Cromwell, Conn. -- Merion may be the new favorite course of Justin Rose, who's busy making the rounds on the late night talk shows after his U.S. Open victory, but inside the ropes, it seems the topic of returning to the legendary course isn't a popular one.
Speaking at the Travelers Championship on Tuesday, a number of PGA Tour pros said they wouldn't like to see Merion GC host another national championship in the future because it lacks the infrastructure needed to host such a large-scale event.
(Photo by Getty Images)
The logistics of holding the event at Merion had been a major concern in the lead-up to the tournament. The wrinkles included a 20-minute shuttle ride from the practice range to the first tee and both player's registration and hospitality centers hosted in nearby houses.
"No," said Charley Hoffman, who finished T-45 at the U.S. Open at +15, when asked if he'd like to see Merion host another U.S. Open. "It had horrible logistics, the gallery was very restricted, but I guess that's what happens when an organization runs a golf tournament."
Hoffman added that he didn't mind the course setup, but said the site just wasn't equipped to hold a U.S. Open, a thought echoed by Nicholas Thompson:
"We went from Olympic, which was as smooth as a tournament could be, to Merion, which was just difficult," Thompson said, who finished T-56. "It's a great golf course . . . but there are no hotels near the course and there's only one road leading to the course, so in the back of your mind you're always thinking, 'Am I going to catch traffic and be late for my tee time?'"
Former Masters champion Zach Johnson, who shot 74, 77 to miss the cut, stirred controversy after he said the USGA "manipulated" the course. He said that while he "loved" Merion because of its history and emphasis on accuracy, he also acknowledged logistics were a problem.
"It's not ideal," he said, "but I would love to see something hosted there. Maybe not a U.S. Open, but something, because it's such a great course."
But not every pro was willing to take up arms against one of the game's most storied venues.
Nicolas Colsaerts, who finished T-10, said he didn't have any complaints because he felt lucky just to play in the U.S. Open. Jason Dufner, whose final round 67 shot him up the leaderboard into a T-4, took a different approach altogether:
"Probably doesn't make much of a difference for me," he said. "The USGA works on a 10 to 15 year rotation, so I'm not sure I'll be playing in another U.S. Open in 15 years."
Welcome to another edition of The Grind, where the next person who mentions Merion's wicker baskets risks being beaten with one of Merion's wicker baskets. Seriously, it was fun while it lasted, but all this attention might give other clubs ideas. What's next? Birdhouses on top of flagsticks? Car tires? Wicker chairs? Probably not, but if it ever happens, NBC and Jimmy Roberts will have a field day. In the meantime, here's what we're focusing on.
Justin Rose: A 32-year-old who was once a teen phenom breaking through to win his first major? Hmm. We think we've heard that one recently. . . There was a joke going around after the FedEx St. Jude Classic that the only English winner on the PGA Tour in 2013 was Harris English. Not anymore. What a performance by Rose at the U.S. Open, especially considering he'd never seriously contended down the stretch at a major before.
It was good to see Phil hasn't lost any of his hops. (Photo: Getty Images)
The U.S. Open: The course. The carnage. The NBC theme music. The star-studded leader board. The finish. Johnny Miller saying, "Chunk and run" every two minutes. Our favorite week of the year delivered in grand fashion.
Jason Day: Who says Jack Nicklaus' major record is safe? Day is just 25 and seems on pace to challenge the Golden Bear's mark of 19 runner-ups with his latest T-2 at the U.S. Open. Add a third-place finish at Augusta already this year and the question must be asked: Why isn't this guy contending more in regular PGA Tour events?
Phil Mickelson: Let's focus on the positive. In the last two weeks, Phil has two T-2s that bookend him seeing his daughter, Amanda, graduate from middle school. Apparently, she even gave a speech at the ceremony in which she quoted Ron Burgundy from the movie "Anchorman". What a proud papa he must be! Yes, adding to his record of runner-ups at the U.S. Open stings, but obviously, you can't have this many close calls without being a great player. That being said. . .
Phil Mickelson: I thought I had our office pool wrapped up with Jason Dufner's Sunday run and Mickelson's Miracle-at-Merion holeout for eagle on No. 10 to take the lead. But alas, it wasn't meant to be. Finishing runner-up is tough. I'll be thinking about that close call for awhile. What, you thought I was talking about Phil?
Steve Stricker: SHANKAPOTAMUS!!! Seriously, that train wreck was painful to watch. A U.S. course is tough enough, but under Sunday pressure, Stricker reminded us that even the world's best players are susceptible to weekend hacker moments. The shank OB on No. 2 virtually ended the 46-year-old's (last?) golden opportunity to win a first major. And he's already snuffed out his next chance by saying he won't play in next month's British Open. Disappointing.
Players complaining: The rough is too thick. The hole placements are too tough. The par 3s are too long. Wah. Wah. Wah. Guys, the U.S. Open is one week out of the year. Is it difficult? Sure. But there's a difference between setting up a challenging course and an unfair one. Players who hit bad shots paid the price, but players who hit good shots were rewarded. And oh yeah, enough about what par is. Everyone played the same holes and added their scores up at the end of the day the same way: 281 won this tournament, not one over.
Tiger Woods:. When Tiger won his 14th major at Torrey Pines in 2008, what odds could you have gotten that he would go (at least) the next five years without winning another big one? 1,000 to 1? 10,000 to 1? Elbow injury or not, it's getting tough to explain Tiger's disappearing acts in golf's biggest events. Even tougher is explaining why he chipped and putted at Merion like a mid-handicapper. But never fear, Woods will still be made an overwhelming favorite for Muirfield by experts like us!
The PGA Tour heads to Connecticut for the Travelers Championship, aka that tournament they usually play after the U.S. Open. We have a lot of respect for Rose, who kept his commitment to playing this week instead of taking a vacation in the mountains of cash he earned himself with his first major championship. Actually, we have a lot of respect for anyone who competed in that grindfest teeing it up again so soon.
Random tournament fact: Tim Norris owns the best score in relation to par with a 25-under performance in 1982. He's so obscure we're not even sure Google has heard of him.
WEEKLY YAHOO! FANTASY LINEUP
The day before the tournament, I talked to Rose about mudballs as he signed autographs. When our chat was over -- he did a tremendous job multi-tasking -- I thanked him for his time, patted him on the shoulder and wished him good luck. Maybe I'm not such a jinx after all. . .
Starters -- (A-List): Jason Dufner: Did you see the ball-striking display this guy put on at Merion on Sunday?!
(B-List): Bo Van Pelt: BVP has finished in the top 25 at TPC River Highlands six of the past eight years.
(B-List): Fredrik Jacobson: The site of his lone PGA Tour win in 2011, the Swede finished T-8 in his title defense last year.
(C-List): Rickie Fowler: After a respectable showing at Merion, we think the time has come for Fowler to pick up that second PGA Tour title.
Bench -- Bubba Watson, Charley Hoffman, Zach Johnson and Kevin Streelman.
VIRAL VIDEO OF THE WEEK
In honor of Pinehurst, the site of next year's U.S. Open and U.S. Women's Open, we present this frisbee golf video the resort sent me. In it, Ken Climo, who is apparently the 'Jack Nicklaus of Disc Golf,' takes on the famed No. 2 course:
It also gives us a chance to link to this classic Seinfeld clip in which George Costanza chooses 'Frolf' over helping out Jerry.
RANDOM PROP BETS OF THE WEEK
-- A player will hit a driver on one of TPC Highland's par 3s this week: 1,000-to-1 odds
-- Sergio Garcia will have nightmares about the Philly fans at Merion: 5-to-1 odds
-- Sergio Garcia will have nightmares about Merion's 15th hole: LOCK
THIS WEEK IN DUSTIN JOHNSON-PAULINA GRETZKY DISPLAYS OF PUBLIC AFFECTION
Unfortunately, we didn't cross paths with Paulina at Merion. We're guessing she's not a fan of walking around in the mud. But we do know that she and DJ are still an item thanks to this tweeted photo of the two of them kissing their dog goodbye before heading off to Germany:
BAD JOKE ALERT: Apparently, DJ likes big dogs both on and off the course!
In the world of blogging, listicles are worth their weight in SEO-gold, which is why it can be easy to pass most of them off with nothing more than an eye roll. Then again, sometimes they get it oh-so-right.
As he prepared last week at Lake Nona for the 113th U.S. Open, Justin Rose did more than beat balls, work out and review his game plan for Merion. He watched a YouTube download of "The Empire Strikes Back." The scene that sport psychologist Gio Valiante wanted Rose to absorb was Yoda's famous discussion with Luke Skywalker. "I wanted him to know he was ready," Valiante said Sunday from his home in Orlando. "That he was finally mature enough to come into his own."
Rose proved ready, willing and able for the challenge not only of Merion, but also of Phil Mickelson, the star-crossed U.S. Open hero who once again finished second -- for a record sixth time.
Nothing got in the way of Rose's two-stroke victory. Not the karma of Phil's flying home for his daughter's middleschool graduation. Not the hole-out by Mickelson on the 10th hole or the Philadelphia fans who wanted Lefty to win not only on Father's Day, but his 43rd birthday.
"If anybody deserves to do it, Justin does," said Tony Jacklin, who 43 years ago was the last English golfer to win the U.S. Open. "He showed his true colors."
Rose, 32, had been trending toward this, starting with wins at Jack Nicklaus' tournament (the Memorial) and Tiger Woods' tournament (AT&T National) in 2010, a FedEx Cup playoff event (BMW Championship) in 2011 and a World Golf Championships event (Cadillac Championship) in '12.
Last September he proved to himself he could make pressure putts by beating Mickelson in a pivotal Ryder Cup singles match. Two weeks later he knocked off Tiger Woods and Lee Westwood in succession to win the World Golf Final in Turkey.
"Adam Scott sent me a fantastic message after he won the Masters saying, 'Your time is coming soon,' '' Rose said. "He's a wise man."
The consensus is that Rose is also a good man, as attested both by Jacklin and Nick Faldo, the last Englishman to win a major. Just two weeks ago Faldo had lunch with Rose in the Muirfield Village clubhouse. Faldo came away thinking Rose had everything right in his life. "He's a classy guy," said Faldo. "No matter how many times he got knocked down, he still had self-belief."
The reference was not only to 21 straight missed cuts at the start of his professional career, but also the loss of his father, Ken, to leukemia, 11 years ago. For seven years Rose had no wins on the PGA Tour. Now he has five quality wins in four years. The only question remaining was whether he was competitively tough enough to close out a major and that was answered by the way he played the 72nd hole yesterday.
"It was Hoganesque," said Colin Montgomerie.
From just right of the Ben Hogan plaque, Rose rose to the occasion and hit the type of shot into the 18th green that, historically speaking, will define his career. Even more than the hole-out at Birkdale 15 years ago, even more than the reaction to the putts that beat Mickelson at Medinah.
"I thought this is my moment," Rose said. "I saw the photo a million times and suddenly it was me. I'm just so glad it worked out."
ARDMORE, Pa. - This was not the fault of Merion Golf Club, Mike Davis, Ben Hogan, Bobby Jones, Lee Trevino or the Philly Fanatic. In fact, it is to their great credit. This is the way the U.S. Open is supposed to be played -- as a complete test where par is a good score.
Too often players, and even more so fans, confuse this country's national championship with the old Bob Hope Desert Classic and think it should be a swing-from-your-heels birdie-fest. But that's not what it's all about.
To win the U.S. Open, you have to drive the ball in the fairway, hit greens, make up-and-downs when you miss greens, putt well and, most of all, maintain your composure when the course starts to kick you in the butt.
(Photo by Getty Images)
What Justin Rose did on Sunday in winning his first major championship was prove he had all the shots in the bag plus the toughness and focus to stay mentally engaged. Not everyone did.
Rose closed with an even-par 70 to finish at one-over-par 281, two strokes better than Phil Mickelson and Jason Day. But Rose's round had as much to do with perseverance as it did precision.
The Englishman erased five bogeys with five birdies and closed the door on Mickelson, who was playing behind him, with pars on the difficult 17th and 18th holes.
In fact, Rose was brilliant on the brutal closing five holes at Merion, playing them in one-over par after hitting four fairways and the fringe 15-feet from the hole on the par-3 17th.
"You almost have to take par off the scorecard," Rose said. "Maybe two-over par is par for the last five holes."
That is exactly the kind of mindset that wins a U.S. Open. You have to recalibrate your brain and think very differently than you do at a regular PGA Tour or European Tour event.
Mike Davis, executive director of the USGA, is the guy who has been setting up the U.S. Open courses for almost a decade and he has yet to whiff. He got it right once again, turning a relatively short course into a demanding track that humbled and impressed the best players in the world.
Down the stretch, the top three players -- Rose, Mickelson and Day -- played the final five holes a combined six-over par, making no birdies. No one birdied No. 18 on the weekend.
"I thought it was a great setup all week," Mickelson said after his record sixth second-place finish in the U.S Open. "I thought that the golf course was fabulous. We had weather and we had some conditions with Sunday pins, it was difficult. But I thought that it was really well done and, you know, it was ‑‑ I loved having the hard holes be really hard. And I loved having chances on the birdie holes."
Rose seemed to be especially proud that he got his first major championship on such a demanding layout and one steeped in history.
"Yeah, this golf course, I found that was the toughest thing," Rose said. "Because you could make birdies, you could get ahead of the card, around the middle of the course you could be one or two under. No round was safe until you played 18 holes. I think we learned that yesterday, the way I finished. I finished bogey, bogey. Schwartzel bogey, bogey. Luke bogey, double bogey. Hunter, bogey, bogey."
All around the top three, others were crashing and burning. Charl Schwartzel and Luke Donald needed 42 strokes to play the front nine and Steve Stricker required 41.
Jason Dufner made a charge, getting to five under par on the day -- deeper in the red than anyone had gotten all week -- but made a triple bogey 7 on No. 15, finishing tied for fourth.
"I'm just glad I was kind of the last man standing," Rose said. "I dreamed of holing a putt to win a major championship, I'm just glad it was a two-incher."
One of the great things about the victory by Rose was how much he knew about where it took place.
"Yeah, this golf club is steeped in history," he said. "That really sort of hit home when I came here Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, last week. I was able to appreciate this golf course in the quiet moments, when there was nobody around, when there weren't thousands of people here for the championship. And that's when I did fall in love with the golf course. Trevino says, 'Fell in love with a girl named Merion, just didn't know her last name.' I've been sort of joking about that all week. I feel like I established a game plan that really held true for me."
Rose even cited the line (first written by Jerry Tarde, now Golf Digest's Editor-in-Chief) that describes Merion as "the first six holes are drama, the second six holes are comedy, and the last six holes are tragedy. Like a good play, like a good theatrical play."
That's what this U.S. Open was: high drama at its best. And that's why no one should be surprised if this course thought for 32 years to have been surpassed by technology will hold another U.S. Open as soon as a date is available. It's that good.
ARDMORE, Pa. -- It was supposed to have happened before now.
This "golden generation" of English golfers -- Lee Westwood, Paul Casey, Luke Donald, Ian Poulter and Justin Rose -- was long ago hailed as the second coming of Europe's "Big Five" -- Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Ian Woosnam, Bernhard Langer and Sandy Lyle -- and, like their illustrious predecessors, expected to win majors aplenty.
But none of them did. Not for a long time. Yes, they came close on numerous occasions -- most notably Westwood -- but none were able to get it done when it mattered most. Before Sunday, in fact, the last Englishman to win a major championship was Faldo at the 1996 Masters and the most recent victory by a player from Great Britain was Scotsman Paul Lawrie's British Open at Carnoustie in 1999.
But at last, England's 17-year wait is over. In Rose (South African-born of English parents), the land of Shakespeare, Churchill and Queen Elizabeth has its first Grand Slam title-holder of the 21st century. With a ball-striking performance worthy of much acclaim amidst seemingly endless carnage all around him, the 32-year old Florida resident from Hampshire south of London emerged as the champion at the 113th U.S. Open.
(Photo by Getty Images)
"This is a childhood dream come true," said the new champion after completing a closing round of 70 that was two shots better than joint runners-up, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day. "I've worked my whole life for this and holed the winning putt hundreds of thousands of times. And it is especially nice to win at a club so steeped in history. As Lee Trevino said, 'I fell in love with a girl called Merion, even though I didn't know her second name.'
"This was an appropriate place for me to win, given the way my game has gone over the last couple of years. Last year I topped the greens in regulation category on the PGA Tour and this year I'm leading in total driving. I love it when a plan comes together."
"If we're really honest, I think it has now reached the point where it's down to the fact if we (the English) can handle the pressure we will win a major and if we can't, we won't," Rose told the Daily Mail on the eve of the championship. "Given all we've achieved, there's nothing to be gained from denying that fact. Speaking for myself, I look at my record over the last three years, my wins in America and what happened at the Ryder Cup, and I think I've shown I can deal with the pressure. So I've got to remain patient."
That attribute, of course, has long been part of Rose's amiable character.
After turning pro in a blaze of glory immediately following his T4 at the 1998 British Open as a 17-year old, not much came easy for him. It wasn't until his 22nd event that he cashed a check. It's a safe bet that no other major champion has ever missed 21 halfway cuts in succession, an ignominious run that, understandably, scarred his fragile teenage psyche.
"I honestly don't think it was until I started winning in America in 2010 that it was truly out of my system," he confessed then. "But that has been the game over the past 15 years. It has been about putting building blocks painstakingly in place. Now I'm at the point where it's a case of letting the next eight years unfold. Sure, there will be days when you can't see the game clearly but that's why you put the blocks in place, so you don't panic."
There were certainly few signs of stress in England's Rose as he marched inexorably along Merion's narrow strips of fairway and through a field that one-by-one fell away. By the 18th -- a hole where the new champion struck a peerless long-iron approach that missed the flagstick by inches -- only Phil Mickelson was left. But when the 43-year-old birthday boy failed to make birdie, the famous old trophy was headed across the pond for the third time in the last four years, following the Northern Irish victories of Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy.
Appropriately on Father's Day, Rose's first thoughts were for his own, Ken, who died of cancer in 2002. Immediately after holing out for what proved to be a clinching par on the 72nd green, he gazed skyward.
"That look was for my Dad," he confirmed. "Today was about him. He was an inspiration the whole day. A lot of us came from great men and it was important for me to carry myself and do myself proud on this day. I saw the Hogan plaque and said to myself 'This is my time.' I've seen that famous picture of Hogan a million times and I wanted to hit a shot like that myself."
This isn't the first time Rose has broken "Lefty's" heart, of course. Last year at the Ryder Cup, the Englishman holed an outrageous 50-foot putt across the 17th green to square their crucial singles match, then made a decisive birdie on the 18th.
"The Ryder Cup was eight months ago but during last month's BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth a lot of people came up wanting to say thank you, and that was really nice," he revealed. "They showed what it meant to them and it's really humbling to think you can make a difference in their lives. From a recognition standpoint, Poults [Poulter] and myself have done really well out of our perceived leading roles at Medinah."
That's done with now though. Instead of "thank you," Rose can surely look forward to a few thousand renditions of "jolly well done old boy."
These guys are good -- and I'm just talking about the caddies.
But with all due respect to Bones, Joey, Stevie, and their Tour confreres, something might have added to their men's performances at Merion: true local knowledge. How many important putts zigged when they should have zagged, or braked early, or zipped by the hole on cruise control?
"They don't know these greens because they haven't seen them enough," insists veteran Merion caddie Pancho Thornton, whose years of service have taught Merion's are not the kind of greens that reveal their mysteries in a couple of practice rounds or on some quick notations in a yardage book.
(Photo by Getty Images)
Good as the visitors may be in reading greens elsewhere, Merion asked them to do their reading in a slightly different language, as Pancho knew it would. They had trouble with grain. They tended to perceive too much break, especially on short putts. And he knows why.
"They're playing what they see," he explains, "but what they're seeing is an illusion."
Consider, then, the performances of the Open's two low amateurs: 19-year-old Michael Kim and 21-year-old Cheng-Tsung Pan. Or, rather, consider what they reaped from their caddies.
Kim was accompanied by LaRue Temple, the lone Merion caddie enlisted for the competition, and Pan's bag was in the care of a former Merion man, Matt Ujfalufi. Through the first three rounds, these kids ranked high in the putting stats, and Kim was among the leaders. Local knowledge?
Like other Golden Age miracles, Merion was designed to defend itself on the greens. Get there and the fun starts.
How nice to have someone with a master key to its secrets -- and to the secrets that help you get there; the optimum lines of play, the blind alleys, the bounces, the grasses, the contours, the winds. Casual familiarity takes time to morph into real knowledge, and the knowledge needed to navigate Merion is Merion's, just as the knowledge needed at Augusta is Augusta's. That's why it's called local knowledge.
It was a day made for a television analyst renowned for using a word that he assiduously avoided, but NBC's Johnny Miller found a way around it on Sunday.
Maybe the players weren't "choking," as he would have said before criticism might have led him to strike the word from his vocabulary. But "nerves" is a sufficient synonym, and he used it more than once on a day when Open pressure, as it often does, scrambled the leaderboard and allowed Justin Rose to win by shooting an even-par 70.
(Getty Images photo)
"Nothing easy," Miller said, when spraying to all fields, including a shank by Steve Stricker, a standard-bearer felled by a Luke Donald tee shot (see photo above), and a pulled and lipped out par putt by Charl Schwartzel. "This is almost all nerves, folks. This is what nerves will do to you Sunday at a U.S. Open. These guys are not even hardly the same golfer they were the first three days, almost to a man."
Even Tiger Woods, who was not a factor on Sunday, evoked the word from Miller.
"The putter's not working, in majors," Miller said. "He's won four times this year. Regular events he's putting the eyes out of it. Then he gets to the Masters, nothing goes in. Gets to the U.S. Open, nothing goes in again. He must be trying too hard in the majors. Or maybe he's at the age where maybe he's getting a little tiny bit of nerves. Maybe he wants it a little too badly. That record of Jack's is haunting him a little."
Later in the broadcast, when NBC showed a replay of Stricker's shank, Miller said, "U.S. Open nerves, I guess. I don't know what else you'd call it."
Yes, he does. He just avoided saying it.
Question of the day
"Can he handle this moment, though, to get his first U.S. Open title?" Johnny Miller asked of Phil Mickelson, moments before he teed off. A little more than four hours later, we had the answer.
While we're young (or not)
Golf Channel's Kelly Tilghman interviewed USGA president Glen Nager and to her credit brought up the five hours, 40 minutes it took the final group on Saturday to complete its round, and did so in the context of the USGA's new "While We're Young" campaign to speed play.
"We can do better," Nager replied. "That's partly our message, which is what all of us in the industry need to look at how we can do better. We knew coming into Merion there were places that were going to make this golf course play slower than other golf courses, because you have bottlenecks right off the bat, with a reachable par 5, the second hole, the third hole being a par 3. We did a lot of things in advance to try to promote a better pace of play.
"I think you'll see today just going off the first tee and going in pairings of two we should be able to hit our allotted time of four hours and two minutes, give or take a little."
They played in a little more than the goal of four-hours, two-minutes, but they came in well under five hours. It's a start.
Dan Jenkins (@danjenkinsgd): "Watching Tiger here, the question is shifting from whether he'll surpass Nicklaus' record to whether he'll win another major."
Sophie Gustafson (@SophieGustafson): "Ralph Lauren asked @LukeDonald to wear the squid pants. In his gentle English accent he said '#### no'."
Luke Donald started his final round of the U.S. Open with consecutive pars and seemed to be in pretty good shape, until things started to go a little wayward -- literally -- on the par-3 third hole.
Donald's tee shot on the long par-3 sailed left and struck a volunteer following the group ahead. The volunteer, a young lady, remained on the ground for a number of minutes and was visibly shaken when she stood up. Donald apologized and gave the volunteer a signed glove, who reportedly told him not to worry.