Davis: Merion's roughs, greens Open-ready
ARDMORE, Pa. After years in the planning, the 113th U.S. Open at Merion will commence at 6:45 Thursday morning off the first and 11th tees.
Unlike most U.S. Opens, the experiment at Merion already has had its share of challenges from Mother Nature.
With more than 6 inches of rain having fallen on Merion during the past week, much of the cutting of rough has been delayed until Tuesday and Wednesday.
According to Mike Davis, the executive director of the USGA and the person primarily responsible for the setup at Merion, the course inally is where he hoped it would be from a setup standpoint.
Starting with the rough, it finally has been cut to the desired heights.
On the short par 4s, the rough will be 5 inches from tee-to-green, with no graduated rough lines.
On the longer par 4s and par 5s, the rough will be 4 inches for the first 18-20 feet of width. Beyond that, the rough basically will be wedge-out deep.
Interestingly, Davis is bringing the fairway length to almost a half-inch from the usual quarter-inch.
"One of the things that we're talking about with sustainability of the game, pace of play and making the game more enjoyable, we are not doing any golfers any favor, recreational players, by seeing golf fairways cut down so tight," Davis said of allowing longer fairway grass. "It's harder for golfers to get the ball up. It's harder to hit pitch shots. We decided to go a little bit of a throwback this week, so fairways are almost half an inch in height again. There's just more cushion under the ball. And I think that's something that we really want to start to message to the recreational game, that this should not be an arms race."
While out of bounds at Merion is mainly determined by white stakes, along the 14th and 15th holes that border Golf House Road, telephone poles that have been cut down will be the designation for OB for the championship.
As with most U.S. Opens, the green speeds will be quick. Speeds of 13 to 13.5 on the Stimpmeter finally were attained Wednesday. On the fifth hole, the USGA plans to have a slower pace of low 12s because the green severely cants from right to left.
The setup that the USGA accomplished Wednesday, however, likely is not the course the players will see during first-round play Thursday, when the forecast calls for severe weather. The USGA is concerned with potential setup issues going forward.
Outside of the potential 2 inches or more of rain that is forecast, extreme weather could include hail and wind. The wind is expected out of the south on Thursday before switching 180 degrees Friday, from the north.
"It's going to be a tricky setup with Round 1 and 2 just because, if it is windy, trying to make it fair," Davis said. "So you think about the tee shots and the carries that they've got, but also hole locations. With these greens' speeds, if you get a downwind, downhill hole location, you have to be careful with that. If a hole location is like that and then you carry it into the next day, it can be tricky."