PARALYSIS BY ANALYSIS
Ron Romanik 
Merion from a different angle
Sunday, June 16, 2013
By Ron Romanik

I understand the logistical and player considerations for not letting spectators behind the 16th green and 17th tee. The disruption to the flow of the round would have exacerbated the slowness of the rounds and the chaotic atmosphere would have been difficult for the players to tolerate.

 

I was lucky enough to get access to a spot behind the 17th tee late in the day on Saturday. As cool as it is to watch players shape drivers off of the par-fives this week, it was quite an eye-opener to watch the variety of shots that these golfers tried to get it close on 17.

 

Some of the variety came from the fact that each golfer has his own natural ball flight, but a good deal of variety was also caused by the particular demands of that hole. Of the 20 shots I witnessed, none were the same shape.

 

The pin position was back and to the right, below a slight ridge both in front and from the left. All the players knew the pin was going to be there, as during practice rounds many were gauging the speed they needed to negotiate the ridges. From the left side of the green, for instance, putts had to delicately and slowly cross the crest of the ridge to settle down near the pin. Any extra oomph, and the comebacker could be five feet.

 

To generalize, the biggest hitters tried to high fades that landed just short of the ridge, in hopes that it would release over the ridge and settle near the pin. Two of the best were by Rory McIlroy and Nicolas Colsaerts, which started perfectly at the left side of the green, landed center, and wound up nicely near the hole. Colsaerts’ was higher, probably the highest of the day. What was also similar about these two shots was the club. Both hit it with old-school, 3- or 2-iron forged blades.

 

By contrast, Padraig Harrington hit a low, frozen rope three-wood, I believe, trying to skip it through the false front. One of the most inventive shots came from Tiger, with a choked down 3-wood. He set up facing the left grandstand and hit the kind of controlled slice that only Tiger attempts regularly in competition. The ball started left of the left bunkers curved about 30 yards and landed softly left-center of the green, settling less than 20 feet from the pin.

 

As he has sometimes done before with shorter clubs, Tiger this time was trying to roll the most makeable putt—from the tee 254 yards away! If the ball had landed only 10 feet deeper into the green, he probably would have been inside Rory.

 

Mickelson’s shot, which he called his best of the day, was a nicely rounded draw that achieved a similar result to McIlroy’s and Colsaerts’.

 

If you get a chance on Sunday, stand behind a Billy Horschel drive or long-iron. His trajectory is so consistently high and straight, it’s no wonder he expects to hit every green in regulation.

 

Earlier in the day, it was nice to see a player not take himself too seriously on the 17th. After an adventurous romp through hill and dale, Welshman Jamie Donaldson holed out for a six, turned to the crowd, and raised his hands for a victorious double fist-pump. The grandstand crowd ate it up.

 

Putting it out there

 

If you’re watching on TV, it’s impossible to appreciate the difficulty of putting Merion’s greens. There are so many small contours that only show up when a player misses a six-footer by three-inches.

 

Watching players negotiate the seemingly benign sixteenth green pin position, I was able to formulate a new way to explain players’ struggles on these tricky greens. Because they are so fast and slopey, the strategic analysis of each is different that normal, even for these guys.

 

Normally, you pick a line you think will get you too the hole, then you pick a speed to match that line. If the two don’t match up in your imagination or by closer inspection of the green or slope, you adjust.

 

On these greens, and at many major championship and A-level tour events, players must pick the speed first, then figure out if there’s a line that can get them to the hole. Actually, "pick" the speed is not always accurate, especially on downhill putts. There’s often only one option—it’s the speed the putt necessitates. And, many times, there might not be a line, at that speed, that they can hit it on to stop it near the hole.

For instance, if there’s a crest, even a subtle one, running between the ball and the hole at a diagonal on a downhill putt, there may simply not be a line where you can aim far enough down the ridge and not risk a long putt coming back. Either from running it by or from getting on the wrong side of the ridge. That’s why you see the ball settle a few inches to the low side of the hole so many times. And the farther you are from the hole, the more often this happens on these greens.

 

To put it bluntly, there are some downhill 20-foot putts that are, for all intents and purposes, impossible to make under tournament conditions. That’s because the players won’t risk the high probability of a three-putt by taking a line that only has a slight chance of success anyway.

 

Spectator tip

 

This is the last time I’m saying it: Bring binoculars!!

 

Twitter: @RonMyPhillyGolf.

 

Ron Romanik is principal of the brand, packaging and PR consultancy Romanik Communications (www.romanik.com), located in Elverson, PA. His full bio is here.

 

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Ron Romanik 
My dark horse is in the hunt
Saturday, June 15, 2013
By Ron Romanik

 

There were actually two smiling lefties keeping it together on the course on Friday. One you may know--he shot an uneven 72 to maintain a tie for the overnight lead. The other smiling lefty, Edward Loar, bested that score by one with a tactically proficient, sometimes inspired, four-birdie 71. He stands only five back at 144.

 

On Wednesday, I picked Loar as one of my two dark horses for the week, along with Dustin Johnson. I’ll take partial credit for making a good pick in Dustin, as his separated-at-birth Belgian twin, Nicolas Colsaerts, is still in the hunt.

 

The main reason I looked at Loar goes back to "Golf’s Longest Day"—the Open’s day of Sectional Qualifiers. After watching countless earnest college kids joylessly grind out the final stretch, I was stuck by the contrast of the big Texan with a toothy grin actually seeming to enjoy the moment. Of course, he did finish eagle-birdie-birdie to secure his spot. That would put a smile on anyone’s face.

 

I thought to myself: "That’s refreshing to see. That’s a guy I’d like to have a beer with." This, in fact, appears to be the type of pro many fans are pining for these days, and the distinction is literally tearing the golfing world apart (exaggeration for effect). Tiger, in many fans’ estimation, does not fit this definition, as some fans keep making up new excuses not to like the guy.

 

I would argue that this definition of fan affiliation is, ironically, why there is so much Bubba love out here on the East Course. I guess there doesn’t have to be a jarring disconnect in wanting to share a beer with a guy that doesn’t drink. Nevertheless, golf certainly could use a few more "regular" guys that fans can identify with.

 

But back to my man Loar, who is currently sporting a five-day, unmanicured, regular-guy beard. While many golfers suffered through Friday’s round with dour faces, hoping for an easy hole that never came, Loar took it one shot at a time. Through tough stretches of the course, he took what the course gave him and bided his time, waiting for opportunity, and enjoying himself.

 

I caught up with Loar after the round, and asked if perception was reality, and that he was gladly rolling with punches, even on a torture test like Merion. "Yeah, it’s golf!" he grinned through his light Texas drawl. "You know, I’m lucky to get to play golf for a living, and I try to enjoy it every time. Granted, this a really difficult challenge, but it is enjoyable."

 

Loar, at 35, is not a complete unknown, as he has won twice on the Web.com tour. Between spying on other groups in contention, I was lucky enough to catch the three birdies on Loar’s last nine holes of the day. Though he didn’t reach No. 2 in with a utility club on his second shot, the ball ended up in an ideal spot just short of the green.

 

One of the best shots I saw all day was Loar’s perfectly carved approach to the impossible fifth hole. If you don’t know already, the fifth green pitches severely right to left. Loar’s approach was drawing against the slope when it landed, softly, just 15 feet from the cup. At nine he had a great look at birdie from above the hole, but couldn’t convert. And on 10, he took an aggressive line with the driver to the collar for a two-putt birdie from 90 feet.

 

An impressive 71 on a course set up for pain, and only a 11 players of the 154 still playing shot a better score for the second round. When his round hit a few bumps, he was mentally prepared: "You’re going to have, obviously, some struggles. It’s the U.S. Open, and it’s a hard golf course. But I was able to hang in there. Like I’ve been telling people all week, you’re going to see a lot of birdies, but you’re going to see a lot of train wrecks."

 

And he was able to enjoy the moment, outside of himself, and persevere through his minor train wrecks. His honest assessment of the birdie on No. 5 that righted his ship: "That was awesome! I really needed it. I was off to a real good start, then I had a double bogey and a bogey. I hit a great 4-iron in there from 221. Probably the best shot I hit all day." Keep an eye on this guy, regular or not, when he moves back up to the "regular" Tour next year, as he seems poised to do, and maybe more "regular" guys will join him there.

 

But is it golf?

 

Par is just a number. The leaders are actually tied at 5-under, or 7-under, 9-under, depending on whether you think the East Course is a par 72, 73, or 74. There are valid arguments for each belief. There are two par-fours that play like par-fives, and two par-threes that play like par-fours.

 

Several pros, including Tiger and Jim Furyk, couldn’t help themselves but point out the obvious. The pin positions were brutal, just brutal.

 

Yes, it is golf. The USGA’s goal is to force players to play as many different shots under trying conditions. Around Merion, every facet of a golfer’s game will be tested.

 

Just remember when watching on TV that photography flattens contour and slope, so what you see is not reality. In truth, there are almost no "easy" chips, and even some three-footers will break a hole or more.

 

Spectator tip

 

Bring Binoculars!! The course is so wide open that you can watch action across several holes with relative ease. For instance, behind the 17th green, you can watch, the approach shots to the picturesque 18th. I watched the ninth tee and green from the second fairway!

 

Twitter: @RonMyPhillyGolf.

 

Ron Romanik is principal of the brand, packaging and PR consultancy Romanik Communications (www.romanik.com), located in Elverson, PA. His full bio is here.

 

 

 


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Ron Romanik 
Observations from the first round
Friday, June 14, 2013
By Ron Romanik

I have the Thursday night exclusive scoop: Sources say Phil flew out to San Diego after Thursday’s round in the hopes of repeating his first round formula for success. In a related story, Lee Westwood revved up his jet before reconsidering an overnight trip across the pond.

 

I predicted someone would hit a wicker basket, I just thought it would be Tiger. Instead, Lee Westwood’s ball on 12 ricocheted back off the green, and he wound up with a double-bogey. Lee later sarcastically tweeted: "So much tradition at Merion to talk about......like those delightful wicker baskets!"

 

But on to broader topics of import during the first round of the Championship. Hoping as I was to see some aggressive tee club selections, I was disappointed when following the bomber trio of Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, and Nicolas Colsaerts as they eschewed driver on so many holes and went with irons on short par-fours. On their last hole of the day, the 10th, Dustin was the only player of the group to take an aggressive line, hitting a 5-wood to the greenside bunker for a relatively easy up-and-down birdie.

 

On the previous hole, No. 9, not many players were attacking the pin, which was placed fiendishly in the back left over a gaping bunker. Both Colsaerts and Watson, however, stuck high long-irons left of the pin inside 10-feet. However, that left them with slippery downhill putts, which neither made. Dustin was 15 feet below the hole to the right, but he couldn’t convert either.

 

After the round, Dustin explained is simple strategy for the day (paraphrasing): Get it in the fairway; get it on the green; get it under the hole; hopefully make a few putts. He couldn’t heed his own advice on No. 5, however, when his third shot, a short pitch, stayed above the hole, which he probably thought was impossible on that green, the most severely sloped on the course.

 

Late in the day, I happened to run into Tom Fazio sauntering down the spectator rail on the 15th hole. Fazio is famed golf course architect who helped make subtle and not-so-subtle changes to the East Course in preparation of the U.S. Open. I asked him if he was surprised that more players weren’t attempting more aggressive shots off the tees. His quick response: "No. Because it’s Thursday. Come moving day, Saturday, and Sunday, you might see something a little different." Look for more on our conversation later in the week.

 

More Notes:

 

I joked before the tournament that Mickelson would probably leave the driver home and put seven wedges in his bag. Well, he put five wedges in there, with degree lofts of 64, 60, 56, 52, and 48.

 

Sometimes when Chamblee starts off on a tangent with a tenuous tie to reality, Nobilo just looks far off into the distance. It seems like he’s thinking either: "Oh brother" or "There he goes again."

 

Nobilo on Scott’s apparent new level of performance: "Confidence is fickle, Belief is much more permanent." How come few give credit where credit is due. Steve Williams is definitely a significant factor in Scott’s ascendence and confidence—and belief.

 

How often do you see a player pick up the tee on a par-three before the ball lands on the green. Adam Scott did just that when his shot on No. 3 was covering the pin.

 

Ron Romanik is principal of the brand, packaging and PR consultancy Romanik Communications (www.romanik.com), located in Elverson, PA. His full bio is here.

 

 


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Ron Romanik 
Wednesday afternoon at the Open
Thursday, June 13, 2013
By Ron Romanik

 

USGA’s Mike Davis pointed out on Monday that there are 11 holes at Merion with some element of "blindness" in them. This total includes holes that you wouldn’t call completely blind, or even think of as blind per se. On No. 2, for instance, most drives end up on an upslope where the layup area and green are obscured by the slope. And No. 11 technically has a blind tee shot because the player can’t see the landing area from the tee, even though the fairway guides the player pretty well from the tee.

 

So, the winner of this U.S. Open is likely to be one of the most cautious, tactical players out there. I’m not sure who that is, but Steve Stricker comes to mind, and he was in good form on Wednesday afternoon, hitting to laser-straight tee balls to the center of the 9th green with two different clubs. This man’s personality defines patience and calculated strategic decisions.

 

I’d love to see a big hitter like Dustin Johnson or Nicholas Colsaerts just throw caution to the wind this week and "Go big or go home." Calculating the risk/reward equation on every short par-four isn’t worth the time and effort. As long as those guys are, the odds would probably tilt toward aggression on many holes over the long run.

 

Ideally, it would be most interesting to have a second, shadow U.S. Open next week where players were required to hit driver or three-wood off every par-four. That would be fun to see all the different kinds of recovery shots players would face around the greens. With the rough as thick and dense as it is, though, it might not be the prettiest thing to watch.

 

But back to reality.  The proper mindset entering a U.S. Open is one of patience and expecting many bad things to befall you, and knowing when to take your medicine. "I think it’s a lot of acceptance of what’s going to be out there," is how Hunter Mahan put it. Five-irons off par-fours are going to be common, and there are going to be times when hitting a bunker shot away from the hole is the best option. Maybe even hitting putts away from the hole.

 

Wednesday mid-day was not the most fruitful time for viewing high-profile players. But it wasn’t bad for spectating spectators. The breezy, easy day was one better for lounging in the shade and idle conversation than for straining your neck for a glimpse of a superstar. As one overheard comment put it: "We’ve seen like one guy play golf today."

 

But, for the sake of fellow spectators, as the players step up their game this week, may the gallery also step up its game. My hope is that they pause to put a little effort and thought into their on-course commentary. It’s always a good guideline to stick to what you know, know what you don’t know, and avoid common clichˇs whenever possible. The friend standing next to you is not your only audience.

 

Hopefuls

 

Maybe Dustin Johnson has the right attitude, tweeting: "This golf course is incredible!! 7am can't get here soon enough..." Go big or go home, Dustin.

I’m pulling for a good week for qualifier Ed Loar, journeyman from Texas. A gregarious fellow who looks like he’s having fun just playing the game. He also took time to sign about 15 autographs between #2 green and #3 tee on Wednesday afternoon. Or, I may just like him because he sports a beard style similar to mine.

I’m sticking to my guns and will say that the winning score will be under 269 or less.

And I’d like to see Matteo Mannesaro have some success on this side of the pond. He seems a genuinely positive personality and has a great interview presence.

 

Spectator tips

Be prepared, there are some dead ends where you might not expect them out on the course. The ropes sometimes come to a cul-de-sac where there is no option but to turn around. There’s only one way to get down to the 11th green, for instance—by going down the right side of 12 and around the back of the 12 tee.

 

Some prime spots to park yourself are beside the 9th tee, where you can also see action of players approaching No. 4 green and teeing off on No. 5 and No. 10. And the No. 6 tee area also lets you watch No. 2 green and tee shots on the long par-three third.

 

And if want to maximize effort to viewing pleasure, consider a grandstand

Waterproof shoes will be a good option all weekend. Even though the course was drying out on Wednesday, and the maintenance staff laid tons of mulch and straw on walkways, there were still some muddy spots. With more rain likely Thursday, choose your footwear wisely, even on Sunday or Monday.

 

Ron Romanik is principal of the brand, packaging and PR consultancy Romanik Communications (www.romanik.com), located in Elverson, PA. His full bio is here.

 

 


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Ron Romanik 
Wednesday morning’s random thoughts at Merion
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
By Ron Romanik

The excitement is building rapidly here at the Open. A lot of anticipation builds up over 32 years of waiting for a Philadelphia berth. Here are some random observations so far:

 

Whenever I think about the PGA Tour, I'm amazed that it is all at once a traveling circus, a shrine to corporate excess, and a worthy non-profit charity. USGA events are a little different, to the organization's credit, because it tries very hard to bring discussions back to golf and its traditions.

 

On a similar topic, the more I hear Mike Davis speak, the more impressed I become. He's a judicious director, an even-handed diplomat, and an eloquent spokesman for the game of golf. Though some of the setups he was involved in on previous Opens bordered on ridiculous. I think (hope!) he's learned his lessons, or there are going to be more than a few four-putts out here at Merion.

 

Merion members recount stories of players' putts on the 5th green ending up in the creek. Hopefully, that green won't be double-rolled for the championship.

 

USGA naming a pace of play campaign "While We're Young": Awesome, just awesome.

 

One tends to forget what impact sounds like when these pros hit it. Tiger's has a different sound, for sure, but even a moderately long player like Peter Hanson, whom I followed briefly, knocks the piss out of it. On an uphill 150-yard shot with a nine-iron on No. 15, Hanson's towering, and accurate, approach sounded like an explosion as a toupee-sized divot flew 10 yards.

 

Let's give the Sergio/Tiger spat a rest this week. Nothing new is going to materialize. Quit asking the questions. I'm talking specifically to you, GolfChannel, but many others are complicit.

 

Logistics here getting in and out of the course are surprisingly smooth so far. Hope that holds up for tomorrow. Best of luck getting here, but come you should. It might be another 32 years after this. Even with all the stands, ropes, and spectators, the East Course still shines through.  

 

It's fun to see even seasoned pros stop at the two plaques on the course (Jones on 11 and and Hogan on 18) to savor the moments and history of this place.

 

More thoughts this afternoon...

 


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Ron Romanik 
The art of Merion architecture
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
By Ron Romanik

 

As the idiom goes, one could easily teach a Masters Class in golf course architecture with only the East Course at Merion as source material. The course possesses a maddening array of holes, lines of attack, strategic decisions, and demanding-yet-enticing shot values. Playing Merion sometimes makes one feel as if they never hit the same shot twice.

 

While the rains continued to soak the East Course at Merion, the USGA held an intimate forum on Architecture and Merion, hosted by Jimmy Roberts. In attendance were Tom Fazio, Curtis Strange, John Capers, Rick Ill, and Mike Davis, executive director of the USGA.

 

Fazio pointed out that, objectively, the holes don’t fit modern-day expectations of how to mix the variety of par-threes, -fours and -fives or how to mix the lengths of each par set. Yet, in the playing, there is an immersive flow to the holes that feels both natural and conniving. "The scorecard doesn't look logical, but the course is so special and unique," Fazio explained.


Of course, much mentioned is the fact that the only two par-fives are in the first four holes. Beyond that, though, are the surprisingly difficult short par-fours, the canted fairways and greens most receptive to shaped shots, and the many mind games the course presents.

 

Mike Davis pointed out that on close examination, one could say without exaggeration that there are literally 18 different green complexes facing the player. Davis sets up a course for a championship by working backward from the green, estimating the range of possible approach shots that will be coming into that green, and from what directions.

 

"Unlike many U.S. Opens, players have options off the tee," Davis explains. On many major championship courses of 7,200+ yards, players can’t give up yardage by going with less than driver on most par-fours and -fives. That will be not be the case at Merion.

 

Davis maintains that the reason the U.S. Open didn’t return to Merion for 32 years had almost nothing to do with its length. "It's always been a short course relative the other championship courses of the time," he says. The logistics of 20,000+ fans on 125 acres, the modern-day corporate tent expectations, and the neighborhood disruption the tournament brings were the primary reasons. In fact, Ardmore neighbors along the 14th and 15th fairways literally sacrificed their front lawns for the tourney. (One assumes the USGA offered a fair price to restore the lawns after the tourney.)

 
Not that Merion hasn’t been lengthened, fairways narrowed, and fairways moved since its previous Open hosting in 1981. But the greens remain remarkably of the same character as they were, even further back, for the 1971 Open. The beguiling greens, of course, remain the course’s main defense against par.

 

But Fazio was looking forward to this week proving that the game’s preoccupation with length is unwarranted. "Seven days from now, we are going to have a different discussion about distance," Fazio boldly predicted.


Quick Predictions:

 

You’ll see more OB penalties than in any other major. The edges of some fairways are mere steps from OB. You’ll see more 5-irons off par-four tees than in any other major. Curtis Strange understands that mentality because Rule #1 is: "Use whatever keeps me in the fairway." You’ll see long knockers attack more short par-fours than any major, because of a carefully calculated risk-reward equation. And you will see more perplexed faces after misjudged chips and putts than ever before.

 

Nevertheless, someone will go low, for a winning score of double-digits under par.


Tiger Watch:

 

Tiger got in five holes on Monday, and looked (IMHO) in complete control of his game. Both long game and short game. A perfectly faded three-wood on the 16th literally dissected the fairway. On the seventeenth green, when is putter wasn’t quite doing the trick judging the dramatic rise of the false front, Tiger opted for low chips with an amazing amount of spin to clear the ridge and check up quickly. And out of deep greenside bunkers, his touch was equally deft. I’m tempted to change my mind about Tiger’s chances.

 

Ron Romanik is principal of the brand, packaging and PR consultancy Romanik Communications (www.romanik.com), located in Elverson, PA. His full bio is here.

 


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the ghosts of merion[6/17/2013 4:43:19 PM]
Nice call on the winning score, lol.

Ron Romanik 
Ode to Merion
Tuesday, June 4, 2013
By Ron Romanik

Watching Golf Channel’s rebroadcast of the Sunday and Playoff rounds of the 1971 Open at Merion stirred memories of my first turn around Merion Golf Club, in my early 20s. It was other-worldly to me at the time, to say the least. I recall almost birdieing the 1st, and an heroic up-and-down from the deep bunker right of the 12th, but there were also some mighty struggles. But the poor golf could not come close to eclipsing the immersive, transformative experience that is Merion, a true Philadelphia treasure.

 

Ode to Merion

 

O eternal Merion, panoply of paradoxes,

Unearthed, and hewn, from spent farm and quarry,

Yet sacred as a cathedral, bestowing godless glory,

Aligning souls to Earth on misaligned tee boxes.

 

Sculpted by a neophyte, legends did engineer

A bricolage of holes ancient, modern, and mature.

The now-seasoned patina belies an honest nature,

Brutish yet cerebral, and unyieldingly severe.

 

O merciless Merion, singular in reason,

To cast dreams and realities in shadowy lights,

And separate what will be from the mights,

Purposely frustrating the charms of each season.

 

The grounds a perfection less tidy than raw,

In acreage, condensed; in imagination, immense,

Fierce in anticipation, expect no later recompense

From strokes suffered from flouting natural law.

 

O Merion the enigma, a silent juggernaut,

Seaside links ambiance with no sea to be found,

Shoehorned into town, yet a welcome neighbor,

Twisting through itself like a tight sailor’s knot.

 

Her mystique hangs in the air like a parched fog,

In discourse, no adjectives ever surround the name,

For she is definitive, resolute, a museum frame,

Art for art’s sake, or the manifesto of an ideologue.

 

O perplexing Merion, your lustre ever shines,

Of American links, a pure, august grande dame,

Approached only in earnest, demeanor calm,

To discover her wiles, rewards, and truest lines.

 

Hidden in plain sight, unassuming yet proud,

Obliging matriarch of the Philadelphia School,

A golf club frozen in a time, an idea sublime,

Preserving a game like-minded purists endowed.

 

Revered and feared equally in two breaths,

Her demands mount before one’s talents aspire,

Creek to quarry, where even the strongest spirits tire,

And the weaker brood over countless small deaths.

 

Ron Romanik is principal of the brand, packaging and PR consultancy Romanik Communications (www.romanik.com), located in Elverson, PA. His full bio is here.

 


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