US Open 2013: Will historic Merion Golf Club show it has stood test of time?


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The Independent Online

Ben Hogan's win in the 1950 US Open, 16 months after a car accident that had almost killed him, and Bobby Jones' triumph in the 1930 US Amateur, which gave him all four major championships of that era in one glorious summer spell, were the defining memories of some of the 19 USGA events to have been held at Merion Golf Club down the years.

Ask what impression will be left by the 2013 US Open and the answer is that it could come to be seen as the major championship that brought an end to one of the game's most vibrant and continuing arguments: technology versus history. Merion, only 6,996 yards at its longest, could be the place that proves courses that were once perceived to be too short and too out-of-date are not.

Here at the first major championship since the announcement that anchoring a putter against any part of the body will be outlawed from January 2016, the PGA Tour still has to decide the reaction of its 16-man Players Committee to that ruling. But guided by Commissioner Tim Finchem's advice "to get on side with the USGA [because] it might help us with future issues", it is not thought there will be further resistance from that particular quarter, though a couple of players are said to be taking legal advice.

This week, too, the USGA announced the most ambitious attempts yet to combat slow play, a campaign based on a film called While We're Young, which were the key words of Caddyshack, the 1980 golf movie.

Aware of findings by the National Golf Foundation which indicated that 91 per cent of serious golfers were bothered by slow play, that 70 per cent believe it has worsened and as many as 35 per cent have walked off courses in frustration, the USGA has started work on a model that will explain ways in which individual golf clubs can try to overcome it – shorten holes, reduce the height of the rough, lessen the speed of the greens.

"This is a week celebrating the great moments in time here at Merion," Mike Davis, executive director of the USGA, said. "To come back here and to have today's players measure themselves against the greats of Jones and Hogan, that's neat. That can't be done everywhere. I think that while Merion may be short, one of the things I really want to make sure that everyone knows is that it has stood the test of time.

"In fact, I would say Merion has stood the test of time in terms of going from hickories to steel shafted clubs to the modern golf ball and so on. And that's because Merion has been this great blend of short and long. Even though the players' ball flights and the clubs they are using are different today, the challenges they face are going to be very similar to what Hogan, Jones, Nicklaus and Trevino faced."

The weather seemed hell-bent on spoiling the start of Merion's fifth US Open, turning the club's firm and fast fairways into sodden targets that the competitors were able to aim at safe in the knowledge that their ball would not bound on and on and finish in gnarly, four-inch-high rough.

The purists hope that by the end this will have been an Open that will not have been won by a 16-under-par score as happened at Congressional two years ago, but by a total that suggests that the struggle between the players trying to master an old traditional course and a course trying to defend itself against the advances of modern technology will have ended in favour of tradition. "To see the world's best players get to play some of these wonderfully designed courses is really meaningful to us," Davis said.

But not half so meaningful as to those watching. If Merion's gleaming reputation is given extra lustre by being the place where common sense entered the technological discussion, then more power to this wonderful place and its distinctive wicker baskets.

Tee totals: First day in numbers

2011 The first-round US Open leader has won only once in the last 10 years – Rory McIlroy in 2011.

111 Minutes of play possible before the action was suspended.

3 Ian Poulter hit a birdie on each of his first three holes.