Weather could push U.S. Open to marathon Sunday

An army of Merion workers prepare to squeegee the course after 90 minutes of rain that suspended play on Thursday morning.

An army of Merion workers prepare to squeegee the course after 90 minutes of rain that suspended play on Thursday morning.

ARDMORE, Pa. -- With stormy weather a certainty all day Thursday, USGA officials are facing the difficulty of getting all 72 U.S. Open holes in by Sunday. Once the rain clears out, the prospects look good for play to continue the next three days – before more rain that’s anticipated for Monday. That might mean a 36-hole final on Father's Day.

At 10:45 a.m., Merion and USGA officials were on the course assessing its condition after nearly 90 minutes of rain and thunderstorms. Only three-tenths of an inch of rain fell, leaving a few fairways with standing water (which will be squeegeed) and no apparent washouts in the numerous bunkers on the course. The course was basically unscathed, allowing players to be cleared to return to the range. They will return to the course at 12:10 p.m. EDT. Afternoon tee times have been delayed by 3 hours, 34 minutes -- although there is another big storm cell expected to hit the area at 3 p.m.

Officials do believe the weather will hold off long enough to complete the day's first wave of players, although they'll do it under cooler temperatures. When the first storm hit this morning, temperatures dropped eight degrees and will continue to drop.

Prior to the rain stopping around 10:30 a.m., all that Merion’s head groundskeeper Matt Shaffer could do was sit in his office, watch the Weather Channel and hope for the best. “As long as we don’t get two inches, we’ll be OK,” he says. Outside, and in various break rooms, his staff of 50 and volunteer crew of 130 were resting, drinking coffee, and just waiting it out, knowing that by noon they’d be out there with squeegees, pumps and whatever it took to get play going in the afternoon.

In all of this, Shaffer is helped by the advice of meteorologist Herb Stevens, who counts Merion among 70 clients he advises. Stevens knows weather and knows golf. After all, he caddied on tour for years, including for Larry Nelson when he won all five of his points at the 1979 Ryder Cup.

“We’re looking at a two-act play here,” says Stephens. “A squall line followed by a low pressure system, it should clear out and be high and dry by Friday.”

Back in his office, Shaffer is holding court with friends and fellow superintendents, some of whom were happy to rest their heads on the green air mattress that sits by his desk.

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