An early look at U.S. Open site Merion

By Rex HoggardApril 22, 2013, 8:03 pm

ARDMORE, Pa. – The calendar says late April, but the temperature gauge in the rental car reads 42 degrees, which is either an ode to the great Jackie Robinson or another example of winter’s lingering reluctance to give way.

Yet for those tasked with transforming Merion Golf Club’s hallowed East Course from a winter wonderland to a championship test, the cold morning breeze was only a temporary delay.

“It will be thicker,” Merion head professional Scott Nye smiled after depositing a golf ball in the gnarled rough right of the 14th fairway. “It will be much thicker.”

Nye’s promise is neither immodest nor mean-spirited, just a fact.

It’s been more than three decades since the national championship was played at the old cricket club, and many believe that 30-something years of technological advancements have relegated the once-mighty East Course to relic status.

Bobby Jones completed the Grand Slam at Merion when he won the 1930 U.S. Amateur, and Ben Hogan sealed his comeback following a near-fatal car accident when he won the 1950 U.S. Open on the East Course.

Plaque honoring Ben Hogan 

But as we walked down Merion’s iconic 18th fairway on Monday, Nye paused near a plaque commemorating Hogan’s famous 1-iron approach shot in 1950 to force a playoff. “That’s 213 yards (to the flag),” Nye said. For many Tour types in this century that’s little more than a 5-iron.

June’s Open will be played on the same historic turf that Jones and Hogan traversed, but in many ways it is not the same game. It’s why many believed the game had outgrown Merion. Even Mike Davis, the USGA’s thoughtful executive director who will be charged with setting up the East Course for this year’s championship, had his doubts.

“I think they’ve always been worried about the length of the course,” said Merion superintendent Matt Shaffer.

Ben Hogan

It's why Merion officials began adding new tee boxes before hosting the 2005 U.S. Amateur and didn’t stop until late 2011. When the golf world descends on the East Course the week of June 13-16 they will find a course that will play to a par of 70 and just under 7,000 yards, which is nearly 500 yards longer than it was when Merion last hosted the national championship in 1981.

Only one tee on the course, the “terrace tee” at the first, has not been extended, and one of the final pieces of the extension was added in the fall of 2011 – a 300-square-foot spit of teeing ground that was carved out of a hill and has stretched the 18th hole to 527 yards.

The return to Merion, which is hemmed in on all sides by housing and Haverford College, presents plenty of challenges for the USGA. Players will park and practice on the adjacent West Course, cross Ardmore Avenue (which will be closed during the championship) as they head to the second tee, and on Thursday and Friday half the field will begin their rounds on the 11th hole out of logistical convenience, but after touring the layout on Monday it doesn’t seem likely anyone will complain that the layout is too short.

Consider that the par-3 ninth hole will play to an estimated 236 yards, and closer to 255 yards when the pin is placed in the back left portion of the green, while the penultimate hole will range from 220 to 230 yards.

“A par here would be a phenomenal score,” Nye said.

He says that a lot, actually. Particularly when talking about the East’s “back five,” Nos. 14-18 that constitute the inward loop around the old quarry.

The 14th, which will utilize a makeshift teeing area that is actually a part of the members' putting green, is a monstrous par 4 at 473 yards; while the 15th is shorter (411 yards) with a collection of ominous-looking bunkers down the right and out of bounds waiting 1 yard off the fairway on the left.

Nye calls the 16th hole “the best chance for birdie on the back five,” despite a blind approach shot and a devilish false front to the green (for the record, many of the East’s putting surfaces have a similar feature which gives the entire layout a False Front National feel to it).

While the scorecard may leave some golf fans wondering where the rest of the course is, the subtle architecture and green speeds that are expected to reach between 12 and 13 on the stimpmeter have all been tinkered into a modern test.

Even the USGA’s normal setup philosophies have been adjusted for Merion. The intermediate cut, or graduated rough, has been a hallmark of Davis since he began setting up courses for the national championship in 2006 at Winged Foot, but at Merion those varying degrees of success will be limited.

“Merion is not a golf course that jumps out for the graduated rough like others because of the premium of short holes,” USGA Championship Committee chair Tom O’Toole recently said. “With short holes you have to play from the fairway and if you are not there has to be a punishment. You’re not going to see the graduated rough on the short holes.”

But then, players likely won’t see much fairway, either. According to Shaffer, his crew has removed some eight acres of fairway in the buildup to this year’s Open. After the Open, he said the club will likely put that manicured turf back.

It was all part of a plan to make something old, something classic, stand up to the realities of a new game. Whether those efforts will be successful remains to be seen, but on a cold April morning it certainly felt like the mission had been accomplished.

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Bergeron prevails in 24-for-1 playoff at U.S. Am

By Ryan LavnerAugust 15, 2018, 5:08 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – It wasn’t just that Jacob Bergeron prevailed in an unprecedented 24-for-1 playoff Wednesday at the U.S. Amateur.

It was how he did it – with a bogey-6, on Pebble Beach’s famous 18th hole.

“Fortunate is the first word that comes to mind,” Bergeron said afterward.

There have been larger playoffs to advance to match play at the U.S. Amateur. In 1988, 31 players competed for four spots. Two decades later, 26 players battled in a two-spotter. But Wednesday was believed to be the first time that so many players duked it out for just a single spot in match play.

It was as absurd as you might imagine.

More than a dozen players were at dinner Tuesday night, at about 8 p.m., when they noticed that the cut line drifted from 3 over to 4 over.

That forced the USGA to scramble. With so many players back in the fold, they set up a playoff format for the 24 guys to compete in six foursomes in a sudden-death format, beginning on the 220-yard 17th at 7:30 a.m. The two dozen players whacked a full bucket of 4- and 5-irons on the range, then shuttled to the adjacent third green, which was used as a practice putting green for the playoff.

Fred Lacroix of France was the first to play on a 55-degree morning. He hit a towering draw with a 4-iron inside 10 feet and sauntered back to his bag.

“At least one guy is going to make birdie,” Lacroix said later, “and I wanted it to be me.”

Instead, his birdie putt raced 6 feet past, and he missed the comebacker, too. The other three players in his group made par. Lacroix went from a potentially tone-setting birdie to a bogey that dropped him out of contention.

“Very disappointing,” he said.

With nearly 36 hours to kill before his flight home to Paris, a bummed Lacroix was asked whether he’d play one of the other stellar courses in the area.

“I don’t want to play golf right now,” he sighed.

Two groups later, Lacroix watched as Bergeron hit a 4-iron to 5 feet, below the hole.

“See,” he said, “you have to make birdie.”

And Bergeron converted, sneaking his putt in the left side.  

“You just have to ball first thing in the morning,” Bergeron said. “It’s the most extreme playoff I’ve ever been in.”

Standing behind the green, he watched as player after player failed to match him. They tried to hole 50-footers. They tried to chip in. They tried to hole bunker shots.

None of them could.

Their chances dashed, they scooped up their ball and dejectedly walked off the green. Zach Bauchou even checked a USGA official’s clipboard and shook his head.

“Somebody’s gotta go get it,” Patrick Martin said after making par when he couldn’t chip in from the right fringe. “The worst thing you can do is put yourself out of position to make birdie. It sucks to not have a realistic look at it.”

For a while, it appeared as though Bergeron’s lone birdie would stand up. Then in the last foursome, Chase Johnson stuffed his tee shot to 10 feet and Peter Kuest, the last of the 24 players to tee off, matched him.

Kuest, a junior a BYU, rammed in his birdie try, while Johnson’s putt caught the left edge and stayed out.

“Good birdie, dude,” Bergeron said, extending his hand to Kuest. They were the only two players to move on to Pebble’s 18th, one of the most iconic finishing holes in golf.

After both players hammered drives down the left side, Bergeron flared his 4-iron – the same club he’d nuked about a half hour earlier – into the first cut on the right side, stymied behind the large cypress tree protecting the green.

“A love-hate relationship with that club,” he said, smiling.

With an opening, Kuest tried to play his 195-yard approach into the center of the green, but he pulled it and hit it thin.

“Just not a good shot,” he said.

His ball hit the retaining wall and ricocheted into the Pacific Ocean. A brief search ensued, as Kuest would have at least considered playing it from the rocks, but his ball wasn’t recovered until after he finished.  

He headed back to the drop zone, where his wedge shot hit the front edge and spun off the green.

No longer needing to play as aggressively, Bergeron chipped out sideways and then pitched to 10 feet. He missed his par putt, but Kuest lipped out his 5-footer, and then missed the 8-footer for double bogey, too.

“It’s OK,” Kuest said afterward. “It’s Pebble Beach, so you can’t go wrong.”

Asked if he was surprised that his bogey-6 was enough to advance, Bergeron said: “A little. But little things like this might point to this being my week.”

The 20-year-old has already informed LSU coach Chuck Winstead that he won’t return to school for his sophomore season. After qualifying for this year’s U.S. Open, he chatted with Jason Day and Jordan Spieth about their career progressions, and they advised him to choose whatever route would make him the best player in four years. Bergeron decided that was to turn pro, and so he’s attempting Web.com Tour Q-School next month.

Of course, the rest of this week could change those plans. The U.S. Amateur finalists both receive an invitation to the 2019 Masters, and Bergeron wouldn’t miss that opportunity.

“Long way to go before that, though,” he said.

But at least his path can only get easier. He beat 23 other players on Wednesday morning. To reach the final, he needs to win just five matches, beginning this afternoon against co-medalist Daniel Hillier of New Zealand.  

“The seeding just means you have a match,” Bergeron said. “And once you get in, it’s anyone’s game.”

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As Tour heads to NJ, legalized gambling comes into focus

By Rex HoggardAugust 15, 2018, 4:42 pm

It was New Jersey and then-Gov. Chris Christie who began the crusade to make sports betting legal beyond the confines of Las Vegas, so it’s no surprise that the Garden State would be the pointy end of the gaming spear.

In May, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which had made sports wagering unlawful for the last 25 years, there was no small amount of interest among states to pave the way for a market that could be worth billions in revenue. Less than a month after the court’s ruling, New Jersey approved a bill legalizing sports gambling.

About an hour’s drive south from Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, N.J., site of next week’s Northern Trust event, Monmouth Park in Oceanport, N.J., was one of the first to open a sports book – generating an eye-catching $8.1 million handle in just 17 days after opening in mid-June – and the PGA Tour’s return to New Jersey for the first playoff tournament is sure to generate interest at the newly-minted book.

But as sports, and particularly golf, wade into the betting pool, don’t expect a wholesale change just yet. Although New Jersey was among the first states to embrace sports betting, wagers are currently limited to a few casinos and racetracks.



“I wouldn’t say the gaming would be any different than what’s currently being offered in Las Vegas or elsewhere, win bets and that type of thing,” said Andy Levinson, the Tour’s senior vice president of tournament administration.

Prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling, most professional leagues, including the Tour, came out in support of sports betting, but they did so with a few important conditions. Many professional leagues, which have been speaking to state legislators across the country for months about any potential betting legislation, wanted to safeguard the integrity of the competition.

The leagues also wanted to have a say in the types of bets that will be allowed – with the Tour looking to avoid what are called negative outcome bets, like a player missing a fairway or a green or making a specific score on a hole – and assure that sports books use official data generated by the leagues (in golf that would be ShotLink data).

And the leagues also have proposed “integrity fees,” which would likely be 1 percent of the handle from betting operators.

Last month, the NBA announced a partnership that made MGM Resorts the league’s official non-exclusive gaming partner, a move that could become the template for the Tour as the sports betting market matures.

“With the NBA deal it’s nice to see an organization like MGM is committed to integrity and sharing specific betting information with the NBA. To see a gaming operator make that commitment is very positive,” Levinson said. “If it included those protections and had that balance between fan engagement while protecting the integrity of our competition, that’s a positive deal for the NBA.”

For the sports leagues, the NBA deal is less about what kind of betting MGM will allow at its various casinos than it is a snapshot into what many see as the ultimate endgame. Part of every league’s plan is a robust online gaming element, which is seen as the only way to end illegal or off-shore betting.

“When we are speaking with legislators across the country one of the important elements includes mobile betting in legislation. The vast majority of sports betting takes place online. The current black market in the U.S. is almost exclusively online,” Levinson said. “One of the goals in creating a legal sports betting market is to eliminate that black market. If it’s not easily accessible, people will continue to use that online service.”

Other than New Jersey and Delaware, which are already developing guidelines for online sports betting, most states are taking a more measured approach. In fact, Levinson explained that since most state legislative sessions have already ended for the year it’s likely that they won’t begin to develop guidelines for sports betting until mid-2019.

 The Tour also has a few hurdles to clear. Under the circuit’s current regulations, players, partners and the Tour itself are prohibited from partnering with casinos or betting institutions. Before the circuit could move forward with any type of deal like the NBA and MGM agreement that regulation would have to be changed.

“We are in the process of evaluating that category,” Levinson said. “We are looking at a wholesale evaluation of our endorsement policy. That’s for the Tour, players, networks, other constituents.”

The Supreme Court’s ruling may have potentially opened vast new markets for the Tour and created an entirely new way to engage with fans, just don’t expect things to change yet, even as the circuit arrives on the front lines of the sports betting transformation next week in New Jersey.

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Nadal checks phone for Tiger update after match

By Grill Room TeamAugust 15, 2018, 3:04 pm

Even the greatest athletes in the world were captivated by Tiger Woods' Sunday run at the PGA Championship.

After winning his match on Sunday to capture the Rogers Cup in Toronto, Rafa Nadal turned his attention to Woods. Cameras focused on Nadal scrolling through and surveying his phone. He then revealed that he was trying to get a Tiger update from the PGA Championship, where Woods made a spirited run to solo second place.



Woods has often been seen at tennis events, watching Nike buddies Roger Federer (no longer primarily sponsored by Nike) and Nadal. Woods and his children watched from Nadal's box during the 2017 U.S. Open and Nadal was on hand at the 2017 Hero World Challenge, when Woods made his return from back surgery.

For the record, Woods has 14 major wins and Nadal has 17 Grand Slam titles, both second all-time in their respective sports.

Check out the video below as Golf World's Anna Whiteley talks to Nadal about his love of golf in the 2016 interview.

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U.S. Amateur playoff: 24 players for 1 spot in match play

By Associated PressAugust 15, 2018, 1:21 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Cole Hammer and Daniel Hillier were tied at the top after two rounds of the U.S. Amateur, but the more compelling action on Tuesday was further down the leaderboard.

Two dozen players were tied for 64th place after two rounds of stroke play at Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill. With the top 64 advancing to match play, that means all 24 will compete in a sudden-death playoff Wednesday morning for the last spot in the knockout rounds.


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They'll be divided into six foursomes and start the playoff at 7:30 a.m. on the par-3 17th at Pebble Beach, where Tom Watson chipped in during the 1982 U.S. Open and went on to win.

The survivor of the playoff will face the 19-year-old Hillier in match play. The New Zealander shot a 2-under 70 at Spyglass Hill to share medalist honors with the 18-year-old Hammer at 6 under. Hammer, an incoming freshman at Texas who played in the 2015 U.S. Open at age 15, shot 68 at Spyglass Hill.

Stewart Hagestad had the low round of the day, a 5-under 66 at Pebble Beach, to move into a tie for 10th after opening with a 76 at Spyglass Hill. The 27-year-old Hagestad won the 2016 U.S. Mid-Amateur and earned low amateur honors at the 2017 Masters.