by Jeff Skinner
Long before the first player ever teed it up it Merion at last week’s U.S. Open, Mike Davis and his cohorts had spent months planning every detail of the tournament. I am sure they had backup plans for their backup plans.
Early on, the transparent Davis had said that one of the mainstays of his recent U.S. Open setups wouldn’t be in place at Merion.
The graduated rough that Davis had pioneered where the further from the fairway the ball lands the deeper the rough, was shelved for the 113th Open. Maybe Davis figured with a shorter course he needed another weapon to protect the course and that weapon was the club snagging, ball eating rough.
Some players have expressed their displeasure with the depth of the rough and the length of some of the par three setups. Zach Johnson was the most vociferous of the crew but Phil Mickelson may have been the most visible as he was caught on camera chiding Davis for the 274 yard third hole on Sunday.
But for all the griping there hasn’t been many players that said the USGA should not come back to Merion. It seems that the vast majority would love to come back to a less “influenced” Merion.
“Davis told anyone who would listen last week that score never enters the conversation during the setup process, yet watching the world’s best battle their way to over-par totals (winner Justin Rose finished at 1 over) during a relatively benign week scoring-wise makes one think that when they say it’s not about protecting par, it’s always about protecting par.
“They’re trying to protect par,” Tiger Woods said flatly on Friday.
The rub for most players, however, is that the USGA didn’t have to fly so close to the setup sun to protect Merion. Had officials maintained traditional fairway corridors and used slightly more accessible hole locations the winning score may have dipped to 8 under, but is that really a bad thing?
It’s worth noting that Merion superintendent Matt Shaffer told Golf Channel in May that the club will put the East Course’s fairway corridors back to where they were originally after the Open.”
Maybe Davis could have used his graduated rough to severely punish the wild tee ball while the ball that missed the fairway by a yard would still offer a chance at a good shot.
Coming back to Merion was a resounding success but there is still some room for improvements and Davis and crew learn from every event they run. Maybe there is a little bit to learn here too.