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Saturday, February 9, 2013

Merion: Short on yardage, long on history

   Just 124 days until the 2013 U.S. Open tees off at Merion Golf Club’s historic East Course and that means Merion keeps coming up more  and more in the golf press.
   Of course, everybody in golfdom can’t stop talking about how short Merion East is. In introducing a Merion item in his weekly notebook, Doug Ferguson, who follows the PGA Tour for The Associated Press, said simply, “The U.S. Open at Merion will be the shortest course for a major championship in eight years.”
   USGA executive director Mike Davis, better known as the mad scientist of course setups for USGA championships, said last week that the East will measure 6,992 yards on the card for the 2013 Open. The last major to be contested on a course measuring under 7,000 yards was the 2004 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills on Long Island.
   Davis loves to fool around with course setup. At the 2009 Walker Cup Match at  Merion, he used the adjoining sixth tee at No. 3 to  make an already long par-3 a monster. A day later, he moved the tee up on the short par-4 10th, so that it actually measured less than the par-3 third had a day earlier.
   Of course, if you bomb one straightaway at 10, no matter where the tee is located, you could end up on Ardmore Avenue and you know what that means -- “Sir, I think you’re hitting three now. Would you like to take one less club?”
   “Merion is just this wonderful blend of short and long holes,” Davis said at the USGA’s annual meeting. “By the time you walk off the fourth green, you’re done with the par 5s. … I think it’s going to be unique in the sense that you are going to see many  more birdie opportunities at Merion than you are going to see at most other U.S. Opens. But also, there are some critically tough holes at Merion.”
   Or as Lee Trevino, who beat Jack Nicklaus in a playoff to win the 1971 U.S. Open at Merion, likes to say, “Yeah, there’s 18 birdie holes at Merion. There’s also 18 bogey holes at Merion.”
   Merion, wedged into a corner of the Ardmore section of Haverford Township, is much smaller than most Open venues. The USGA, as Ferguson pointed out in his note, will take a financial hit by staging its bell-cow event in Delaware County, but Davis has no regrets.
   “We felt this is the right thing to do for the game of golf, to bring it back to a straighter test and let’s see,” Davis said. “So in my view, it’s short. But it’s a fabulous test of golf.”
   And if you need any further proof of Merion’s standing in golf history, you need to do nothing more than page through the most recent issue of GolfWorld. The magazine’s cover story is “The 18 Most Important Moments In Golf.”
   The impetus for the piece is the No. 1 moment, 20-year-old amateur Francis Ouimet staring down the reigning superstars of the sport, Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, in an 18-hole playoff to win the 1913 U.S. Open at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass.
   When the site for the 2013 Open was first being discussed, it was assumed by many that the 100th anniversary of Ouimet’s victory made The Country Club a natural pick for this year. But The Country Club was either not willing or able to stage the event and Brookline’s loss turned into Delco’s gain.
   Bill Fields’ recounting of the Ouimet victory is highly recommended reading for any golf fan.
   But if you couldn’t return to The Country Club for the 100th anniversary of Ouimet’s win, why not the course that owns two of the 18 “Most Important Moments In Golf?”
   That, golf fans, is Merion’s East Course. And there can really be no argument about the inclusion of these two events among the 18.
   The first, of course, was Bobby Jones completing the original Grand Slam in one year by winning the 1930 U.S. Amateur at Merion. He added the U.S. Amateur win to victories earlier in the year at the U.S. Open, the British Amateur and the British Open, then promptly retired from competitive golf at the ripe old age of 28. Of course, he did go home to Georgia and build that little golf course that hosts the first leg of the modern Grand Slam each April (and, as in most years, can’t get here soon enough).
   The second, of course, was Ben Hogan completing his comeback from a near fatal car accident in 1949 to win the 1950 U.S. Open. He won in a playoff after barely being able to walk the final-day 36-hole test the USGA demanded of its Open champion back in those days.
   The picture of Hogan’s approach to the 18th green at the East Course, his final hole of the regulation 72 holes, remains one of the iconic golf photos 63 years, and many photographic advances, later.
   History will be made at Merion again in 2013. You can count on it.
Calamaro gets a fresh start
   Jackie Calamaro, the 2009 PIAA champion at Radnor, got right back in the groove for the spring half of the season for the redshirt sophomore at Illinois.
   The Illini opened their spring campaign with the Illinois Challenge as they escaped the winter chill to take on Illinois State in a Ryder Cup-style series of matches last weekend at the 6,980-yard, par-72 Venice Golf & Country Club layout in Venice, Fla.
   Calamaro teamed with sophomore Pimploy Thirati for a 3 and 2 victory over Jordyn Wzygoski and Courtney Cossell in a four-ball match for the Illini’s only point in three four-ball matches.
   A tight travel schedule forced some of the afternoon singles matches to be cut short, but Calamaro needed just 14 holes to pick up another point for the Illini with a 5 and 4 victory. With half-points awarded to each team for two of the matches that weren’t completed, the Illini picked up five of a possible six points in the afternoon for a 6-3 overall victory over their cross-state rival.
   The Illini will return to tournament action Feb. 24 at the Westbrook Spring Invite In Peoria, Ariz.

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