United States Open
Merion Golf Club
Merion Golf Club East Course
Yards: 6,998 as per the scorecard
Par: 70 (36-34)
Greens: Bentgrass; 6,000 square feet on average
Stimpmeter: US Open style
Rough: Bentgrass, Kentucky bluegrass, ryegrass, zoysiagrass and fescue
Water Hazards: 4
Course Architect: Hugh Wilson (1916)
Winner’s Share: $1,440,000
FexExCup Points: 600 to the winner
Defending Champion: Webb Simpson posted a final round 68 to hold off Michael Thompson and Graeme McDowell by one shot to win his first major.
Dates: June 13-16
Notes: Top 60 and ties will play the weekend
Only Francis Ouimet has won the US Open in his first start. This was 1913. That should cross quite a few guys off your list this week.
The last amateur winner was John Goodman in 1933 before he starred in Roseanne.
Since 2002, eight of the 10 winners of this event have made it their first major victory. Only Retief Goosen (2004) at Shinnecock Hills and Tiger Woods (2008) at Torrey Pines have added to their respective majors.
Rory McIlroy (2011 US Open; 2012 PGA Championship) is the only multiple major champion in the last 18 majors since Padraig Harrington won the 2008 Open Championship and the 2008 PGA Championship.
Nobody has ever won the US Open after winning the week before. That tradition will continue this year as Joost Luiten (European Tour winner) and Harris English (FESJC PGA TOUR) both are not entered.
The last person to defend the US Open was Curtis Strange in 1989.
There have been 24 tournaments this season. The Stars and Stripes have won 20 of them but Australian Adam Scott is the only player, obviously, to have collected a major.
There have also been nine first-time winners this season.
There have also been just two multiple winners, Woods (four) and Kuchar (WGC-Match Play; Memorial).
The winners on TOUR have been Johnson, D (28), Henley (24), Gay (41), Woods FOUR times (37), Mickelson (42), Snedeker (32), Merrick (30) Kuchar TWICE (34),Thompson, M (27) Brown (29), Streelman (34), Points (36), Laird (30), Scott (32), G-Mac (33), Horschel (26), Ernst (22), Bae (26), Weekley (39) and English (26). The young folks (30 and younger) now have nine victories; the 30-somethings have racked up a dozen victories, and the “old folks” (40 and up) have their two wins. Ken Duke, 44, was T17 this week to fly the flag for the over-40 crew.
Rank and File
Only 49 of the top 50 OWGR are in the field this week. David Lynn is on vacation. Nice field!
Merion Golf Club has been the theatre for history over the course of four US Opens. From Bobby Jones in 1934 to Ben Hogan in 1950 to Lee Trevino in 1971 and David Graham in 1981, Merion has held up as a design that will test every facet of the best players on the planet. This year, that same design will be seriously called into question because of the one factor that man can NOT control: the weather.
The property is stretched out to a maximum of 6,998 yards and will be the shortest US Open since Shinnecock Hills in the 2004. This old grand dame might be taken advantage of because of the saturated grounds from torrential rains that have soaked the area from late last week through Monday of tournament week. Rain, as of Monday, is also forecasted for Thursday. Merion defends herself through narrow, tilted fairways, undulated, “dinner plate” greens and bunkering and rough that will test even the most precise short-game wizards.
The greatest question this week will be how the USGA can test the greatest players in the world. If the course plays wet, sure the rough will grow up, but the fairways will hold shots; as will the greens accepting long irons and difficult chips, not to mention help those who don’t roll the rock as well as others. This could lead to plenty of birdies and plenty of saving pars. Five of the last seven US Open champions have been in the top 10 in driving distance. If this course stays wet, that could bet six of the last eight.
Merion only has two par fives and they are both in the first four holes, No. 2 and No. 4. There are short par fours that require placement over power. There are par fours that require power and placement. By all accounts, the final five holes are absolutely brutal as they stretch in and around a quarry. The first 13 holes will be where hope is found. The final five holes will be where excellence is attained and legends made and created. Olympic Club is known for its champions that were “off the radar”; Merion can make completely different argument.
All you have to do to win one of these is drive it in the fairway to the right spots, hit it on the green in the right places, not short-side yourself, eliminate three putts, know when to step on the accelerator, know when to take your double-bogey and get out, resist all temptation to dream about putting your name on the trophy, be patient with your game, the crowds, the course and the weather. Yep, that’s it.
I’m looking for a shot-maker that’s been around the block and won’t get caught up in the moments that surround winning golf’s greatest test. Driving the golf ball in the fairway is NOT overrated in this setting. Neither is getting up and down to grind it out and save par. Words like patience, strategy and placement will be on the top of the list during this week’s coverage as well. Not many players have played competitive rounds here so course history is a nice side note but the pressure of a US Open dwarfs that of a US Amateur or even a Walker Cup, which have both been played here in the last eight years.
I’ve rated quite a few players this week, great, good and indifferent.
Best of the Best
Tiger Woods: The world’s best player has found his sea legs over the last 15 months as he’s won seven times but the elusive victory that has escaped him is one of the five majors in that stretch. We’ve seen him play poorly (T37) at The Honda and the Masters (T4) and win the following time out so let’s not get too wrapped up in what happened at the Memorial. He’s the best putter most experts have seen and with a compact, tight set-up at Merion, he’ll use the club he struggles with the most the least as his driver will be only pulled on very few occasions. We saw at Royal Liverpool what he can do on courses that provide a difficult challenge and I think we’ll see more of the same this week.
Graeme McDowell: He’s never missed a cut entering his seventh US Open and I don’t expect this week to be the first as this course also sets up very well for the 2010 champion. In his last four US Open championships, McDowell has finished T18, WIN, T4 and T2 last year. He leads the TOUR in driving accuracy and scrambling and his putting has been excellent as well. Don’t forget he’s already won twice this year at the RBC Heritage (defeated Webb Simpson in a playoff) and the Volvo World Match Play on the European Tour, both in the last 60 days. Hard courses get this man’s attention!
Matt Kuchar: Hard to argue or leave off a guy who’s finished second and first in his last two TOUR events as Kuchar has been splitting fairways and holing putts with alarming regularity. His short game is the envy of most and his record in the last five majors is simply brilliant as he’s finished in the top nine three times. In his last three US Open outings he’s finished T6, T14 and T27 last year at Olympic Club. I like his game and his demeanor for a test of this magnitude.
Phil Mickelson: After watching him stiff irons all last week in Memphis, Mickelson moved up my board. After watching him miss birdie putts inside of 10 feet, I wondered if this was the correct decision. He’s played in plenty of these and he knows the clock is ticking if he ever wants to join the exclusive club that is US Open champions. He changed his prep and it seemed to work as he was engaged and playing well. Does this guarantee ANYTHING this week? No, it doesn’t but I’d prefer the sneak-peak rather than trying to deduce, like last week before Memphis, how he would react after MC at THE PLAYERS. If the ground is wet/soaked, I like him even more because his short game will become even more of an advantage as he likes to fly the ball to the hole. Also, he can hit high irons with the best of them and on wet greens, he can flag hunt all day. His last three starts on TOUR have been third and T2 last week with THE PLAYERS MC sandwiched in between so that works for me. For those of you new to fantasy golf, Mickelson has played 20 US Opens and his hit the top 10 in nine of them, including five seconds.
Jim Furyk: Another player who relishes the challenge of tough and fair golf, Furyk is 16 for 18 in our national championship and has a victory and five other top five finishes. On courses where accuracy, shot-making and par are part of the equation, Furyk’s history shows that he relishes these challenges. He is the 2003 champion and was on his way to victory No. 2 last season before a quick-hook on No. 16 at Olympic Club slammed the door on him. In that position again, I wouldn’t bet against him.
Adam Scott: The Australian poses one of the toughest “reads” for gamers because, frankly, he just doesn’t play very often. Scott is the perfect example of why I use the theory that form is temporary but class is permanent. What does that mean? It seems each year he plays the minimum of events but his rhythm is rarely affected. Remember he almost won The Open in 2012? Well, in his last six majors he’s finished T11 or better so there is nothing to be worried about. He’s got bags of talent, a Green Jacket and a big-time caddy on the bag. Too bad he’s a bit ugly or he’d have the perfect life. Oh, wait…Anyhow, his putting with the broomstick can come and go but his ball-striking is the envy of most. This is his 12th start and his best finish was T15 last year at Olympic. He’s had a pretty good run since then so I wouldn’t get too caught up in his history at this event. Focus on the talent at hand, which is immense.
Lee Westwood: Another big tournament and another Lee Westwood sighting on this list. It’s boring and predictable, just like Westwood in these events. He’s six for his last six at the US Open which includes three top 10s and not a finish worse than T36. His short game and putting have vastly improved this season and his experience should also be another reason to place him highly this week. His worst finish in his last four weekends on TOUR was T10 at Shell. Remember, he moved to the States full time to try and win one of these. He’s moving in the right direction.
Sergio Garcia: With 11 weekends from 13 starts at the US Open, this is why you like Garcia this week. Seeing that eight of those 11 finishes resulted in top 25s and four of those top 10s, this is why you love Garcia this week. One of the best short-game specialists anywhere, Garcia also has no problem splitting fairways and pegging GIR. Heck, even his putter has been an asset as he currently sits second in strokes gained-putting. His worst finish in the States in eight events where he’s finished in stroke play is T16. Shaking hands with Woods on Monday helped but I doubt the crowd will give him a break this week after his comments in England.
Steve Stricker: It’s a wonder why he hasn’t lifted a major trophy yet because his game is so, so solid. He’s always in the top 20 in fairways, GIR and putting, not to mention that he renowned as one of the best wedge players going. He’s been close with five finishes inside the top 13 in his career but is more solid than spectacular. You can take a reach on an outsider or go with “boring”; easy choice for me.
Keegan Bradley: I love the fact that he’s just a pup but he’s never missed a cut in a major. He’s made six weekends from six entries so that tells me he’s not intimidated but rather he relishes the challenge of these big events. He’s won the PGA, WGC-Bridgestone and the HPBNC so that tells me he can win in big fields on par 70 courses (Akron is not but the other two were/are). He doesn’t mind grinding it out but can also make plenty of birdies. He’s seventh in the all-around ranking.
Ernie Els: His performance last summer at The Open Championship was plenty for me when I was assessing his chances this week. He made putts and swings down the stretch that were huge under that kind of pressure. He was third in 2010, ninth last year and has already won two of these. The quirkier the course, the more I like Els and he’ll be tough enough for whatever Merion throws out there this week.
Rory McIlroy: New clubs and now new management has put a wrinkle or two in the 2013 season of the 2011 champion. At least he still has the same girlfriend or he would never see this column! He’s supremely talented and just a pup. There’s not a single reason any absolutes should be put on his shoulders at his age and let’s face it, young superstar athletes are going to be inconsistent. He proved his worth on a wet track at Congressional and a dry, burned out one at Kiawah Island. Did you know if he wins a major this year he will be younger than Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus at the time they won their third? Right. Calm down. He’s good, really good but he also comes with high-risk, high-reward this week as well. I like him later in a weekly draft than earlier.
Freddie Jacobson: His numbers for GIR and fairways aren’t to be dismissed but even if those aren’t stellar, he’s still managed a way to be fifth in scoring this season on TOUR. His short-game and putting are in the elite category and his T14 and T15 in the last two years at the US Open speak volumes to where his game has come over the recent past. His game has excelled on classic courses such as Pebble Beach and Riviera this year so he’s on my radar this week as well.
Bill Haas: Even though he doesn’t have any top 10s in 14 career majors, Haas can hit plenty of fairways and greens to be a factor this week. Couple that with his short game and greens that might not be lightning-quick and he could be this year’s Webb Simpson. His form has been outstanding as he demonstrated by finishing in the top 10 six times so far this season including T4 his last time out at a very challenging Memorial lay-out.
Justin Rose: He’s only found the weekend three times in seven starts, including only once in his last four so that’s why he’s down the list a bit. As his play has improved dramatically over the last four years even more is expected of the Englishman but his record in the Opens haven’t been as solid as his play at the Masters and the PGA. His recent form suggests that he should be trending in the right direction this week and that’s why he makes the big list, again, this week. His ball-striking and scrambling are never in question but his finish this week will depend on whether or not his putter cooperates.
Webb Simpson: I’m not asking or expecting Simpson to go all Curtis Strange this week but I like his demeanor and the totality of his game. He proved last year at Olympic that the stage wasn’t too big for him as he fired a closing round 68 to win and anyone who can do that on Sunday at the US Open commands our respect. He knows what it takes to win and is quite comfortable in his own skin and that will go a long way this week. He’s played quite a few rounds here recently and claims it to be one of his favorite courses. We’ll see!
Charl Schwartzel: The class South African has made his mark on the majors with his green jacket at Augusta in addition to making the cut in 13 of 14 career majors. As well as he putts it (16th in total putting), his ball-striking numbers are even better (15th). He has eight top 25s in the majors and is coming off T3, MC and T8 in his last three starts on TOUR.
Brandt Snedeker: He’s made the cut in four of his last six US Opens and he hasn’t finished worse than T23 in any of those. His finishes include T8, T9 and T11 so there is a correlation to his game and US Open set-ups that cannot be ignored. I also cannot ignore the fact that he’s MC in the last two events he’s played. He’s hit the top 6 in two of the last three majors he’s played (T3 at The Open; MC at PGA; T6 Augusta) and don’t forget that Webb Simpson won this off a MC last year. If he gets in one of his patented rhythms, watch out.