Saturday, September 15, 2012

A centennial celebration at Merion

   Sunday dawns with 271 days to go until the 2013 U.S. Open tees off at Merion Golf Club’s East Course in the Ardmore section of Haverford Township.    Speaking of Merion, the Grand Dame of the Main Line officially turned 100 Friday. The occasion was the subject of a very nice piece in Golf World penned by Jeff Silverman, who says in the article he was commissioned by Merion to write its new club history.
   Silverman focuses a lot on the timelessness of Hugh Wilson’s architecture. Wilson was technically an amateur when he designed Merion. Sort of like the 14-year-old kid who teed it up in the first big event at Merion, the 1914 U.S. Amateur — that would be Bobby Jones — was technically an amateur golfer.
   Silverman also touches on the hysteria that has so often greeted the announcement that the East Course is going to be the site of the U.S. Open.
   The 2013 Open will be Merion’s fifth, but its first since 1981.
   I can clearly recall the run-up to the 1971 Open, when I was a 16-year-old looper at the club. One of the Philly papers, pretty sure it was the Bulletin, picked up a column by the great Jim Murray, who is on the short list of greatest sportswriters to ever pound a typewriter and/or keyboard.
   But Murray got this one wrong. The Cliff’sNotes version of the column was that Merion East was too short. A pitch-and-putt course, he sniffed. The modern pros would have their way with the old girl.
Didn’t happen. A couple of guys you may have heard of, Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino, ended up in an 18-hole playoff after finishing tied at even-par 280.
   Personally, I thought they overdid it with the rough in ’71, but the USGA liked its rough back in those days.
   Still, a 21-year-old Wake Forest senior out of Butler, Pa., the late Jim Simons, held the lead as an amateur after three rounds. He was “the kid,” as in, “how’s the kid doing?” that U.S. Open week. His college teammate, Lanny Wadkins, described Simons as the ultimate technician, the best at managing his game that he ever saw.
   And that’s what it takes to play well at Wilson’s creation. Hit every fairway and hit every green, as David Graham did in one of the most underrated final rounds in U.S. Open history, and you can score at Merion.
   It was Graham’s 7-under 273 total in 1981 that scared the USGA away from one of its favorite golf courses.
  But a few extra yards were found — ironically a lot of those yards were added at the par-4 fifth and the par-4 18th holes, which were already two the East’s toughest already — Haverford College graciously worked out a deal to allow some of its property to be utilized for those all-important corporate suites and the Open was back.
   Silverman reported that the big centennial observation at Merion will come in two weeks, around the Sept. 29 date that may be the most historical of all at Merion. That, of course, was the date in 1930 when Jones, 16 years older than when he first made national headlines as a 14-year-old at Merion, completed the Grand Slam by wining the U.S. Amateur.
He then promptly retired from competitive golf and went and built that golf course in Georgia where they have that other big tournament every April.
   Walk the fairways of the East Course a 1,000 times or so — as I did as a looper there from 1969 until the second round of the 1981 U.S. Open — and the history becomes a part of you, as if by osmosis.
   Silverman’s piece makes it clear that people who know about these things are confident that even with the advances in both golf clubs and balls, Merion will hold its own at the 2013 Open, just as it always has.
   Silverman digs up a quote by the legendary architect Pete Dye concerning the East Course in which Dye says: “Merion is not great because history was made there. History was made there because Merion is great.”
   He’s definitely onto something there.

Pellegrini, Calamaro tee off

   A couple of All-Delco performers in their scholastic days, Garnet Valley’s Erica Pellegrini and Radnor’s Jackie Calamaro, got their collegiate seasons started last weekend.
   Pellegrini, a junior at The Citadel, led the way for the Bulldogs as they placed 12th at the Terrier Intercollegiate held at Spartanburg C.C. in Spartanburg, S.C.
   Pellegrini, a two-time All-Delco and two-time state qualifier when she was with the Jaguars, fired a second-round 77 to go with her opening-round 82 for a 15-over 159 total that earned her a tie for 40th in the individual chase.
   The Citadel’s two-day team total was 651. UNC-Pembroke captured the team title with a 595 total. UNC-Pembroke was two shots clear of Gardner-Webb (597), which was led by individual winner Mark K. Donovan, who posted a sparkling 1-under 143 total.
   Calamaro, a redshirt sophomore at Illinois, flashed the kind of talent that made her the 2009 PIAA champion and 2009-10 Daily Times Player of the Year with a 1-under 71 in the middle round of Colonel Wollenberg’s Ram Classic, held at the 6,302-yard, par-72 Ptarmigan Course in Fort Collins, Colo.
   Calamaro’s inexperience — she is part of a very young Illinois group — was evident in the other two rounds as she flanked that 71 with an opening-round 81 and a final-round 86. Her 248 total left her in a tie for 69th with, among others, teammate Pimploy Thirati, a sophomore. The Illini were led by redshirt sophomore Samantha Postillion, a transfer from Texas who had rounds of 76, 77 and 76 for a 229 total that left her in a tie for 52nd.
   Illinois’ final-round 320 total left them in 16th place with a score of 935.
   Texas Tech was the runaway winner in the team chase, finishing 27 shots better than runnerup Baylor. New Mexico’s Manon DeRoey was the individual winner with rounds of 69, 68 and 70 for a 9-under 207 total.

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