Each year, the US Open forces players to grind unlike any other tournament on the PGA Tour. Thick rough, firm fairways, and fast greens force each player to give every shot the attention it deserves. Thus, the US Open leads to an abundance of high scores each year. After spending the last three days at Merion, I observed that three holes will be most influential in determining the winner of this year’s open.
Par 5 2nd Hole (556 Yards)
While Merion is not an easy course by anybody’s standards, the opening holes will allow the pros to get off to a good start. While there will surely be plenty of nervy, mishit tee shots on the 1st hole, players must calm down and birdie the second. While walking on bordering Ardmore Avenue, I could not help but notice that there is out of bounds just 12 feet from the right side of the fairway. With thick US Open rough on the opposite side, players are destined for disaster if they miss the fairway. If players can avoid trouble off the tee, look for them to have a wedge in their hands as they approach what is arguably the flattest green on the Hugh Wilson designed course. Look for plenty of birdies on this hole.
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Par 4 11th Hole (367 Yards)
The 11th hole is picturesque, famous and definitely memorable. Bobby Jones completed his career Grand Slam by winning the U.S. Amateur on the 11th green in 1930. In golf today 367-yard holes do not usually get much recognition. They are too long to be drivable and usually too short to be demanding. The hole is fairly straight and players cannot see the fairway from the tee box. Nevertheless, Merion’s picturesque 11th hole has been the talk of much of the media coverage leading up to this year’s US Open.
The 11th hole has Mike Davis and the USGA concerned because of its low-lying location. On Monday, I witnessed a large puddle in the left-greenside bunker that forced the USGA to close the hole in the afternoon. In fact, the hole has flooded about 40 times in the past 12 years according to Merion course superintendent Matt Shaffer. If the greenside creek forces the 11th and 12th holes to flood during the tournament, the USGA plans to use the 4th and 5th holes on Merion’s West Course instead. While this seems to be the only logical option, I cannot imagine the controversy that would step from players in contention taking a shuttle to the West Course to play two holes. Since the two courses do not even connect, players would go more than 20 minutes without hitting a shot. Ultimately, we have to just hope that Mother Nature keeps the rain away.
Par 4 18th Hole (521 Yards)
The 18th hole has a unique appeal at every golf tournament. Merion’s 18th hole however, is especially interesting. For one, it was the site of Ben Hogan’s famous 1-iron in the 1950 Open (one of game's iconic images). Players will face a forced 258-yard carry to the fairway before taking on the difficult long iron shot shortly thereafter. If 521yards is not enough, the prevailing westerly winds make the hole play even longer. Although Merion’s first 13 holes allow for birdies, the 18th concludes a stretch of five challenging holes that will have players limping to the finish.
My Picks and Predictions
- Winning Score – 9 under par
- Winner – Tiger Woods
- Contender – Graeme McDowell
- Dark Horse – Shawn Stefani
- Low Amateur – Max Homa