in a bogey-free round of 66, and was tied for fourth with Bronte Law (68) and Brittany Lincicome (68).

Angel Lin eagled the par-5 17th and finished with the day's lowest score of 65, which also included six birdies and a lone bogey.

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'Caveman golf' puts Koepka one back at CJ Cup

By Associated PressOctober 19, 2018, 10:12 am

JEJU ISLAND, South Korea – Brooks Koepka, recently named the PGA Tour Player of the Year, gave himself the perfect opportunity to become the No. 1 player in the world when he shot a 7-under par 65 to move to within one shot of the lead in the CJ Cup on Friday.

At the Nine Bridges course, the three-time major champion made an eagle on his closing hole to finish on 8-under par 136 after two rounds, just one stroke behind Scott Piercy, who was bogey-free in matching Koepka's 65.

With the wind subsiding and the course playing much easier than on the opening day when the scoring average was 73.26, 44 players – more than half the field of 78 – had under-par rounds.

Overnight leader Chez Reavie added a 70 to his opening-round 68 to sit in third place at 138, three behind Piercy. Sweden's Alex Noren was the other player in with a 65, which moved him into a tie for fourth place alongside Ian Poulter (69), four out of the lead.

The best round of the day was a 64 by Brian Harman, who was tied for sixth and five behind Piercy.

Full-field scores from the CJ Cup

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The 28-year-old Koepka will move to the top of the world rankings when they are announced on Monday if he wins the tournament.

Thomas, playing alongside Koepka, matched Koepka's eagle on the last, but that was only for a 70 and he is tied for 22nd place at 1 under.

Koepka's only bogey was on the par-5 ninth hole, where he hit a wayward tee shot. But he was otherwise pleased with the state of his ''caveman golf.''

''I feel like my game is in a good spot. I feel like the way I played today, if I can carry that momentum into Saturday and Sunday, it will be fun,'' Koepka, winner of the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship, said.

''My game is pretty simple. I guess you can call it like caveman golf – you see the ball, hit the ball and go find it again. You're not going to see any emotion just because I'm so focused, but I'm enjoying it.''

Piercy, who has fallen to No. 252 in the world ranking despite winning the Zurich Classic earlier this year with Billy Horschel – there are no world ranking points for a team event – was rarely out of position in a round in which he found 13 of 14 fairways off the tee and reached 16 greens in regulation.

''Obviously, the wind was down a little bit and from a little bit different direction, so 10 miles an hour wind versus 20s is quite a big difference,'' said Piercy, who is looking for his first individual PGA Tour win since the Barbasol Championship in July 2015.

''It was a good day. Hit a couple close and then my putter showed up and made some putts of some pretty good length.''

Australia's Marc Leishman, winner last week at the CIMB Classic in Kuala Lumpur, shot a 71 and was seven behind. Paul Casey's 73 included a hole-in-one on the par-3 seventh hole and the Englishman is nine behind Piercy.