U.S. Open week has finally arrived after what feels like an eternity since the USGA first announced the U.S. Open’s return to Merion. The golf media is going nuts over the USGA’s return to this historic venue and for good reason, it’s an incredible place. If you haven’t given it a look yet check out the profile I posted a few years ago. The course has had a few minor changes since then and the setup altered considerably to test the pros but the bones are the same.
Over the last 6 years I’ve been fortunate enough to have played Merion’s East Course a bunch, so I feel like I have gotten to know it fairly well and have grown to adore it with all my heart. It’s simply one of my absolute favorite places to play golf. Here are my thoughts on how the pros will handle the course this week based around the popular theory that the course is a three act play – Drama (Holes 1-6), Comedy (Holes 7-13) and Tragedy (Holes 14-18). I’m also going on the assumption that the course is going to play a little wet after all the rain that they have had in Philadelphia over the last week. Under firm and fast conditions I think things would be a little different.
Hole 1 – 350 Yards – Par 4 – A short par 4 for the pros. I doubt there will be any drivers hit here. These guys could take a rip at it and try to land it up near the green, but it would be a pretty foolish move when they can hit a shorter club and have a wedge for the second shot and a good look at birdie.
Hole 2 – 556 Yards – Par 5 – This hole plays all the way uphill so it’s a little longer than it looks. I think it will still be reachable in two for these guys. The fairway has been shifted to the right to bring Ardmore Avenue into play. I’ve seen a lot of balls hit out of bounds onto that street and I’m suspecting there will be quite a few this week. For the guys who want a chance to get there in two they will have to hit driver and it had better be straight.
Hole 3 – 256 Yards – Par 3 – at this distance this hole is a beast. I think it’s tough at the 180 yards we amateurs play from. Balls that come up short in the bunker are going to be a really tough up and down. It’s a blind shot from there to most hole locations. There is a tiny shelf at the back left that I suspect will be used at some point this week for a hole location. I’m told that when the hole location was used during the club championship that there were several four-putts . . . and the guys that play in Merion’s club championship are some serious amateur players. I wonder if we’ll see that this week?
Hole 4 – 628 Yards – Par 5 – The second and last par 5 on the course. I don’t expect to see many guys going for this one in two. The second shot is blind and the green is surrounded by bunkers and really long rough. We may see some drivers hit here, but I think the prudent play is something more controlled and playing this as a three shot hole.
Hole 5 – 504 Yards – Par 4 – This hole and the next are the first two holes I feel confident that we will see a lot of drivers hit. This is a long par 4 with a creek on the left side. The fairway slopes right to left as does the green. You really want to hit a cut into this green so that it hits into the hill and stops but I think that will be tough from a right to left sloping fairway. The green tilt is very severe which means chips and putts from above the hole are not likely to stop near the hole . . . and maybe not even stay on the green.
Hole 6 – 487 Yards – Par 4 – Another hole where I think we will see drivers hit. The green on this hole can be a tricky little affair so depending on the hole locations that could cause some problems.
Hole 7 – 360 Yards – Par 4 – Not only will we not see many drivers hit here, but I suspect there will be quite a few irons. This hole will begin the players scoring opportunities. The only real trouble is out of bounds on the right. With a smart tee shot and a wedge there should be quite a few birdies here.
Hole 8 – 359 Yards – Par 4 – Again, I don’t see many guys hitting driver here. the green is just too small and the rough will be too long to risk tangling with it. I’m expecting to see quite a few iron/wedge combos played here.
Hole 9 – 236 Yards – Par 3 – There is a back left tucked hole location that will be VERY tough to get at if they decide to use it (which I’m sure they will). This green has a ridge through it that will make putting difficult for balls that are on the wrong side of it.
Hole 10 – 303 Yards – Par 4 – The shortest of the short par 4s in the Comedy section and a great risk reward hole. I know amateurs who have driven this green, but it’s not a very smart shot to hit in the heat of tournament play. The USGA usually likes a driveable par 4 and this hole is going to be it. I’ll be interested to see how the players handle this one. Again with a smart tee shot and a wedge this is a great birdie opportunity.
Hole 11 – 367 Yards – Par 4 – Definitely no drivers being hit here. The fairway is very narrow and players will need to lay up short of the creek. Expect to see guys who miss the fairway pitching out short of the creek with their second shot and having to get up and down from 100 yards out to save par. Missing the fairway here takes birdie out of the equation.
Hole 12 – 403 Yards – Par 4 – Clearly the longest hole in the Comedy section, but maybe still not a driver since the hole doglegs sharply to the right. The green here is very tough even after the recent softening of the slope. At U.S. Open speeds this green is still going to give some of the players fits.
Hole 13 – 115 Yards – Par 3 – I’m sure this will play as the easiest hole on the course. There are bunkers all around this green, but with a 115 yard shot I don’t expect to see many pros missing this green. I feel like we might see an ace here this week. At one point the club used a alternate tee over by the train tracks that changed the angle of play by 90 degrees. I wonder if they will mix things up with that tee box this week.
Hole 14 – 464 Yards – Par 4 – Now its time to get serious. This hole is an uphill grind and players will definitely be hitting driver here. The hole doglegs pretty sharply to the left and I think this could be a tricky tee shot especially since it is likely that they have not hit a driver since the 6th hole.
Hole 15 – 411 Yards – Par 4 – Another hole that doglegs, but this one to the right. I don’t think driver will be necessary here and a double cross could mean hitting the ball across the road and out of bounds. Again, I think the player that controls the ball the best off the tee and avoids the rough is going to come out on top this week. This green has also been softened a bit over the last couple of years but there are still some code red putts on it, especially at U.S. Open speeds.
Hole 16 – 430 Yards – Par 4 – I don’t think we will see too many of the longer hitters using driver on this tee box as they could run out of fairway. According to my calculations (which could very well be wrong) the fairway will turn to rough about 310 yards from the tee box which will prove to be a problem for the long ball. I expect to see some shorter and more controlled drives here. Again, this green has some opportunities for some really tough hole locations so I will be interested to see what the USGA uses.
Hole 17 – 246 Yards – Par 3 – This is going to be a great hole to watch. This is one of the most fearsome par 3s I have personally played. There is not a lot of room for error to the left, right or behind. The safe miss is definitely short. The USGA has the opportunity to really get creative with the hole locations on this green. Some of the ones I have seen during regular member play are down right diabolical.
Hole 18 – 521 Yards – Par 4 – The U.S. Open tee box is WAY back on this hole. Its a tiny little swatch of grass on the other side of a service path. I’m sure the majority of the field will be hitting driver on this hole. I’ll be interested to see where they are landing in relation to the Ben Hogan plaque in the fairway where he hit is 1 iron from in 1950 (about 200 yards from the green).
I hope everyone enjoys watching the coverage and seeing a classic beauty of a golf course on TV. I know I will!!!!