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2013 U.S. Open: Merion Golf Club like an old romance

By Ron Green Jr.
Ron Green Jr.
Ron Green Jr., a former Observer staff writer, will write golf columns occasionally for the newspaper.

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ARDMORE, Pa. Perhaps Merion Golf Club is where the United States Golf Association has drawn a line in the mud.

This U.S. Open championship, which begins Thursday under the threat of thunderstorms, is a nod to the past, a barometer of the present and, most likely, a referendum on the future.

This is no ordinary U.S. Open if there is such a thing.

“It’s very much a boutique Open,” TV commentator and former U.S. Open champion Johnny Miller said.

This is where, perhaps once and for all, the question will be answered about whether some of the game’s greatest courses – challenged by the distances players now hit the ball – can stand up to the modern professional game.

There is a romance to returning to Merion after 32 years and the reality of how it plays could have lasting ramifications.

When the lights went down after David Graham’s nearly flawless Sunday afternoon performance in winning the U.S. Open 32 years ago at Merion, there was a sense that the national championship was bidding farewell to the course Hugh Wilson designed because it was too short and small for modern major championship golf.

But like the memory of a girlfriend from long ago, Merion was impossible to forget. It had a history, an attitude and a style.

It’s where Bobby Jones first gained national attention as a 14-year-old amateur and it’s where Jones completed his Grand Slam in 1930. It’s where photographer Hy Peskin snapped the greatest golf photo of all time – Ben Hogan holding his finish having just striped a 1-iron to the 18th green in the final round of the 1950 U.S. Open he would win in a playoff the next day.

It’s where Lee Trevino pulled a rubber snake out of his bag before he beat Jack Nicklaus in an 18-hole playoff for the 1971 U.S. Open title, the victory that helped cement Trevino’s place among the immortals.

It’s where wicker baskets replaced flags shortly after the course opened and there’s still no definitive answer about how they came to be. It’s where the first tee is tucked so close to the clubhouse porch that its possible to sneak a french fry off someone’s lunch plate while waiting to hit your opening tee shot.

It’s where the clubhouse has wooden staircases pocked with spike marks so old the members live with them rather than replace them, imagining some might have been left by Jones’ shoes.

It’s as old money as the Rockefellers and has earned the privilege of setting its own policies.

Cargo shorts are prohibited.

Set on 111 Main Line acres with a routing that does for course design what Van Gogh did for brush strokes, Merion was nevertheless a relic.

Technology trumped tradition. Merion lacked two essentials – a long enough golf course and enough room for hospitality tents.

Then a funny thing happened.

The USGA brought the U.S. Open back to Merion.

It took nerve, imagination and willingness to accept less as more. For once it wasn’t about the money. It has been written that the USGA will lose about $10 million on this Open.

And, it was the right thing to do.

Ron Green Jr. is senior writer for Global Golf Post (www.globalgolfpost.com) and a contributor to the Observer. Reach him at rongreenjr@gmail.com.
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