Part 2: Notes from the U.S. Open

July 5, 2013

The vagaries of the Merion layout meant that the USGA didn’t schedule the usual split starts for the first two rounds using the first and 10th holes. Instead, golfers began play on either the first or 11th holes.

We were in place to watch the 7 a.m. 11th hole group at the 15th green. Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts joined Masters Tournament winners Bubba Watson and Zach Johnson as they worked their way uphill toward the small group of fans greeting them.

For those attending an Open or any other professional golf tournament, I recommend sitting in the stands and watching several players finish a hole. The experience is far more useful than hanging around the practice range, or standing six rows back along a fence line, hoping for a glimpse.

Here are a few examples.

Watson’s approach landed above the hole, tucked in the back left of the green, and sucked back 40 feet on the slick surface. His uphill putt stopped short 6 feet, but he slid the next one in for par.

Colsaerts spun his shot back 20 feet, but his first putt reached tap-in range. Johnson’s approach landed in high fescue on the left side of the green, and his chip stopped 4 feet above. He made par.

The next few groups featured Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker, Keegan Bradley, Matt Kuchar, Brandt Snedeker and eventual Open winner Justin Rose. Stricker had an easy birdie, while the others all had good attempts for par, most of which succeeded.

The difference in the pros’ skill level around the green, compared to the rest of us, shows that it’s not just a matter of how far they can hit it off the tee.

At 8:36 a.m. the horn blew because of an approaching storm, forcing the players, the fans and the media off the course. A major thunderstorm followed a few minutes later, with thousands of fans all trying to find relief from the heavy downpour and lightning flashes.

Sardines would have felt right at home inside the Merchandise Pavilion along the 16th fairway. My friends Jim and Lisa Hutchins, whom I was supposed to meet that morning, were stuck there for a long while. We never did catch up to each other.

By the time the storm ended and play resumed, the tournament had lost almost 3 1/2 hours of playing time. It forced the conclusion of the second round into Saturday morning and an unusual threesome arrangement for Saturday’s third round to fully recover from the delay.

I returned to the 15th green on Thursday, just in time to watch a famous pro play the hole just as well as I would.

Sergio Garcia’s tee shot went out of bounds, which for this hole was not hard to do. Cut-down posts marking OB hugged the ground only 3 feet from the fairway, and another yard separated the poles from Golf House Road. Garcia’s third shot was safe, but his next one landed in the right greenside bunker. He flew over the green to the rough beyond, and muddled his way from there to a triple bogey.

In a later round, Garcia made a 10 on the same hole. Those two combined bits of butchery took him out of contention.

On the other hand, I also watched several other pros show the rest of us what course management should be.

For example, Kevin Sutherland, Matt Weibring, and Randall Hutchinson all hit midirons off the eighth tee, a 359-yard par 4 with fairway bunkers marking the beginning of a downhill fairway slope toward the green. The tee shots kept them on level ground, short of the bunkers, but with good chances for approaches that would put them in birdie range. These tactics were used by nearly everyone else in the field on that hole, and on a few of the other short par 4s.

Third Annual Eleanor Soltner Memorial Golf Outing

The third Eleanor Soltner Memorial Golf Outing is scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 14, and supports the Delaware Hospice Center in Milford.

The event begins with a light breakfast, moves to the range for warming up and then a shotgun start at 9 a.m. The award reception takes place after lunch.

The $100 per person fee pays for playing in the four-person scramble format, along with cart, meals and range balls. Prizes are available, and a silent auction will be held.

For more information, including sponsorship opportunities, contact Bob Burd at 302-422-3501.

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