Our team at Merion brings you all of the action from behind the scenes at the US Open.
Maid Merion – a fickle mistress?
It’s 32 year since the US Open last visited Merion Golf Club here in Pennsylvania, but the decision to return has proved a universally popular one with players and fans alike. It would not be unfair to describe Merion as a golfing artefact, a course that might not fit with the infrastructural demands of the modern golfing Major, but one that evokes so much history. From Bobby Jones’ ‘Grand Slam’, to Ben Hogan’s famous one-iron, to Lee Trevino’s play-off victory over Jack Nickalus in 1971, Merion has seen it all. The USGA has certainly been creative in returning the US Open to a venue which last hosted one of golf’s four Majors in 1981, when Australian David Graham won the trophy. Much has changed in terms of the hospitality and spectator set ups required for a Major golf tournament these days, and consequently some of the tented structures are actually in the back gardens of neighbouring properties surrounding Merion. To get to the practice range you actually walk through someone’s grounds, so the residents have certainly been accommodating in allowing us to once again visit this fine venue. The course itself might not be so accommodating for the players this week. While it might be the first US Open venue in more than a decade to measure under 7,000 yards, Merion is certainly not without its challenges. There are four par fours longer than 460 yards and three of the four par three holes can play more than 235 yards, while the 521-yard 18th hole surely ranks among the toughest finale in recent memory. Of course, the rain we’ve had here in the week might soften the greens somewhat, and widen the fairways, but you can expect Merion to be a magical, yet mysterious, US Open test this week.
As one of America’s most famous and populous cities, Philadelphia has many cultural reference points, but few are probably as widely recognisable as the steps leading to the entrance of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. That is because the steps were famously used in the 1976 Oscar winning film Rocky, when Sylvester Stallone’s character, Rocky Balboa, ran up all 72 in a metaphor for ‘rising to the challenge’. It has now become compulsory for any visitor to mimic the scene and, rest assured, it is on the ‘to do list’ the week, not only for us (fitness permitting) but many of the players, including Rory McIlroy.
“I was thinking of going to the Rocky Steps,” said McIlroy when asked how he planned to switch off this week. “I was going to run up those, just because we are where we are.”
If only Robert Rock was in the field this week…
'While We're Young'"
Tiger Woods, Arnold Palmer and Clint Eastwood are among the star names featuring in a new campaign designed to improve the pace of play whose theme is taken from the iconic film Caddyshack.
Using the line "While we're young" from the character played by Rodney Dangerfield, the light-hearted series of public service announcements was launched by the USGA today ahead of the US Open at Merion.
"Pace of play is a big issue," said Woods, who is seen in the advert being told to hurry up by a group of children before missing a putt on a crazy golf course. "Rounds of golf take too long and no-one enjoys it. 'While we're young' is part of the golfing vocabulary and Caddyshack is iconic in our sport. This campaign is light-hearted but it also shows that we need to pick up the pace of play."
For only the second time in US Open history, the USGA held a champions dinner on the Tuesday night with 28 former champions on the guest list. Among them was be 2011 Champion Rory McIlroy “It's obviously a great honor to be a past champion and to be able to go along to that and mix with so many of the great past champions that the U.S. Open has,” he said. “It's only the second dinner in 118 years, so it's, as I said, it's pretty special to be a part of and I'm looking forward to it.” Lee Trevino and David Graham, winners the last time the US Open was held at Merion in 1971 and 81 respectively, were also there and provided plenty of banter in a joint press conference before heading to dinner. “At this time in your life it's so great that the USGA assembled this group because we don't get a chance to see each other. We tell the same stories but we have forgotten them,” he quipped. “We tell the same jokes but we have forgotten them and we all laugh like hell.”
Trevino's rubber snake
Talking of jokes, Trevino provided one that has gone down in folklore when, at the start of the 18-hole play-off in 1971, he threw a rubber snake at the feet of his opponent Jack Nicklaus on the first tee. Trevino had kept the three-foot toy in his bag for two months after his daughter had bought it at the Fort Worth Zoo, and he had even used it as a prop in a pre-championship photograph by one of the news wire services to help show how high Merion’s rough had been cultivated. When he saw the snake in his bag that morning while rummaging for a fresh glove, he pulled it out and the crowd roared. Nicklaus, sitting on the other side of the tee box, asked Trevino to toss it over. Nicklaus picked it up and laughed as well, and then went out and birdied the first hole while Trevino suffered a bogey. It was the only time Nicklaus led all day. Asked by one journalist whether he still had the snake, Trevino responded: “It died. It's been 42 years ago. No snakes live 42 years. What did they teach you in journalism school? Not about snakes.”