Merion seeks sunshine as U.S. Open week opens
By Doug Ferguson, Associated Press
ARDMORE, Pa. -- The most popular piece of equipment Merion was not a golf club but a squeegee.
More heavy rain at the U.S. Open flooded a bunker by the 11th green and filled fairways with large puddles and tiny stream. The course was closed for four hours during the first full day of practice, and then shut down for good later in the afternoon.
Brandt Jobe played three holes when he heard a horn to stop play. Jim Herman managed to play one hole. Practice rounds are important because only a dozen or so players have ever seen this 100-year-old course, which has not hosted a U.S. Open in 32 years.
Workers were busy running squeegees across the greens and fairways during the afternoon before another downpour arrived.
"After the rain this morning, it's going to be very sloppy now," Ernie Els said. "You're not going to see a firm U.S. Open this year, I'm sorry. I don't care if they get helicopters flying over the fairways, it's not going to dry up. We're going to have a soft golf course this week -- all week."
The forecast was for mostly dry conditions Tuesday and Wednesday, followed by a 40 percent chance of rain on Thursday for the opening round.
Merion received more than 3 inches of rain on Friday, and Monday's downpours -- three of them -- didn't help. The low point on the East Course is the 11th hole, and a bunker was filled with water from an overflowing stream.
Course Superintendent Matt Shaffer said the base sand was left alone. Workers removed the silt and put about three tons of new sand in the bunker, tamped it down and "we were ready to go."
For now, officials are hopeful.
Shaffer said Merion has had two big rains, and both times the 11th green has stayed above water. And while there were tiny streams running through fairways and large pools of water on sections of the greens, the water appeared to drain quickly.
"This golf course is not built on sand, so it's got the heavier soils," USGA Executive Director Mike Davis said. "But it is maybe the best draining golf course I have ever seen. If you walk this course, you know there's hardly any flat lies at Merion."
Merion is 6,996 yards on the scorecard, the shortest U.S. Open course since Shinnecock Hills in 2004. The rough is thicker than usual compared with most recent U.S. Opens, though soft greens are a recipe for low scoring no matter the golf course.
Congressional was softened significantly by rain, and Rory McIlroy shattered the scoring record at 16-under 268 for an eight-shot win. As for the week, it rained so much at Bethpage Black in 2002 that the tournament barely finished 72 holes on Monday, with Lucas Glover winning.
Els mentioned the firm fairways because that's what can make Merion tricky. Tiger Woods, Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy were among those who came to Merion early, and they all spoke about the experience necessary to find the right angle off the tee to keep the ball in the fairway. Geoff Ogilvy played Sunday for the first time and mentioned the best driver would fare well -- but not necessarily the straightest driver.
With soft fairways, it becomes more of a target.
"Obviously with it being a little soft, it becomes a little more simple than what it was," Scott said. "The ball is just going to stop where it lands."
Davis said the USGA would try to move the hole locations to some of the higher spots on the greens to avoid standing water if it rains on Thursday. As for the fairways, even with standing water, the U.S. Open could be played as long as players could move the ball to a dry spot that didn't add significant distance to their shots.
The next two days could be crucial.
"We just need a little bit of sunshine," Shaffer said.