PRESS PASS
Chris Patton 
 
An iconic Open champion for Merion, pretty please
Monday, May 20, 2013
By Joe Logan

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 2005  club history, Golf at Merion:

 

Scott 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:

            "How’re ya doin’, son?"

"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.

 

 

 


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The Open at Merion: 8 years in the planning
Friday, May 10, 2013
By Joe Logan

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:

 

While nobody will say so officially, it's going to happen: Merion Golf Club is getting the 2013 men's U.S. Open.

"The 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."

Parkes was 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 2006 Open.

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.

Still, they 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.

Details had 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.

According to Merion and USGA sources, because of the physical constraints, several changes or concessions will have to be made for the Open at Merion:

Spectators 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.

To reduce 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.

Players will practice on Merion's nearby West Course and be shuttled to the East Course.

With the Ardmore train station within walking distance, fans will be urged to take SEPTA.

 

Not much has changed in the planning since then.

 


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Vijay Singh is a sourpuss
Thursday, May 9, 2013
By Joe Logan

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 himself.

 

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 with him.

 

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 prick.

 

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’s story 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 for Ferguson.  Fergie 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.


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Scott Nye, Merion head pro 
Merion gets ready for its star turn
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
By Joe Logan

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 turn.

 

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 will  be 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 approach shot.

 

 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.


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Jim Finegan 
Jim Finegan, Update No. 4
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
By Joe Logan

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 through  This 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 than others."

 

His long-term prospects, frankly, remain a mystery.  "We’ll just have to wait it out and hope it improves," he said.

 

Earlier posts here: Update 1, Update 2, Update 3.


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Not a fan, a patron 
Why must the the Masters call them ’patrons?’
Thursday, April 11, 2013
By Joe Logan

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, "patrons."

 

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 the Masters.

 

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:

 

We 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.

Don't believe it, folks. There are fans at the Masters. You just have to know how to spot 'em.

Tommy 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 away."

This 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:"

Some other differences between patrons and fans:

Patrons wear golf spikes. Fans wear shoes, or sandals, or shoes that have holes in them so their toes are sticking out.

Patrons tie their pullovers around their shoulders. Fans tie them around their waste.

Patrons sit in the shade. Fans soak up the sun.

 

 

 

 


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Phil and Tiger 
My money is on Tiger
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
By Joe Logan

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?


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