Unattended alcohol sitting on a college campus is begging for trouble.
In the week following the U.S. Open, $10,000 worth of alcohol was stolen from the U.S. Open Trophy Club tent that resided on the lawn of Haverford College right down the road from Merion Golf Club, according to Philly.com and the Haverford Township Police.
The USGA spectator guide describes the Trophy Club as "an exclusive on-site, air-conditioned pavilion with
live U.S. Open coverage located at Haverford College, approximately 400
yards from the clubhouse parking area and the 18th hole at Merion Golf
The logistics of stealing $10,000 worth of liquor don't seem simple. This was quite the operation. Could it be fans who were denied entry seeking their revenge? Was it players who suffered through four rounds of sloping fairways and calf-high rough? Or was it just college freshman who wanted some free booze?
Rory McIlroy has a tough week at the U.S. Open, and his wedge paid the price.
McIlroy, the 2011 U.S. Open champion, has been in a slump for much of the season. En route to a 14-over finish for the tournament Sunday, McIlroy lost his second shot into the creek that protects the 11th green at Merion Golf Club. After the water ball, McIlroy's psyche wasn't the only thing bent out of shape.
ARDMORE, Pa. -- Like a child who outgrows his first pair of expensive tennis shoes, Snedeker thinks the U.S. Open has gotten too big for vintage Merion.
"As great as this week was, I think the U.S. Open has kind of moved past one of these venues," said Snedeker, who finished at 10-over par, good for 17th place. "It's been great to be part of it. I love the history here, but there's so much more that goes in a U.S. Open than just golf. I don't think it is unless something happens drastically in the next ten years where they're able to move some stuff around or redo the routing around here. We had some problems here."
Snedeker, seventh overall in the World Ranking, was a rare exception in the otherwise overwhelming support among pros for a return trip to Merion. Snedeker added that the golfers had help for handling the logistics. It was the fans who suffered from the smaller venue.
"Only letting 15,000 people experience this championship is probably on the low end," Snedeker said. "It would be great to see 40,000 or 50,000 fans out there to enjoy it. I thought they did the best with what they had. It was just from an infrastructure standpoint, it's just lacking a few things. And they did the best with what they could, and they used homes. They did what they could to make this the best way possible and it ran great."
Snedeker re-emphasized that none of the players complained about the setup, but the tournament had outgrown venues like Merion.
"Just from an infrastructure standpoint, from a fan standpoint, from a global marketing standpoint, I feel like this tournament needs more space to put on a championship in the right way," Snedeker said.
As the final groups snuck in their last holes Friday, the projected cut line at the U.S. Open had jumped to 7-over. Dustin Johnson (ranked 19th in the world) and Brandt Snedeker (7th) went to bed outside that mark, but after the sun rose on Merion, the cut settled at 8-over, so Sneds and DJ got to hang around for the weekend.
Several other top players didn't wake up to similar news, but they might be glad not to see Merion's red wicker baskets anytime soon. The historic course didn't treat many of the world's top players too kindly.
The biggest disappointment
might be Graeme McDowell [right]. Tabbed by analysts to be in the final
groups on Sunday, the No. 8-ranked player in the world had more double-bogeys (7) than birdies (5) and only hit 60.8 percent of fairways in his two rounds of 76 and 77.
"This place is very
hard," said McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open champ. “I'll shake it off and I'll get ready for The
Open Championship in a few weeks time. That's my next target.”
Short-hitter Zach Johnson
was a popular sleeper pick to compete at Merion's course where driver distance
would be neutralized. Not the case. He hit 22 of 28 fairways, but finished with
rounds of 74 and 77 for a total of 11-over. The 2007 Masters champ didn't mince words after his round, according to the Golf Channel.
“I would describe the whole golf course as manipulated,” Johnson said. “It just enhances my disdain for the USGA and how it manipulates golf courses."
The leader in fairways hit, Jordan
Hicks, who hit 13 of 14 each round, didn't translate that success to the course
as he finished 76-73. Another short knocker, Tim Clark, finished 70-79.
Keegan Bradley could only watch as playing partners Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker hung around the top of the leaderboard Friday afternoon while Bradley languished behind. His 77-75 sent him packing for the weekend.
On the 10th anniversary of
his 2003 U.S. Open victory at Olympia Fields, Jim Furyk exited stage left after
a 77-79 in his home state. Furyk has struggled at other Open venues, but seemed legitimately sad at this being his last competitive round at Merion.
"And then to come back here is a bummer," Furyk lamented. "Later in my career at 43, there's not going to be another tournament here at Merion through my career, at least not maybe until the Champions Tour."
He sounds like the only player who isn't going to have nightmares featuring wicker baskets and mud balls for weeks.
Photo: Graeme McDowell at Merion on Wednesday (Getty Images).
Garcia is even through three holes, although he hooked his tee shot O.B. on the 14th hole before play was suspended due to heavy rain. Garcia and playing partners Padraig Harrington and Stewart Cink started play on the 11th hole.
The selection of Merion Golf Club for the 113th U.S. Open was an expensive decision for the USGA. The small size of Merion (just 111 acres) and its location in the heart of a well-populated suburb just miles from Philadelphia forced the USGA to limit ticket sales. According to Bloomberg Businessweek's Michael Buteau, the USGA is set to lose $10 million on the event.
In acknowledging history, the USGA is squeezing a 21st Century event, its fans, sponsors and media into a course built 117 years ago. Merion, in suburban Philadelphia, is about half the size of last year’s U.S. Open host, San Francisco’s Olympic Club.
Ticket sales were limited to 25,000 a day, down about 45 percent from the typical 40,000-45,000. Fewer fans means less revenue from concessions and merchandise. The USGA, which governs the sport in the U.S. and Mexico, is expecting to lose $10 million on the event, according to a person with knowledge of the organization’s finances. The person was granted anonymity because the information isn’t public.
“I don’t think we’ll make up for the loss,” Sarah Hirshland, senior managing director of Business Affairs for the USGA, said in a telephone interview. “Clearly these line items will look different this year.”
We've never selected a U.S. Open based on money. We want to be fiscally responsible; we know that's the engine that drives everything we do. I don't want to get off-topic, but the amount of money we put back into the game is significant. If you conservatively look at what the USGA has spent directly back into the game, it's almost a billion dollars in the last 12 years. There isn't anybody putting that kind of money back into the game. So we do need to be responsible.
But will the USGA lose money?
We find that when we go to a big venue like Bethpage or Pinehurst, they make millions and millions of dollars more. You go to a little site like Oakmont, Winged Foot, they will make some money, but after expenses, not a significant amount. And I'm excluding the television rights fee, because with that it doesn't matter if it's a big or a small site. But when you go to an ultra-small site like Merion, it's true, we won't make money -- in fact, we'll lose some money. But we look at it from a standpoint of a five-year period, and we're very comfortable with where we are.
ARDMORE, Pa. -- They say the camera adds five pounds, but what it really does is mask the difficulty of a golf course.
Merion is full of quirky tee boxes, tricky greens and old-school charm rolled into 111 acres that will look relatively tame on television. Yes, you’ll see Merion’s red wicker baskets instead of flags on your screen, but, much like Augusta National, you’ve got to be here to appreciate the difficulty the players will face. Dick Conway [right] has been a member at Merion Golf Club for 37 years and offered to serve as our unofficial tour guide this week.
That's not the case anymore. Standing on the tee box of Merion’s closing hole, stretched back to play 521 yards, players will see a fairway slanted dramatically from right to left -- where a 300 yard drive is perfect but a 310 yard drive is too far and in the rough -- and a green that’s shaped like a barrel lying on its side. Not quite the level plains from Hogan’s picture.
As Conway navigated through the tidy layout during rainy afternoon practice rounds this week, his recurring theme was that Merion is a thinking man’s course. Each shot requires more precision and thought than the next.
The tee shot on No. 2 is a prime example. The 556-yard par-5 had its fairway pushed closer to the road that runs along the entire right side of the hole, part of a project that reduced the acreage of the fairway down from 26 to 18 to prepare for the Open, while the rough was thickened on the left side. But the closer you flirt with hazards -- as is true in most places on the course -- the better position you’ll be in for your approach shot. A tee shot that hugs the right-hand side of the fairway will be in prime position to avoid the cross bunker looming 35 yards before the green. To reach level ground for a chance to go for the green in two requires a drive that gets far enough up the steady incline onto a level landing area.
And this is considered an easy hole!
“I think a local caddie can save a stroke a hole out here,” said Conway, who volunteered at the course during the ’05 U.S. Amateur and the ’09 Walker Cup.
The fifth hole will look tame on television. The dramatic sloping nature of the 504-yard par-4 isn’t apparent in the USGA’s flyover video above, but the players will understand the inherent risks. Several pros spent a chunk of their practice rounds hitting pitch shots to different areas on the green and watching each one funnel down toward a creek that runs the length of the hole down the left side. On their approach, players will hit a long iron off an assured side-hill lie to a green that looks like an adult sitting down on the left side of a seesaw across from a toddler.
“I tell all of my guests to aim for the left side of the green near the creek with your second shot because every ball winds up down there eventually,” Conway said. “It might as well be on your second instead of your third or fourth.”
The 11th green is the lowest point of the golf course, hence the flooding that occurred on Monday that led to it being closed for the entire day. But even closed, that green still affected every other putt on the course because every green has grain with varied intensity that pulls balls towards the 11th. Back-to-front sloping greens -- like the 6th, directly above the 11th hole -- lead to lightning-fast putts when you face a downhill putt with the grain pushing downhill.
The course is essentially split into two halves by Ardmore Avenue, and the 11th is in one corner of the course. The 16th hole is on the opposite end, but it still can’t escape the force of that green.
“It’s half a mile away, but when you’re putting uphill on that green the grain is so strong that I’ve taken a level out there to make sure I’m still putting uphill,” Conway said.
Other quirks not seen on TV: The course has nine east-to-west holes and nine north-to-south holes to allow for wind to give players a drastic different direction from hole to hole. Several shots are blind. Merion isn’t drastically hilly, but the Pennsylvania farmland paired with an old rock quarry allows for elevation changes that cause players to hit elevated greens from blind shots in valleys of fairways. The front of the small 8th green breaks from left to right while the back breaks right to left. (“I don’t think the players will notice that change immediately; it’s one of the hardest greens out here to read,” Conway said.) Stumpy wooden posts line many fairways that are adjacent to the road. Many of the posts on No. 14 and 15 were cut down in order to allow balls to run more freely into the street and out of bounds. The 8th tee box is four steps off the 7th green. When you leave the second green, you walk across the 6th hole to get to the 3rd tee box.
So much to soak in. And it doesn't get any easier.
“And I’m still learning things out here after all this time,” Conway said.
The USGA historically tries to keep the winning score at the U.S. Open around even par, even a few strokes over. Or so we all thought.
In a press conference Wednesday morning, executive director Mike Davis said USGA officials don't sit around worrying about the winning score. "It's not something we use as a metric for success," Davis said. "If you see 14-under win or 5-over win, we want to know if the course was played appropriately."
To play the course appropiately might be difficult to do in the severe thunderstorms and hail on the radar for Thursday. But so far this week, the drainage at the historic course has been the MVP, allowing players to get in full practice rounds Tuesday after a stormy Monday. Davis said the USGA will take a reactionary approach to whatever Mother Nature throws at them the rest of the week.
"We happen to play a sport that's outside," Davis said. "It's not a perfect world. It's not a perfect game. A lot of times you just have to see what you're dealing with."
Merion has several holes that Davis can tinker with to give players different looks throughout the tournament. He's shooting for an estimated 13 on the Stimpmeter on all greens even with the rain, with the exception of the severely sloped No. 5 green that will be played closer to 12. The 13th can play under 100 yards, opposed to the other par 3s, which measure 236 yards, 246 yards and 256 yards, respectively. Other holes like No. 10 (303-yard par 4) are already driveable, but Davis' crew might make them more enticing to long bombers who might need a birdie.
"We did that during the Walker Cup [in 2009], and it was wonderful," Davis said. "At this point, I don't think we know for sure. When you think about making a hole shorter, you think about the risk and reward. We would have to be convinced that a percentage of the players would try it, and there would have to be a big enough chance they could pull it off."
Photo: Mike Davis at Merion on Wednesday (Getty Images).
The most famous snake in golf is dead, according to Lee Trevino.
First, some background. Facing Jack Nicklaus in an 18-hole playoff at the 1971 U.S. Open at Merion, Trevino pulled a rubber snake out of his bag on the first tee. (He had the snake in his bag from a photo shoot earlier that week, at right.) Nicklaus asked to see the snake, so Trevino tossed it to him, which caused a nearby woman to shriek and distracted Nicklaus. Trevino went on to win the playoff. Some charged Trevino with gamesmanship, though Trevino and Nicklaus disagreed, according to Golf Magazine’s Joe Passov. Whatever the case, the snake has entered the game’s lore, so Trevino was asked about it during a press conference at Merion on Tuesday.
Q. Lee, do you still have the snake? It's kind of like Hogan's 1 iron.
LEE TREVINO: It died. It's been 42 years ago. No snakes live 42 years. [Laughter.] Come on, man. Where the hell, what did they teach you in journalism school? Not about snakes, right?
“When you mention Merion I say, yeah, that's where I beat that guy.”
On mud balls:
"I had an advantage in the mud. I hit a low ball. Very seldom my ball ever picked up mud because I went so low that it cleaned itself before it stopped rolling. You think about that. You think that's funny, but it's true. And you have to adapt your game to that. If your ball starts picking up mud out there and you're going up here, brother, you better bring this baby down here. And the lower you hit it, it's not going to pick up mud because it will absolutely clean itself before. All this theory about, oh, if the mud's on the right it will go left and if the mud's on the left it will go left and believe me, that's a bunch of baloney. You don't know where the hell it's going to go when that mud is on there."
On the U.S. Open champions dinner Tuesday night:
"We tell the same stories but we have forgotten them. We tell the same jokes but we have forgotten them. We all laugh like hell."
On the media:
"I've been watching you guys, I've been watching you on the channel and y'all are asking too many silly questions."
CHEYENNE WOODS: The U.S. Open is usually one of the most grueling weeks of golf. So what would you do off the course in order to be at ease and relax? (Laughter.)
TIGER WOODS: Didn't expect that. Well, off the course, we have a great crew at the house and we're going to have fun. Tomorrow, make sure you're is it 6:30 dinner? Is that all right? Okay. Perfect. So just relax and have a good time and get away from it and when it's time to play, it's time to play. But overall we're just going to get away from it and not really watch any golf. When it's time for me to get ready, I'll get ready.
Here’s video from Back9Network of Cheyenne at the press conference here (the Tiger exchange starts at the 1:10 mark: