As part of the Inquirer’s on-going run-up to
the U.S. Open at Merion, my former Inquirer colleague Joe Juliano
has a nice story in the Sunday sports section
on Chis Patton, who won the U.S. Amateur on the East Course in 1989.
Patton is an interesting case.In those days, the first thing you
noticed about him was that he was enormous – you couldn’t help but
notice.Patton was 300 pounds and he
was all doughy and baby-faced, hardly the stereotype image of a champion
athlete.His soft outer shell
turned out to mask an inner strength and athleticism, as the kid from Clemson
mowed down the competition at Merion in ’89.
The second thing you noticed about Patton was
that he was South Carolina farm kid with a drawl right out of"The Dukes of Hazzard."
What I’m getting at here, delicately, is that Patton
did not exactly fit the mold of the cavalcade of champions in Merion’s great past
– at least not in outward appearance.Merion is a very proper place and no member
would be so boorish as to come right out and say that, or to acknowledge it
beyond a wink, but ideally the club prefers its champions be a little more
dashing, iconic and historic, like Ben Hogan and Bobby Jones.
Merion seems to like its connection in history with
Lee Trevino (’71 Open), because he turned out a great champion and a popular
figure in the game; David Graham (’81 Open) seems to earn a measure of respect
from Merion, even if you can’t really feel the love.The club doesn’t quite seem to know what
to make of Edoardo Molinari (’05 Amateur), or know
whether it should even bother.
Chris Patton?Well, your sandwich could go stale
waiting for a Merion member to bring up his name, or, for that matter, by extension,
the ’89 Amateur. On the occasions when I have taken it upon my self to broach
the subject, say, over lunch, I’ve known Merion members to stare at their feet,
or offer a blank expression, saying nothing while their eyes say everything.
I offer you this priceless passage about Patton
and the ’89 Amateur from Merion’s 2005club history, Golf at Merion:
Smith, Merion’s president at the time, remembers Patton requesting a lunch of
three cheeseburgers, apple pie and vanilla ice cream.He then asked to use a telephone and
called home.A portion of the short
conversation has been reported as follows:
"Guess you could say I’m winnin’, Mom.Dad there?"
"Nope.He’s out fishin."
As it happens, the first time I ever
laid eyes on Merion was the Sunday afternoon of that final match, when Patton
faced Danny Green, a Tennessee riverboat gambler of a golfer, with a weird, slapshot golf swing.Green had taken down
favorite son Jay Sigel in the semifinals. It’s debatable whether a victory by
Green would have been any easier for Merion to swallow.
This was seven years before I started
covering golf for the Inquirer.In fact, I wasn’t even playing much golf at the time; my kids were little,
only two and four years old at the time, and I was lucky go get in a round or
two a year.My clubs spent long stretches
in the hall closet.
That didn’t mean I didn’t watch golf on
TV or obsess about golf.When I saw
that the Amateur was coming to town, I had to try to get over to Merion, which
I’d heard so much about.I didn’t
know or care who was in the finals; I just wanted a golf fix.
I first spotted Patton from Ardmore
Avenue, as he made his way up the 12th fairway toward the
green.It was a hot and muggy and Patton
showed the strain of the summer heat and the heat of competition in what is perhaps
the most demanding championship in golf.You’ve got to hand it to Patton: he pulled it off.
Patton eventually turned pro and
bounced around the mini tours for 14 years.He never made it to the PGA Tour and when
he retired from competition in 2004, he returned home yo Fountain Inn, S.C..
where he works on his family’s farm. Patton is happy and fulfilled; he only
plays a handful of rounds a year, and he doesn’t really miss game.
By 1999, I was covering golf, when
Casey Martin’s lawsuit against the PGA Tour was in the news.I went down to a Nike Tour event in Pompano
Beach, Fla., to do a story.On the range one day, it was Patton, who
was trying to make a comeback from an injury, who caught my eye.
He was still very big man then, although
not the 300 pounds he had been when he won the Amateur at Merion.I just remember watching as he went
about the business of limbering up and hitting balls before his round.Much to my surprise,Patton bent and stretched in ways that I
sure couldn’t.Once he began to
work his way through his stack of balls, it was clear he had a pure, sweet golf
swing that is the rare gift of the natural athlete.
In Joe Juliano’s
piece, Patton had nice things to say about Merion, remembering it as a course
where the rough is brutal but winning is all about placement, position tee
shots off the tee and approach shots into the correct area of the green.
For serious Merion-watchers, it is
impossible not to wonder who will win the U.S. Open and join the select club of "Merion champions."
They would kill for Tiger Woods to win,
or Phil Mickelson.Adam Scott
looked good in a Masters green jacket and winning the second leg of the Grand
Slam at Merion would be a dream come true for all involved.
Remember, this is more than about winning
the Open, this is about becoming part of Merion history.
If you think many of the details of next
month’s U.S. Open at Merion GC are left to chance or are done on the fly, think
again.They had worked out many, if
not most, logistical problems before the 2013 Open was ever awarded to Merion,
back in 2006.
That hit home today when I looked up an old story
I wrote for the Inquirer that ran a few days before the start of the ’06 Open
at Winged Foot, where they made the announcement.
Here’s how it began:
will say so officially, it's going to happen: Merion Golf Club is getting the
2013 men's U.S. Open.
USGA will have an announcement next week," Marty Parkes, spokesman for the
U.S. Golf Association, said yesterday. "Until the formal announcement, I
can't confirm any site."
responding to an erroneous report that said Merion would be announced yesterday
as the 2013 Open site. It was off by a week. The news conference is scheduled
for 11 a.m. Wednesday at Winged Foot in Mamaroneck, N.Y., on the eve of the
At Merion, lips also were officially zipped. Or
maybe they were just biting their lips.
A few paragraphs later, this:
But with Fay
and Davis leading the Merion charge, and with its main competition (the Country
Club at Brookline outside Boston) falling by the wayside, suddenly, all that
stood between Merion and its first Open since 1981 was the matter of working out
the outside-the-ropes logistical problems.
are no small problems. Unlike the grand-scale clubs and courses that host the
Open these days, the Merion clubhouse and its fabled East Course are tucked
away on a rather small plot of choice real estate in the middle of a
residential neighborhood in Ardmore.
to be worked out about where to put the sprawling corporate village, the
merchandise tent, the media center and parking for thousands of spectators, as
well as getting cooperation from SEPTA. Although all the details haven't been
finalized, enough have that the USGA is satisfied.
Merion and USGA sources, because of the physical constraints, several changes
or concessions will have to be made for the Open at Merion:
will be limited to 25,000 per day, down from galleries of the 40,000 to 50,000
at Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina last year.
the flow of spectators, instead of a few giant grandstands, many smaller
grandstands will be situated around the course.
Much of the
corporate village will be on the nearby campus of Haverford College. Smaller
corporate tents will be scattered throughout the neighborhood.
practice on Merion's nearby West Course and be shuttled to the East Course.
Ardmore train station within walking distance, fans will be urged to take
Like many of you, when I saw
that Vijay Singh had sued the PGA Tour for supposedly damaging his reputation over this deer antler spray
dust-up, I was amused.Okay, not
amused -- I sat there slack-jawed, in utter disbelief.
Why?Because in my years covering the PGA
Tour for the Philadelphia Inquirer, I had the displeasure of actually dealing
with Vijay Singh on plenty of occasions.The PGA Tour damaged his
reputation?Huh?If you ask me, he did that all by
You know that
word-association game, where somebody says a word and you say the first thing
that pops into your mind.With me,
mention Vijay Singh and I think, Prick. After that, maybe, Sourpuss.
I can remember 10 years or
so ago, when Vijay was at the top of his game, in the spotlight, winning
tournaments and even majors.There
was no disputing that he was very good and one of the hardest workers on the
Tour.Still, whenever his name
would climb to the top of the leaderboard, you could almost hear a collective
groan go up in the media center.Vijay being at or near the top of the leaderboard meant we had to deal
Assuming the PGA Tour could
coax him into the media center for an interview – and that was no easy
task – he would sit there sullen and moody, like a hostile witness being
cross-examining.He could be
insulted by the easiest, softball inquiry into his round or the tournament at
hand. The only question in my mind was
whether Vijay found us more distasteful than we found him.
I never could figure out why
Vijay Singh was so disagreeable.I mean, winning over sportswriters is so
easy.Rule No. 1: Don’t be a
prick.Rule No. 2: Don’t be a
The best conclusion I ever
came up with was that somewhere along the line – perhaps when he was a
young pro in 1985 and got suspended by the Asian tour for cheating – Vijay decided to shut down and shut out the
media.Eventually, the media
stopped giving him the benefit of the doubt on anything.You don’t like us; we don’t like
you.It’s like a bad marriage and
it ain’t going to change.
(Pertinent paragraph from
John Garrity’sstory in
Sports Illustrated in 2000.
There is nothing alleged or unsubstantiated about the fact that
the Southeast Asia Golf Federation suspended Singh indefinitely for altering
his scorecard in the second round of the '85 Indonesian Open in Jakarta. It's
also a fact that Singh was banned from playing the Australian PGA
circuit—not for cheating but for failing to pay off loans and
long-distance phone bills.
In 2003, Vijay crossed swords with Doug Ferguson,
the golf writer for the Associated Press, when he quoted
Vijay as saying he would WD from
the Colonial Tournament if he was paired with Annika Sorenstam, when she was
making her historic foray onto the PGA Tour.
For quite some time after that, Vijay had no use
would ask a question in a press conference and Vijay would look at him blankly,
ignore the question, then call for another question from somebody else.
From time to time, you’d hear from other
players that deep down, Vijay was a decent, generous, even likeable guy.That may be, I don’t know, but he did a superb
good job of not showing it to the media.
On occasion, he did rise to the level of not
being a total jerk.Once, I even
saw him smile.My most enduring
image of him is as a solitary figure out on the range, long after all the other
players have packed it in for the day, hitting balls into the dusk.
With D-Day for the U.S. Open
drawing ever nearer, Merion GC and the U.S. Golf Association yesterday gave the
local media a bit of a walk-through of the venerated venue, the East Course.
It was chilly, windy, and
the course is not yet in full bloom, but it looks almost ready for another star
Merion head pro Scott Nye
led the tour, pausing to describe a few holes and shots that he expects will be
especially dramatic for players and spectators in the Open, set for June 13-16.
Even if you attended the U.S.
Amateur in 2005 or the Walker Cup in 2009, you likely have not seen the new
fairway bunker they’ve installed up near the green at the par 5 2nd
hole.The idea is to create
true three-shotter by preventing long hitters from
being able to roll their second shots to the green.
Nye also went to great
length to describe the treacherous tee shot at the par 4 5th, where
the right-to-left sloping fairway will kick tee balls down toward the creek
running up the left side.At the
same time, they’ve moved the right rough down, to punish any player who tries
to play safely to the right.
More problematic than the
fairway at the 5th is the green, which could be one of the most
cruel and unusual on the course.It
is beyond slippery and it runs to fast from right to left that it will no doubt
the source of much conversation (and complaints) by players who find it
impossible to figure out.It will
also likely prove to be one of the toughest holes all week.
At the short par 4 11th,
where Bobby Jones completed the Grand Slam, they have brought the rough in on
the right to side take away what is traditionally the safest place to play off
the tee.Instead, players willbe forced to flirt with the left side of
the fairway, near the fairway bunkers.
Another big change is the
green at the 12th, which has long been among the most unforgiving
(some would say brutal) greens on the course.The problem was the slope on the front
portion of the green.Any putt
from above the hole that missed the cup could very well end up rolling off the
green and down onto the fairway. For the Open, to remove some of the slope and
create more potential hole locations, they raised the front of the 12th
green and slightly lowered the back of the green.
Nye also showed off the new
tee at the dogleg par 4 14th.For the Open, players will actually tee off from what is currently the
practice putting green, creating an even longer and more difficult tee shot.
The 15th, another
long dogleg par 4, also has been made more difficult by positioning a bunker in
the right elbow of the fairway, right at the 300 yards off the tee.The choice is play to the left,
lengthening the hole or try to blow it over the bunker.
At the par 4 16th,
the famous quarry hole, the fairway bunker has been moved from the left side,
where it presented little problem, to the center of the fairway, right in the
landing area.With the tees back,
many players will be forced to lay up short of the bunker, making for a longer
A new back tee has also been added to the
par 4 18th, which could require a carry of 260 yards to reach the
fairway.No word on whether the
USGA will use the tee but it’s there if they want it.The idea is to have most players
hitting their second shots from the general cinity of
where Ben Hogan hit his famous 1-iron shot in the 1950 Open.
Afterward, chatting with
Matt Shaffer, director of golf operations at Merion, it’s clear that the main
concern going into the Open is Merion’s length – just under 7,000
yards.How will today’s long
hitters attack the course?
The rough will be deep and
thick, putting a premium on accuracy over length off the tee, and the fairways
will be tighter than usual.But
Shaffer believes the East Course’s main defense will be its greens.When he said that, his eyes had the
gleam of a mad scientist at work in his lab.
I just got off the phone
with Jim Finegan
and he is out of rehab and doing better.A little.Slowly.
"It has been a perfect
nightmare," said Finegan,
83, the golf historian and author, who fractured his femur when he fell on the
steps in his Villanova home on Jan. 30.
After surgery and two months
in rehab, Finegan
returned home two weeks ago.He’s
getting around with a walker.He is
in no pain, to speak of.His voice
was strong and clear and his spirits were good, considering the ordeal he has
been throughThis is a man who
already endured years of chronic back pain.
"I’m doing a little better
each day," said Finegan."Some days there is more improvement
His long-term prospects,
frankly, remain a mystery."We’ll
just have to wait it out and hope it improves," he said.
There are many, many things to like about the
Masters.The splendor of Augusta
National, the traditions and history of the tournament, the importance winning
the green jacket means to the players, and, of course, the Masters is a
wonderful annual rite of spring for golfers everywhere.
But there is one thing I hate and always will
hate about the Masters.It is this
annoying and pretension business of referring to the spectators, or fans,
I frankly find it grating and syrupy the way
"patron" smoothly rolls off the lips of CBS’s Jim Nantz,
who, let’s face it, wet-kisses the Masters and Augusta National with a
reverence heretofore unforeseen.
All of this "patron" business is obviously at
the insistence of Augusta National, where members apparently do not want to
entertain the prospect that the hordes wandering their golf course for the week
are mere unwashed fans.No, fans
wear big cheese head hats, wave foam fingers and shout, "Ya,
da man!"You will see none of that at
In fact, you won’t even see a non-Masters cup
at the Masters.No kidding, when
you go through the airport-like medal detectors at the front gate of the
Masters, you will be met by employees holding stacks of green Masters
cups.If you have a soda or cup of
coffee in your hand, you will be handed a green Masters cup and asked to pour
the contents of your drink to the Masters cup.The employees are cordial enough, but
you will not take another step until the transfer is complete and the offending
soda bottle has been tossed into an official Masters trash bin.
That’s the way they want it at the Masters, and
that’s the way it is.Once you go
enter the grounds, after all, you are entering a world that is the total
creation of Augusta National.If you don’t believe me, ask CBS.
What’s the difference between a fan and a "patron?"I poked around the internet and found an
amusing column from 2007 by Seth Davis of
Sports Illustrated and CBS:
are told, annually and often, that the people who come to Augusta are not your
normal, rowdy, beery golf fans. Heck, they're not even fans. They are patrons.
Or so we're told.
believe it, folks. There are fans at the Masters. You just
have to know how to spot 'em.
Culpepper wasn't hard to spot. He's an ursine, 47-year-old telecommunications
executive from Columbus, Ga. I found him sitting cozily in his fold-up chair
beside the third fairway Thursday afternoon. Culpepper flew in this morning on
a private jet with seven of his buddies. If the most important guy in the group
is the one who owns the plane, Tommy is the second-most important. "I'm in
charge of the Bloody Mary's," he told me. "I made one gallon at my
house last night. One of the other guys is the official taste tester. We met at
the airport at eight o'clock this morning and started drinking right
is the first difference between a patron and a fan: The patron drinks when he
comes to the course. The fan starts drinking at the airport.
A few other differences Davis found
between fans and "patrons:"
other differences between patrons and fans:
wear golf spikes. Fans wear shoes, or sandals, or shoes that have holes in them
so their toes are sticking out.
tie their pullovers around their shoulders. Fans tie them around their waste.
Here’s something I never
thought I’d hear myself say again:My money is on Tiger.
Okay, that’s sort of
metaphorical, because I don’t actually wager any money with a bookie or
anything.I learned a long time ago
that whenever I get the itch to gamble, I might as well save myself a lot of
time and aggravation by just tossing that money out the car window.
Still, if I was a betting
man, I’d be betting on Tiger to win his 5th Masters this week.Count me among the legion of skeptics
who never thought Tiger would fight and will his way back from the brink to
where he is today.His swing looks
better than it has in years, his confidence seems to be restored and his
personal life is at not the source of embarrassment and ridicule.
Come on, the guy has won three
times already this year and we’re not even out of April.He might not be the Tiger to a dozen
years ago, but the Tiger of the moment has reclaimed No. 1 in the world.
The pressure to win, of
course, is on.The chaos in his
personal life, the drought in the majors, the need to get back to winning the
big ones if he is ever going to catch Jack Nicklaus, is all coming to a head
this week in Augusta.If he wins,
it will be great for him and great for golf.If he fizzles, or flubs it on the
weekend, the air will go out his whole campaign to restore his old life.
Truth be told, I like the
Tiger of now better than the Tiger of that earlier era.He’s got a few more miles on him now,
and with that comes some perspective, maturity and wisdom.Really, the scandal and career detour
has served to make him and us realize he’s human.
Anyway, I’m pulling for
him.If he can’t win, my backup
choice is for Phil to win his 4th green jacket, which would tie him with
Tiger.Damn, wouldn’t either guy
winning be a great day for golf?