Rain Becoming a Concern at Mushy Merion
Ardmore, Pa. — The rain poured down yesterday morning at Merion Golf Club, interrupting practice rounds for the U.S. Open. Then it poured again. And again. And again.
The rain, which measured 11/2 inches by late afternoon and continued to fall into the evening, left Merion’s famed East Course a swamp in the fairways and the rough, and particularly outside the ropes where the crush of spectators left a muddy mess.
However, the U.S. Golf Association expressed optimism that Merion’s drainage system will do its job and have the course in playable shape for Thursday’s start of the 113th national championship, even with rain in the forecast for the foreseeable future.
“It is maybe the best-draining golf course I have ever seen,” USGA executive director Mike Davis said yesterday at a late afternoon news conference. “If you walk this course, you know there’s hardly any flat lies at Merion. Its surface drains beautifully.”
The course took on 31/2 inches of rain during Friday’s deluge and came out of it well, with only minor flooding in the 11th fairway. A few bunkers had to be replenished, and debris had to be removed from some others.
The 11th hole, which runs through the lowest point of the golf course and features a creek running the entire length and more than halfway around the green, is the course’s most flood-prone hole. The green has had a history of flooding but has managed to stay above water given the two rain events over the past four days.
Matt Shaffer, Merion’s director of golf course operations, said much work has been done on the green to keep it above any water that flows out of the creek. He also said the golf course as a whole has “hundreds and hundreds” of miles of drainage pipes.
Davis said there is a contingency plan in place to play some holes on Merion’s West Course should holes on the East Course prove to be unplayable, but he called it a “10,000-to-1” shot.
“We don’t anticipate that happening to the point where we’re not going to be able to get the U.S. Open in and we’re going to have to go to some holes on the West Course,” he said.
The rain and the resulting soft conditions may yield some of the lowest scores in U.S. Open history unless the course gets some rain-free days to dry out. Rory McIlroy set the Open record of 16-under 268 in similarly favorable conditions in 2011 at Congressional near Washington, and that could be threatened.
“We’re going to have a soft course this week all week,” two-time Open champion Ernie Els said. “It means that if you’re on your game, you’re going to have a lot of birdie putts. There’s quite a few par-4s where you’ve just got to put it in the fairway, and then you’ve got quite a short second shot.”
The forecast calls for a chance of showers and thunderstorms today and tomorrow, but a near-certain chance for it Thursday when the competition begins. Shaffer said the weather for Thursday was “pretty nasty” but added that, “If we get a dry day (today or tomorrow), Thursday won’t be nearly as bad” on the course.
Davis said he and his staff wouldn’t do much different in setting up the course on Thursday given the weather, but he noted that there would be a special effort to keep the hole locations out of low-lying areas on the greens.
“We’ll look at all 18 hole locations,” he said, “and make sure to the extent possible we’ve got those in higher locations so we don’t get puddling right around the hole. But beyond that, there’s not a whole lot we would do. We would just let the course play the way it’s going to play.”
Shaffer was optimistic that he and his workers, which include nearly 130 volunteers from the area, across the country and around the world, could handle any weather-related crisis.
“It’s like the glass is full so it really doesn’t matter how much more you get,” he said. “It’d be nice if it stops so that it can start to dry out. But once the water goes down, those creeks open back up and they start to drain.”