2013 US Open: Merion Provides a Classic Test

The 18th hole at Merion, 521 yards in length, will undoubtedly challenge the world's best golfers this week.

The 18th hole at Merion, 521 yards in length, will undoubtedly challenge the world’s best golfers this week.

The 2013 U.S. Open is just days away, and as the golfing world descends on Philadelphia’s Merion Country Club, there is one main thought on everyone’s mind: Tiger Woods. It’s been five years since Woods won his last major championship at the 2008 U.S. Open, and now that he’s back on top of the world rankings, many believe it is his time to reclaim major glory. Many people believe the short 6,996 yard Merion will be dominated by Tiger.

But think again, sports fans. Merion is the epitome of a classic style course. And despite the fact that it will play under 7,000 yards, a very short layout by PGA tour standards, golfers will be challenged with some of the toughest holes in U.S. Open history. Three of the four par 3’s at Merion are longer than 230 yards, requiring many players to hit long irons or even fairway woods into challenging greens. There are only two par 5’s on the entire course, and they are both in the first five holes. Three holes (par 4’s at 5, 12, and 15) feature greens sloped so severely that players missing in the wrong spots will NOT be able to hold the green with a chip shot. And the 18th, one of the best finishing holes in major championship golf, plays at more than 520 yards.

The 17th hole, a 256 yard par 3, is one of three par 3s longer than 230 yards.

The 17th hole, a 256 yard par 3, is one of three par 3s longer than 230 yards. Beware that front left bunker!

But Merion also features decades of history and tradition. Designed in 1912, Merion first became noted as the site of the 1930 U.S. Amateur Championship, where Bobby Jones famously completed his “Grand Slam”. In 1950, Ben Hogan hit his famous one iron on the 18th hole to force a playoff in the U.S. Open just weeks after shattering his pelvis in a car accident. Hogan would go on to win the playoff. And in 1971, Lee Trevino defeated Jack Nicklaus in another playoff to win the U.S. Open. Players will tee off on the first hole just ten feet from the iconic white clubhouse and thousands of fans. And most notably, there are no flags at Merion; red and orange wicker baskets grace the flagsticks.

Tiger Woods visited Merion for the first time two weeks ago, and liked what he saw. “Merion will do very well for the U.S. Open,” Woods said to the media. “It’s going to have some holes that [players] are going to abuse the golf course with, but they’re also going to have some holes on the golf course that are going to abuse them.” It will be Woods’ next attempt to catch Jack Nicklaus and his record 18 major championships. Tiger will have to bring his A game though, as Nicklaus one said, “Acre for acre, it may be the best test of golf in the world.”

That makes sense, since Merion sits on only 126 acres of land, the smallest course on the PGA Tour this year. That has forced the USGA to make some quirky changes. Corporate hospitality tents sit in backyards of mansions across the street from #14 and #15. The driving range, scoring tent, and locker rooms sit on Merion’s West Course, located one mile away from the championship course. Merion’s current driving range will house a spectator village with concessions and merchandise tents. And only 20,000 tickets will be sold per day, making for a claustrophobic, yet intimidating atmosphere before, shall we say, “opinionated Philadelphia fans.” (Good luck Sergio!)

But the truth is, this might not be the best course for Tiger. Finesse and putting prowess are required for success at Merion, and Tiger has struggled with both recently. Shorter hitters like Steve Stricker, Zach Johnson, and Jim Furyk could find success at Merion by playing accurate, consistent golf. From experience, I can tell you it’s not an easy test of golf. In 2010, I shot 81 from the normal tees with two birdies, and a quintuple-bogey 8 on the par 3 17th. But this year’s U.S. Open will once again be fun to watch.

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