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Monday, December 31, 2012

Merion's Open year is here

  It’s New Year’s Day 2103 and that means it’s just 163 days until the biggest event in golf returns to the Ardmore section of Haverford Township and Delaware County for the first time in 32 years when the U.S. Open tees off at Merion Golf Club’s historic East Course.
   It was spring of 2006 when word started to leak out that the bid by the Merion membership to stage a fifth U.S. Open at a layout seemingly doomed by its shortish length to never host an Open again had suddenly emerged as the frontrunner for the 2013 Open.
   At the time, 2013 seemed far away, but now here we are.
   A lot of the credit for this belongs to the people at Haverford College who were willing to give up a big part of their campus so America’s corporate bigwigs would have a place to hobnob with their fellow wizards. They might not have as much spending money now that it appears their taxes are going up, but I’m sure they’ll be OK.
   It’s been quite a last eight years for golf in Delco. The 2005 U.S. Amateur was staged at Merion and it was widely viewed as a test drive for the beefed-up course. The Grand Dame of the Main Line held up just fine against the top amateur players in the world and less than a year later the United States Golf Association decided to bring its most prestigious championship back to the East Course.
  Then came the Walker Cup at Merion in  2009. It was a wonderful opportunity to see some of the bright young stars of the game. It was also the best chance the average golf fan would have to really get up close and personal with the golf course where Bobby Jones completed the Grand Slam in 1930, where Ben Hogan capped his comeback from a horrific car accident to win the 1950 U.S. Open in a playoff, where Lee Trevino beat Jack Nicklaus in a playoff in the 1971 U.S. Open, where Australian
David Graham pitched the golf equivalent of a perfect game in the final round to win the 1981 U.S. Open.
   If you’re lucky enough to score some tickets to the Open this year, you won’t get to walk the fairways the way you could at the Walker Cup. Of course, Tiger Woods wasn’t playing the Walker Cup in 2009 either.
   Then in 2010 and 2011, the PGA Tour came to town when Aronimink Golf Club hosted the AT&T National while the event’s usual site, Congressional Country Club in suburban Washington D.C., played host to the 2011 U.S. Open,  now widely known as Rory McIlroy’s professional coming-out party.
   It was really a nice treat to see the game’s best players teeing it up at a classic American golf course like Aronimink. And I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see Justin Rose, who won the 2010 AT&T at Aronimink, on the leaderboard at Merion in six months.
   Things are rough right now. The Andy Reid era with the Eagles ended with a 4-12 thud, there are big question marks with the Phillies, the Sixers desperately need Andrew Bynum to get healthy and the Flyers are locked out and on ice.
   But with a U.S. Open coming to town, there is something to look forward to.
   I got my first taste of a U.S. Open as a forecaddie on No. 6 at Merion in 1971. I was in Pittsburgh for a wedding in 1973 and was at Oakmont the day Johnny Miller shot a final-round 63 to win. I covered the 1980 Open at Baltusrol for The Mercury in Pottstown. I had a bag at Merion in the 1981 Open (and I hope it was as memorable a week for Jay Cudd as it was for me, even if he didn’t make the cut). And I crashed with my cousins in Pittsburgh and got to see a lot of the 1983 and 1994 Opens at Oakmont, won by two great champions, Larry Nelson and Ernie Els, respectively.
   Golf history will be made at Merion’s East Course in six months. It is, after all, the U.S. Open. And it is, after all, Merion.

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