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Merion Scatters The Doubters

ARDMORE, PENNSYLVANIA | Oh yes, Merion, that 6,996-yard Rubik’s Cube of a golf course. A beauty who wooed with a beckoning finger and holes out of the last century but when you tried to get too close smacked you with a wicker basket full of unfulfilled promises. Poor Merion, we kept saying. They were going to embarrass her, going to tramp all over her legends. She was a lady out of step with the times and Pro V1 Titleists. Doll her up with rouge and a new dress. It wasn’t going to matter. What we conveniently forgot was the tournament they held last week at Merion was the most important one of any year in America, the national championship, the U.S. Open. The one where the rough is high and so are the scores. The one that makes the pros curse with anger when they’re not begging for mercy. “This,” said Zach Johnson, departing after 36 holes, “just enhances my disdain for how the USGA manipulates the golf course.” Now, now, Zach, it is just a game, and you are a former major champion, albeit at The Masters. The day before the first round of the Open, Mike Davis, the executive director of the USGA, told the country, “It’s not about the score.” Hey, if politicians can tell falsehoods, so can golf officials. Of course, it’s about the score. Low one wins. Awful ones don’t allow you to play four days. What Davis wanted to say was, “We don’t care if they shoot 20-under par or 20 over,” although indeed they do care. Otherwise they wouldn’t have put the back tees some place near downtown Philadelphia or watched gleefully as players whacked tee balls into the yard of a neighboring estate (sorry about that, Sergio). Go back and read the comments. Merion was too small, a course in miniature. They’d break every scoring record on the books. “They hadn’t held an Open at Merion in 32 years,” someone wrote, “and they won’t hold another for another 32 years – if ever.” Ho, ho. They’ll be back at Merion. I promise you. Did it matter if the players’ courtesy lounge was someone’s kitchen? Did it matter a motorcycle escort was required to accompany golfers from the practice range to their first hole – which might have been the 11th? Did it matter that the first round ran into the second and the second into the third? (Well, yes, that’s because of rain delays, de rigeur, when the Open is held anywhere east of California). Harken to the words of Graeme McDowell, who won the 2010 Open at Pebble Beach (where it rains in January, not June) and as Zach Johnson had a 77 in the second round. “It’s not the way I wanted to play the last couple of days,” McDowell advised before his departure, “but this place is very hard.” Phil Mickelson, for one, was appreciative. “I love that,” said Phil, “because if you’re playing well, you’re going to be able to make pars and separate yourself from the field. But they didn’t trick up the easy holes.” A bit of an overstatement. Nobody separated himself from the field, which is the norm for Opens. You hang in there, saving pars (you hope) and the next thing you know either you’re the champion or you’re not. Jimmy Demaret, it might have been, who said, “You don’t win an Open, it wins you.” Mickelson went about trying to win his first Open in an unusual manner, attending daughter Amanda’s middle school graduation speech near San Diego on Wednesday night then boarding a jet – an executive jet; you think he has to wait in line? – and following a few hours shut-eye going out Thursday early morning and after a rain delay shooting 67. Nobody ever implied Phil was so good he could break par in his sleep, but that’s about closest he or anyone has come. Rory McIlroy didn’t come close to winning, but he was the runaway champion two years ago at Congressional and young Rory did himself proud before striking a single shot. Slamming a Phillies hat on head, bill backwards, McIlroy dashed up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, then pumped his arms skyward, exactly as Sylvester Stallone back in the original Rocky film. That was made in 1976 – 13 years before McIlroy was born.


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