ARDMORE, Pa. – The affection was genuine. Even better was beating Jack Nicklaus in a playoff. So when Lee Trevino got his hands on that U.S. Open trophy in 1971, the guy who never lacked for one-liners gushed, I love Merion, and I dont even know her last name.
For this generation of stars, Merion is more like a blind date.
No other course with four U.S. Opens had to wait such a long time – 32 years – for another chance to test the worlds best players. Even with Tiger Woods back to No. 1 and winning at a ridiculous rate, so much of the talk at this major championship has been about Merion.
For years, it was considered too small to handle such a big tournament and the big hitters with their modern equipment. And with soft greens from more than 6 inches of rain in the last week, the question is whether the course will yield the kind of scores rarely seen at the toughest test in golf.
Today, the mystery of Merion will start to unfold.
Its been how long, 32 years? And with all the technology since then? Steve Stricker said as he headed to the first tee Wednesday for one last practice round. Someone asked me the other day about someone shooting a 62. And what I wanted to say was, Youre crazy. But you just dont know. We dont know whats going to happen. And in a way, thats kind of cool.
Not so cool was the weather expected for the opening round.
Merion already took a beating Friday when more than 3 inches of rain sent water over the edges of some bunkers and left small streams on fairways and greens. More rain Monday caused the course to be closed three times.
The forecast called for increasing clouds, gusts and showers this morning, with stronger storms likely to arrive around noon.
Sure, we want it firm and fast, USGA vice president Thomas OToole said. We happen to play a sport thats played outdoors. So its not a perfect world. Its not a perfect game. But we take what were dealt with.
Whether a golf course is big or small, soft greens typically are a recipe for low scores. Then again, Merion is not a typical golf course.
It measures 6,996 yards – the shortest of any major in nine years – and has seven holes in the middle that are short even by yesterdays standards.
Players typically reach for the wedge to chip out of the rough around the greens at the U.S. Open. At Merion, they could be hitting wedge into the green for their second shot on at least six holes.
The winning score has gone down in each of the last four U.S. Opens at Merion, from Olin Dutra at 13 over in 1934 to David Graham at 7 under in 1981, the last time.