After the Open champion was
crowned, Colin Montgomerie on Golf Channel had the
audacity to compare Justin Rose’s 18th hole finish with Ben Hogan’s in 1950
finish. Was that so outrageous? I say no.
Justin’s two shots were
perfectly and confidently struck, knowing that par was likely necessary to win
the tourney. And he gave himself an excellent chance for birdie, which he
nearly converted. Just a reminder here, no
one birdied 18 on Sunday, and there were only 11 birdies all week. Regardless, Justin was a
half-ball-roll from jarring it for an exclamation point on his victory. An
exclamation point, though, is not necessary if you still get the job done with
utmost efficiency, as Justin did on Sunday.
Of course, one could argue
that he came up short on his eagle attempt,
as the 18th hole was essentially a par-five for the week, averaging 4.7 strokes
for competitors. Maybe scoring average would be a better way to determine the
par for a hole. If, for example, you applied this concept comparably from
Merion to Augusta National, The Masters would be a par-68, as none of the
par-fives in 2013 had scoring averages over 4.7. So, conversely, applying the
same criterion retroactively from Augusta to Merion would make the East Course a
par 72, and the winner was actually seven under par.
All that aside, kudos to the
USGA for a fine job orchestrating the event. And thanks to all the neighbors
who gave up their front lawns for the event, as I’m sure the grass won’t completely
recover from the abuse until next year.
I also feel for Jason Dufner, and I’m glad that his triple-bogey on 15 did not
lose him the tournament, per se. A par on that hole would have still left him
one shot back. Needless to say, six birdies on the East Course, in contention,
in U.S. Open conditions, was incredible. Justin, for the record, made five
birdies on the day for the trophy.
Maybe the best part of this
Open was how so many players spent time near or on top of the leaderboard on
the weekend, and how bunched up they were. Players with hot hands would claim
the lead and then lose it just as quickly, sometimes more than once or twice.
And having Phil in the mix is always adds an extra element of excitement.
My dark horse pick
As 18 was essentially a
par-five all week, so was the par-four fifth hole, which also averaged 4.7
strokes for the week. The hole was played 456 times last week, and birdied only
12 times. Amazingly, there was one fellow who birdied it twice, in the second
and third rounds. That would be my dark
horse pick for the week, Edward Loar, who
followed up a 4-iron to 15 feet on Friday with a 3-iron to four feet on
"Yeah! How about that!" Loar enthused, amused at his own good fortune on No. 5.
"Playing that hole in one-under-par for the week is pretty good!"
I picked Loar
because he appears to be one of the few players that is actually enjoying
playing the game at this level, even after a 76 on a "brutally difficult
course," as was the consensus. "What a great week, what a blast to play in the
Open," Loar mused on an upbeat note.
"Obviously, I’m going to
take a lot of positives," he continued. "I played really good most of the time.
What I’m probably going to take mostly for me is how comfortable I was with
everything. Even when I got on the leaderboard Saturday...I didn’t get nervous."
Loar finished a respectable T32 at +13, in decent company
with Tiger Woods, Bubba Watson, and defending champion Webb Simpson. He now
heads back to the Web.com Tour, where he is second on the money list and in a safe
position to regain his PGA Tour card for 2014.
However, as most players
echoed late Sunday afternoon, Loar admitted the Open
can just plain wear you out. "To be honest with you, I’m kind of glad I’m
done," he chuckled.
Phil’s several nemeses
The Driver: Reintroduce
yourself, Phil. The fifth and the eighteenth holes required a driver to have
decent chances at birdie or par.
Himself: Self-delusion is
not a long-term strategy, and blind confidence is not a prudent U.S. Open
strategy. When the confidence is producing incredible shots, I admit, it’s
certainly fun to watch. But the other side of the spectrum is painful to watch.
The 16th green: On both Saturday
and Sunday, Phil had very makeable 15-foot birdie putts that fooled him just
enough to slide by the edge.
Wait a minute...
Do these Golf Channel guys
know more than everyone else?
Rich Lerner: "...Merion, back
in the U.S. Open rotation..."
"...If you’re looking down the road...I think it’s safe to say that we will be back
at Merion Golf Club."
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
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.
This is the last time I’m
saying it: Bring binoculars!!
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
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
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
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
is principal of the brand, packaging and PR consultancy Romanik
Communications (www.romanik.com), located
in Elverson, PA. His full bio is here.
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
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.
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 MatteoMannesaro have some success on this side of the pond.
He seems a genuinely positive personality and has a great interview presence.
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.
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
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
"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
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 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.