For the fifth time in it’s history Merion Golf Club plays host to the U.S. Open in what is perhaps one of the more ho-hum Opens in recent memory. The course, though storied because of the likes of Ben Hogan and other greats of the game, lacks the iconic name that resonates with non-diehard or casual golf fans. Aside for the members of this 100 plus year old private club and those that remember witnessing the last open held at the course in 1981 there is little to visually tie people to Merion and anticipation for this edition of the sport’s most democratic major seems lacking.
Not helping matters is the fact that for the first time there appears to be some division amongst the “experts” as to whether or not the #1 golfer in the world Tiger Woods is the surefire pick to win, with a considerable number of prognosticators picking alternates like Brandt Snedeker or Matt Kuchar as the safer bets.
Therefore it’s understandable if you’re less than enthusiastic about this year’s Open and struggling to find a reason, short of Tiger being in contention on Sunday, to follow the unfolding drama at Merion.
The truth is you shouldn’t expect Woods to be hoisting America’s most treasured golf trophy on Sunday. In spite of having won four tournaments this year Tiger has continued to show the proclivity for performing at the highest levels on courses he is most familiar with/comfortable on. However, just as the majority of the field, he has never competed professionally at Merion and there is zero way of knowing whether or not the course sets up well mentally for Woods. Because of this the 2013 edition of the U.S. Open is about as open as they come.
This doesn’t mean the tournament is unworthy of your attention, because the U.S. Open has never been about one golfer. It’s about a course providing one of the greatest challenges in golf, punishing players to the point that a single individual rises to the top and proves themselves worthy of the honor.
In a day and age when most professional sporting organizations create easier conditions for scoring or putting points on the board, the U.S. Open is a refreshing reminder that greatness isn’t always about flash and that sometimes the greatest feats come from those who have endured the greatest of challenges. True Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy have both won Opens with dramatic double digit under par scores, but they’re the only ones to accomplish this feat. Additionally, since 1931 the average winning score at U.S. Opens is only 1 under and during this time 40% of winners have finished with a score of over par. Year in and year out the USGA’s goal is to humble the world’s best golfers.
History has shown us that Merion can be as mighty of a challenge as they come. The average winning score in the previous four Opens held at the club is +4.5 and Australian David Graham’s -7 in 1981 was the only time a winner shot under par. Though Graham’s score was impressive, he was one of only five golfers who broke par in 1981 and 84% of the players who made the cut finished over par.
With McIlroy’s 16 under par performance at Congressional two years ago still fresh in the USGA’s minds, there is little reason to believe that Merion won’t be just as punishing as last year’s open at Olympic Club where Webb Simpson won with a final score of +1. Meaning most likely the course will be the winner and the golfer who shows the greatest respect for Merion and fortitude to endure will finish atop the leaderboard.
Projecting who that golfer will be requires the crystal balls of all crystal balls. Still since Merion’s design was largely based off Scottish and British courses it is possible to anticipate a few names in particular that might be floating around the leaderboard come Sunday.
Adam Scott, Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson, Lee Westwood, Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker and Henrik Stenson all have multiple times Top 10 finishes in recent British Opens, are performing well season, and ranked in the Top 50 of the Fed Ex Standings (the PGA Tour’s playoff standings). Consequently, each could have a higher comfort level with the course and a leg up on their fellow competitors.
So pick a horse, sit back, relax, and enjoy Merion punish every mistake and reward the few who display the heart of a champion as we determine who will be the 2013 winner of America’s golf championship.
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David Graham’s 1981 US Open victory at Merion:
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