When the reigning Masters champion and an 18-time major winner tell you how to play a golf course, it seems prudent that you listen.
That’s the case about the East course at Merion Golf Club, the host of the U.S. Open in a fortnight.
When asked about keeping the driver in the bag with a couple of exceptions, Nicklaus – who played in 43 U.S. Opens and won four – talked about a course he hadn’t played competitively since 1981, when he finished tied for sixth. Still, he has very clear feelings on how to play a course that has gained more than 300 yards since 1981.
“If they’re only using it two or three times, you’re not going to win a golf tournament,” Nicklaus said of limiting the use of the driver. “That’s my opinion at Merion. You’ve got 2, 4, 5, 6, 14, maybe 15, but 16 and 18 you’re going to use your driver. That’s a number of times.”
All told, that is eight times that players could use a driver at Merion, many more than some recent U.S. Open venues and more than anyone would have imagined.
Merion won’t always measure up to the 6,996 yards from the tips that Executive Director of the USGA Mike Davis cited earlier this year. “I think there will be days when it will play [6,800] and change,” he said.
Adam Scott was at Merion on Tuesday and after two rounds knows he needs more time at the Philly Mainline club. He plans at least five more rounds between now and his first round June 13.
“I think I’m going to hit six or seven drivers there,” Scott said after his preliminary review of the Hugh Wilson design. “I think the fairways are not that narrow. They’re fairly generous. “
Nicklaus and Scott agree that the wedge will be very important at Merion, but to get to that point one needs to be in the fairway and long off the tee. Scott believes it will be the key.
Since David Graham’s 1981 win at Merion with a 7-under, 273, only three other U.S. Open winning scores have been lower: Tiger Woods in 2000, Jim Furyk in 2003 and Rory McIlroy in 2011.
“You’re going to have to hit drivers to win,” Scott said. “Because I believe that if you’re not, someone else will be. And one guy is good enough to hit a lot of fairways with their driver that week, and they’re going to have a lot of wedges into greens. And that’s how you’re going to create your opportunity to score.”