Golf Tidbits: Mother Nature takes control of Open

Weather plays a part in every golf tournament. At the four major championships, weather and course conditions need to be perfect.

The Unites States Golf Association likes the courses that host the U.S. Open to be firm and fast. The East Course at Merion Golf Club won't get anywhere near that condition this week.

Over 3 1/2 inches of rain fell at the course on Friday and more storms drenched the course on Monday. The rain from the storms dumped more rain on the course than it normally sees in the entire month of June.

The USGA has a doomsday plan in place in case the 11th green floods, which nearly happened on Friday. Tournament officials have kept two holes on Merion's West Course in tournament shape in case one or two of the East Course holes flood and are rendered unplayable.

The forecast calls for the possibility of more storms on Tuesday, and possibly strong storms on Thursday. From there, though, the weather should be perfect.

High temperatures around 80 degrees with overnight lows in the 60s. There are two bad things in those perfect conditions.

The lack of wind and lack of blazing heat will keep the course from completely drying out. Unless there is more rain, the course will not get watered the remainder of the week after all the rain it has taken on.

The fairways will be softer than the USGA would like, but even if players find the short grass off the tee, that doesn't mean they'll find the green with their approach shots.

The players will be tested right out of the gate. With a different set-up at Merion, the players will start on the first and 11th instead of the first and 10th, and there is trouble in play on both opening holes.

Number one is a dogleg right with out of bounds long and left of the green. It would take a pretty bad shot for a professional to knock it OB on the first, but the 11th has a lot of water to challenge the players.

Prior to the Open, the fairway on the 11th was shifted to the left, which brings more trees into play. A stream borders the green on the right and long.

What will benefit players on both holes is the softer conditions. If the greens were firm and fast, especially the fifth and 11th, players could roll their balls right off those greens and into hazards.

ESPN analyst Paul Azinger brought up a good point last week on a conference call with the broadcasters. Azinger said, "You have to remember one thing. Guys start nervous and end relaxed, and then when it comes crunch time, they are ending nervous on Sunday."

Those opening two holes might not look like much to a pro, but add in the nerves factor and you'll see shots you rarely see from top-notch golfers.

With the softer conditions through the week, the first 13 holes may play easier than the USGA had hoped, but the final five holes are where the course will show its teeth.

I would know. The day media members were invited to play the course, it rained hard all morning. Thankfully, I teed it up in the afternoon, but it was still difficult.

As an 11 handicap, I thought I played the back nine pretty well. Then, I added up the scores and realized I was 9-over par through 9 holes. That may be close to the norm for someone with my handicap, but I was displeased and perturbed.

I've heard predictions of 5- to 10-under par will be the winning score. With the soft conditions, scores go even lower than that. Two of the things that will help protect the course are the thick rough and the speed of the greens.

If the greens get up to 13 or 13.5 on the stimpmeter, it won't matter how close guys hit their approach shots. The greens will be slick and tricky.

Just the way they normally are at the U.S. Open


Harris English broke through at the St. Jude Classic on Sunday and won his first PGA Tour title. He did so in come-from-behind fashion to make it all the more impressive.

The 23-year-old's problem? He was too far down in the world rankings for the win to get him into the field at Merion this week.

English soared 55 places to No. 84 in the latest rankings. He needed to get inside the top 60 in the rankings to qualify for the field at Merion.

Only one player qualified in that manner, Kyle Stanley. He moved inside the top 60 in the world rankings a week ago thanks to a third-place finish at the Memorial.

So he misses the water-logged course at Merion this week. But, he still gets to go to Augusta National next April.


* Merion superintendent Matt Shaffer and his expanded crew will have their hands full getting the course in playable shape after all this rain. He'll be up to the task, but the course won't play as the way the USGA or the members would like.

* Dan Quinn, who spent parts of two seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers, is back caddying for Ernie Els this week. Quinn has been honing his game of late as he prepares to defend his title later this summer at the American Century Championship in Lake Tahoe. Quinn will be looking for his sixth title at that event.