As I’m sure you’ve heard, keeping it in the fairway is premium for players this week at Merion, especially if they want to be in contention coming down the stretch on Sunday. Precision off the tee is crucial even more so than an average U.S. Open — though even if you look at the stats for recent champs, they ranked poorly in driving accuracy — because the rough isn’t graduated as it has been in the last few years.
So, if you miss the fairway even by an inch, you’re not likely going to reach the green and how far players advance the ball is going to depend on how bad their lie is in the thick, long grass (and if it rains on Thursday as the forecast predicts, then it’s going to be even tougher). In other words, auto-bogey!
I finally made it to the driving range on Tuesday — the media shuttle only leaves once every two hours and a USGA official recommended not trying to walk – and spoke to a handful of players, but it’s been a long day and I haven’t finished transcribing the interviews, so I’ll get to that tomorrow (sorry! — you’d be surprised how long uploading pictures and videos take).
Basically, here’s what they all said in sum: It’s different than any course they’ve ever played. The opening is on the easy side and there are more birdie holes (1, 2, sometimes 4, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15) than your average U.S. Open where par is normally good. The final stretch starting at no. 14 is extremely tough, so you better score early. The par-3s are long and difficult except no. 13. The course plays longer than the yardage. The fifth green, which slopes severely right-to-left with a hazard on the left — is quirky and funky. If it were playing fast and firm, the hazard would come into play much more (and of course, the bit of rough left of the green is the shortest you’ll see all day). Some say it will dry out, others say it won’t. The logistics are awful and a nightmare. Etc.
Robert Garrigus said he thinks a player will definitely miss their tee time this week because of the traffic. He’s staying four miles away and it took him 34 minutes to get to the course yesterday and 21 minutes today.
FYI: The Player shuttle from the driving range to the 1st/11th tee takes 7-8 minutes. No one knows exactly where the range is (other than that it’s on the West Course).
What were the course conditions like today? Dry? Wet? The range was really muddy, but the golf course itself wasn’t bad, except for the walkways and spectator areas. No. 11 was soggier than the other holes I saw, but it wasn’t bad considering part of it was underwater yesterday. The greens were pretty slow, relatively speaking. I’m sure that will change, though.
I walked nos. 11-16 with Aaron Baddeley, Bubba Watson and Scott Stallings. What did I learn? Well, quite a bit. Bubba was playing really well. He was striping the ball and making the other guys look almost like chumps in comparison! Just joking. But his ballstriking stood out. It didn’t matter if it was a 4-iron, 2-iron, or driver, he positioned himself perfectly off the tee and knocked it tight on every green. (Yeah, I’m typing as I think and I’m pretty sure he hit every fairway and green in the six holes I saw.)
On no. 11, the guys hit 4-iron off the tee, and then driver on no. 12 — both are relatively short and straightforward holes.
The 13th is the only short par-3 (the others are ridiculously long and very difficult) and I believe it was just a soft little wedge for Bubba.
I hopped on a shuttle from the range to the East Course, where the 1st and 11th tees are and the clubhouse, etc. I was confused because there were walkways, roads, tee boxes, greens everywhere and it takes you a minute to figure out the lay of the land because it’s a total cluster.
There’s a small practice green and half of it is directly in front of the 14th tee. I kid you not. See the Vine below.
Crazy, huh? It was funny because players have to clear guys from that part of the practice green to tee off on 14! When Zach Johnson was getting ready to hit his drive, a weary Jim Furyk, who appeared to be coming from the direction of the clubhouse, walked up and Zach jokingly chided him for being in his way.
The whole scene of guys coming from everywhere and spectators being herded like sheep in the narrow walkway between the practice green and the first fairway was comical — which was the picture I took at the very top (with a cameo from Andy Dawson, who looks after Ernie Els). What is happening in that photo, anyway? Okay, from left-to-right: I was standing right off the practice green, just behind the 14th tee box (some guys are about to tee off), and then there’s the 18th green and the clubhouse and finally, most of the first hole.
OK, sorry, back to the golf course. Bubba hit driver on 14 and took some off it (maybe hit it 60%), shaping it right-to-left around the trees on the left (see photos below). It’s uphill and into the wind and a long hole for guys who aren’t bombers — Badds hit 5-wood off the tee and 3-iron into the green.
The 15th has a tough green that has all sorts of sections and sloes, but the hole itself is one of the “easier” ones. The guys hit driver. As Bubba walked up to the fairway, a fan yelled, “Bubba! My ball doesn’t go as far as yours!”
Bubba quipped, “You gotta have talent!”
Laughter ensued from all parties.
Right off the fairway on the leftside is out of bounds. So you can hit an OK shot, but if it’s just a foot too far left, then that’s too bad and you have to re-tee.
Now on 16, Badds hit 5-wood off the tee and Bubba hit 4-iron. The approach shot is blind and a bit intimidating.
The 17th is a long par-3, and of course, everyone knows the 18th is extremely long and that Ben Hogan hit a 1-iron to
20 40 feet and two-putted for par to get into a playoff that he eventually won in the 1950 U.S. Open.
Stalling said on Monday
in the monsoon when the rain was coming sideways he hit driver — and his ball was only seven yards from the rough, barely reaching the fairway — and then 3-wood and still came short of the green. Thing is, Scott can move the ball — as in, he bombs it. Now of course, those were extreme conditions.
Well, it should be an exciting finish! Here are pictures. And yes, I stalked Tiger on the range this morning, but it was all so I could give you guys WHAT YOU WANT!
This was the scene right of 14 tee/practice putting green.
Here’s no. 11 from the tee.
No. 11 walking up the fairway:
The infamous Cobbs creek that wraps around 11 green. Now you can understand the fear of it flooding, right??
Here’s 12 from the tee.
And 12 green:
Bubba and Badds signing autographs as they cross the road going from 12 green to 13 tee.
The par-3 13th with the clubhouse/members tent in the backdrop.
Walking up to 13 green…
I’m standing right behind the tee box on 14 here. Crazy.
Guys on practice putting green clear out for group to hit on 14. I want to LOLZ every time I see these. It’s so absurd.
Walking up the 14th fairway.
Here’s the 15th — and that’s when my phone died.
Boo Weekley and his caddie Barry on 14 green (I think).
Oh, by the way, DVR alert: I’ll be on “Crossover” with Michelle Beadle on the NBC Sports Network at 6pm ET tomorrow. Tune in.