Joe Goode: Good morning, everyone, and welcome to Merion Golf Club and Media Day for the 113th U.S. Open Championship.
I’m Joe Goode, managing director of Communications for the United States Golf Association.
We’re especially pleased to be joined by USGA Vice President and Championship Committee Chairman Tom O'Toole, Merion Golf Club General Chairman Rick Ill and USGA Executive Director Mike Davis.
Collectively, they will provide updates on our operations, club preparation and course setup for our national championship, as well as some exciting new developments for fans.
We will also hear from our current champion, Webb Simpson, and the preparations that he is making to defend his title.
Recognized as one of golf's most revered and prestigious championships, the U.S. Open is a perpetual story of perseverance, class and accomplishment. And Merion, with its history, has long been part of this inspirational legacy. Lets watch.
Joe Goode: It is now my pleasure to turn over the program to Tom O’Toole, vice president of the USGA and championship committee chairman.
Tom O’Toole: Welcome. It is truly a pleasure for all of us to be back here at Merion Golf Club as we embark on our annual championship season.
Over the next five months, 13 individuals and two teams – amateurs and professionals, men and women – will be crowned as USGA champions. None may be as visible as our 113th U.S. Open champion here at Merion, but all will be deserving of our admiration for their competitive accomplishments.
While the USGA championship season is just getting under way, we have already had an exciting year. In January, we announced the creation of a new National Amateur Four-Ball Championship for men and women, the first national championships to be added to the USGA’s competition roster in more than 25 years.
The addition of these events, which will begin in 2015, reflects the association’s continued commitment to supporting and growing amateur competition well into the future. Because the four-ball format lends itself to spirited team competition and aggressive risk-reward shotmaking, we are confident these championships will deliver exciting amateur golf to the national stage for both players and spectators alike.
We have also introduced a new championship for America’s young golfers. Earlier this month, in partnership with The Masters Tournament Foundation and the PGA of America, we announced the creation of a national Drive, Chip & Putt Championship. The free, nationwide junior skills competition enables kids ages 7-15 throughout the United States to advance through local and national qualifying and the chance to advance to the finals which will be held at Augusta National Golf Club in 2014.
Generations of players have been inspired by the dream of sinking a winning putt on the 18th green at Augusta National. Now, an exciting opportunity exists to make that dream a reality. Drive, Chip & Putt will showcase the talents of kids who already play this game and motivate others to give the sport a try. Registration for local qualifying ends tomorrow, so we encourage parents to sign up their aspiring young champions today at drivechipandputt.com.
With a heritage that dates back to 1895, the U.S. Open remains to this day a showcase for the finest players in the world and the finest courses in the game.
Famed and formidable Merion Golf Club is hosting its fifth U.S. Open and its 18th USGA championship, more than any other venue.
he East Course, with its classic layout, ribbon fairways, scotch broom and steep faced bunkers, is where history is celebrated and where history is made.
Like Bob Jones’ victory at the U.S. Amateur to win the Grand Slam in 1930 – a feat that has never been equaled.
Or Merion’s first U.S. Open in 1934, where young Olin Dutra, despite severe illness, overcame an eight-shot deficit to win his second major.
Then in 1950 came an unrelenting victor in Ben Hogan, just 16 months removed from his near -atal car accident and struggling to walk, who struck a now iconic 1-iron – which I have with me today – on the 72nd green to force a playoff victory that began a stretch of three U.S. Open wins in four years.
In 1971, the U.S. Open returned to Merion in style with a boisterous playoff duel between Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino.
In 1981, the last time the U.S. Open was played at Merion, Australian David Graham defined precision by hitting every single fairway and all but one green on his final day to victory.
And if the past offers anything about the future, the 2013 U.S. Open promises enough exciting moments to fill Merion's famed wicker basket flagsticks.
To celebrate the best of America’s most prestigious championship and its historic return to Merion, the USGA is proud to announce its newly published book, “Great Moments of the U.S. Open,” written by Robert Williams, director of the USGA Museum, and Michael Trostel, the museum's curator and historian. The book celebrates the accomplishments of U.S. Open champions, shares their inspirational stories and chronicles the extraordinary legacy of our national championship.
Coinciding with the 100th anniversary of amateur Francis Ouimet’s shocking victory over top British professionals at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., and complete with a foreword by four time U.S. Open champion Jack Nicklaus, “Great Moments of the U.S. Open” draws together heroes, past and present, who persevered under the most demanding conditions to become America’s national champions.
From a spectator perspective, the drama and excitement of our national championship continues to drive greater levels of demand for U.S. Open golf. Merion marks the 27th consecutive ticket sellout, and we are pleased to announce that we have met our corporate hospitality goals for this year. Both of these points reflect the significance of the U.S. Open among golf fans and the corporate community, and the excitement from across the Philadelphia region.
The USGA also continues to find opportunities to enhance the overall fan experience around the U.S. Open, both physically and in the digital space.
In an effort to extend the reach of the U.S. Open to more local fans, the USGA is pleased to announce the creation of the U.S. Open Experience at Independence Mall.
Thanks to our corporate partners at Lexus, American Express and Chevron, fans can be part of the championship experience right in the heart of historic Center City Philadelphia. From interactive exhibits where fans can recreate historical moments from Merion’s U.S. Open history or learn about the science behind the game at a mini replica of the 14th hole putting green to U.S. Open merchandise and Jumbotron viewing of live golf, Independence Mall will be the next best place to be part of all the U.S. Open action.
We also continue to make improvements in delivering an integrated view of our U.S. Open coverage, thanks to our partners at IBM. At usopen.com, which goes live today, fans can get the very latest information concerning the championship, including play schedules, real time scoring, social media feeds and live video of marquee groups and selected holes.
Among the new features to usopen.com include: sectional qualifying coverage, including live second round hole by hole scoring, as well as photos and stories from all 11 qualifying sites. Enhancements to live scoring that will enable users to track their favorite golfers by creating a personalized leaderboard. And a new iPad app, which provides access to HD streaming video and a very cool data rich scoring console.
None of this is accomplished without a terrific team. I would like to take a moment to recognize the committee and staff in attendance who have helped get this year's championship off the ground, and who will be dedicating themselves to this operation over the coming weeks.
Representing Merion Golf Club, Rick Ill, general chair. Christine Pooler, general manager. Matt Shaffer, director of golf course operations. Buddy Marucci, vice chair. And Harry Hill, President.
From the USGA staff, Reg Jones, managing director, U.S. Open Championship. Frank Bussey, operations director. Hank Thompson, championship director. And John Coppins, Jaclyn Koehn and Eric Steimer in the championship office.
Before concluding, I would like to recognize the many USGA volunteers who donate their time to helping us conduct our national championships, serve on USGA committees, conduct state and local championships and help develop the next generation of golfers.
More than 1,200 volunteers assist us annually in these very important roles. Here at Merion, we will have 5,000 volunteers from 48 states and 10 countries helping us throughout the championship, 70 percent of which are from Pennsylvania, including half of Merion’s membership. To each of them I offer my sincere appreciation and thanks for helping to make the U.S. Open a wonderful experience for all.
Finally, I’d like to take a moment to express our gratitude to our community partners across the region and good friends here at Merion Golf Club. This is an impressive facility with an exemplary group of individuals supporting its operation. In the months and years leading up to this championship, we have benefited greatly from their knowledge, expertise and dedication – and I dare say, faith. Many questioned whether we could stage a U.S. Open at Merion, from a pure operations perspective. But all of the officers and staff here at Merion knew it could be done. We wish to thank them for getting us here, and for their role in preparing for what we expect will be a memorable 113th U.S. Open Championship.
Thank you. And with that, I would like to introduce Rick Ill, general chairman of the U.S. Open here at Merion Golf Club.
Richard C. Ill: Thank you, Tom. I don’t thank you for stealing half of my comments, but I'm going to echo a few things Tom said. If anybody out there feels that the logistics were not complex in putting on a U.S. Open, I have found out firsthand that the word of the day is logistics. Especially in an area that is as small as Merion in regard to the golf course and the surrounding.
As all of you know, we have corporate hospitality over at Haverford College and on private lawns behind us on the 14th and 15th holes. And to echo what Tom said, he mentioned the 5,000 volunteers. In 1981 there were 500 volunteers totally putting on a U.S. Open here. And when somebody told me that there were 5,000 I said, there can't possibly be that many. Well, I’m about to start to go to all of the training sessions which start Saturday for the marshals and other people, and I can assure you that there’s 5,000 people waiting to be trained.
I will also underline the fact that the cooperation between the USGA and the Merion staff and members, I forget the number, but we have in excess of 1,200 Merion members who were involved in volunteering and doing things at the club for the last two and a half years.
Tom mentioned Buddy Marucci. Buddy Marucci has walked this golf course probably more times with Mike Davis than I have on occasion, setting up the golf course, than he has playing the golf course. And there’s a lot of things that were done to the golf course, some of you might have played this morning or are going to play this afternoon and you’ll see them. I think the golf course is ready for a U.S. Open.
Graeme McDowell played here a little while back and told Matt Shaffer, our superintendent – this was last year – he said, “I think you guys got the year wrong. The course was ready last year.” And I think it’s going to be more ready this year.
So, and just in conclusion, I will again underline the cooperation between our members and the USGA. I’m excited and looking forward to a great U.S. Open and I know we'll have it here. Thank you.
Mike Davis: Rick, thank you. Thanks for everything you’ve done to help put this national championship at least at this point in a position where we should have a great one.
So today let me just start out by saying what I want to do a little bit is talk about Merion and its course characteristics and then talk about how we’re going to, some of the details of the setup and then we're going to do something new for a U.S. Open Media Day and actually go through a flyover of the course and the concept of a thousand words, a picture is a thousand words, I think we can get through it. If I look out and I see some of you starting to nod off, I will speed up the process.
But I'm going to probably talk for a little bit here and then we’re going to turn it over to Webb Simpson and then I'll come back and finish just given where we stand with time.
But let me start out by saying that it will repeat a little bit of what Tom said, but I think most of the people in this room are still working for a living. And you think about your job and you say, you know, there's days that are frustrating, there’s days that can be sad, there’s days that can be boring, there’s days that can be fun, even exhilarating, but there aren’t too many days in your job, if you think about it, where you say, I'm never going to forget that day.
And I remember, it’s the better part of seven years ago now, sitting in a championship committee meeting of the USGA. So this is our board members, when we took the final vote on this place right here. And I can tell you, I will never forget that. Because for me that was one of the best days I’ve had in my 23 years at the USGA.
This place is just magical. In so many ways, it’s a historical, it’s an architectural treasure. From a golf standpoint I think you could easily say it’s a landmark. And there are so many wonderful moments in time. I mean, Tom went through them. About Bob Jones, I mean it’s hard to think of a moment in time in the United States that was more important than Bob Jones winning the Grand Slam here at Merion. And back then, let us not forget the U.S. Amateur was a more important championship than the U.S. Open.
So for him to close it out here at Merion – and then Tom talked about Hogan in 1950. By the way, if you get a chance to come up afterwards, look at this iron. You can't believe it. You’d think that Ben Hogan shanked every shot he hit because – well look at where he was hitting the ball. So when you get a chance, come up and look at this.
But you think, you know, Tom mentioned Trevino, Nicklaus, the perfect round with David Graham. There are just been so many great moments at Merion that to think that we’re coming back here and believe me, Tom was right – when we closed up in 1981, it's not as if the course didn’t play well, but we really thought this was the last time at least at a National Open Championship you would ever see Merion played on TV. And really it had nothing to do with the golf course in terms of how it played, in terms of a test of golf. But it had everything to do with how do you fit a modern day U.S. Open on this 126 acres.
And I guess before I start talking about Merion and in terms of its characteristics, this would never have happened with some really out of the box thinking from some key people here at Merion.
In Buddy Marucci, he’s been named so far, but there were others who said, how can we put this event on? And to think that you're going to have a practice range a mile down the road at Merion’s West Course, to think that there's neighbors here that would give up their lawns, their houses, to have different functions in them. Merion, the club, acquired some property. You’ve got a situation where well there’s just so many out of the box things that had to happen for this to occur that it's great.
And I can tell you, our board of directors deserves a lot of credit back then too, because for us this is taking what has become just a huge championship and saying, you know what, for the good of the game, we can’t not come back to a place like this. It’s too important from an historical standpoint, and it means too much architecturally and it’s still a great test of golf, so credit to our board of directors that they were willing to take an Open and shrink it in terms of the number of people and corporate and so on.
So with that let me talk a little bit about Merion itself and its personality. One of the wonderful things about moving our national championships around is that we get to go to truly some of the greatest courses in the United States. That’s one of the things – that whether it's the U.S. Girls’ Junior or the U.S. Open, that’s one of the things we strive for with our national championships. And Merion and its East Course, beyond the history, is on virtually everybody’s hit list of great golf courses, great architectural features. So to come back here is truly magical. Merion itself is a true blend of short and long. When you look at the scorecard, I mean so many people think, wow, it’s under 7,000 yards, they know of the wicker baskets, they know there’s neat architecture, but that's kind of where it ends.
But when you really study Merion, you realize that this blend of short and long is going to be such a neat and exciting feature of this Open. There's going to be more birdies made, trust me, at this U.S. Open than any we have seen in recent history. Why? Because there’s just some holes out here that lend themselves to it. Which is wonderful. Then there’s some holes that are very tough. I mean, I would contend that you’ve got this balance of some of the easiest holes for U.S. Opens that you’ll see in the modern era, yet at the same time they have got some tough holes. The toughest holes.
You look at, for instance, the par 3s. Take those. So the four par 3s. I would contend three out of four of those par 3s would match up, in fact surpass, any of the par 3s of any other U.S. Open course we play. So that’s the third hole, ninth hole and 17th hole.
All those can play on a given day over 230 yards. They’re tough greens. Then you got the 13th hole, this little par 3 that’s 115 yards at its maximum, that for everybody it’s a pitching wedge, sand wedge. That will be probably I think in the scheme of things the easiest par 3 you see at any U.S. Open. But it’s a neat hole.
The par 4s, we have got five par 4s. Think about it. Five par 4s under 400 yards. And then you got another three par 4s that are somewhere in the 403 to 430 range, which by Tour standards are very, very short. But then you’ve got four par 4s that are really long and challenging. And what’s so neat about this architecture is that when Bob Jones was playing here in 1930, those short holes were short. But what Merion’s been able to do is take the long holes and make them long for today’s players.
So I think that it’s in so many ways while it may not play exactly the same the way it did in 1930 or 1950, in a lot of ways it’s going to mimic the way past Opens have been played here.
So I'm going to stop there, we’re going to talk to Webb Simpson for a little bit and I will join you back. So Webb, good morning.
Joe Goode: It is my pleasure to welcome our defending U.S. Open champion, Webb Simpson, who, if you recall, surged past the seven players in front of him on the final day of competition, shooting a 2-under 68 and claiming a one stroke victory on Olympic’s famed Lake Course.
Webb, who was playing in only his second U.S. Open Championship, edged Graeme McDowell and Michael Thompson with a rock solid closing round that featured a stretch of four birdies in five holes and not a single bogey in his final 13 holes.
So with that, let’s take questions for Webb.
Webb Simpson: Good morning.
Joe Goode: Webb, you can hear everyone?
Webb Simpson: Yes, can you hear me clear?
Joe Goode: It’s our pleasure to welcome our defending U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson. Let me get us started off with a quick question. And then we’ll open it up to the media.
Do you prepare differently for a major championship, particularly one in which you’re defending?
Webb Simpson: I do. Especially if I’ve played the golf course before. For example, I played Merion in the 2005 U.S. Amateur and I’ve gone up since then for corporate outings and to play it. So for Merion I know what the golf course will demand. A lot of irons off the tee on the first 13 holes, that the holes that are shorter, there will be more wedges I think into these greens than most U.S. Opens. And so hopefully my wedge game will be sharp. That’s another way I can prepare differently.
But you think the biggest thing for me, what I learned at last year’s tournament I came into the week freshly. I had rested the week before. So I think a major demands so much out of you, both physically and mentally that a player being fresh and kind of ready to go is just as important as his physical game being ready to go.
Joe Goode: Other questions for Webb? Please wait for a microphone so he can hear the question. Right here in front.
From your 2005 U.S. Amateur experience, what are the things that you remember most about certain shots that you have to make here at Merion, especially on those last five holes?
Webb Simpson: Well, I look at it as two different golf courses. Potentially through 13 holes if you drive it well you can have nine wedge opportunities. That’s kind of what I’ve calculated. Including 13, the par 3.
And then the last five are going to be some of maybe the hardest that we have ever had in the U.S. Open. So you kind of have the best of both worlds. And that’s why I think this U.S. Open is going to be so unique in the sense that I don’t think a long player or short player has an advantage. I think a guy with a good wedge game and a good mind will have the advantage because you’ll have your birdie opportunities, but what I remember about Merion is the second that you think I got an easy hole, an iron and a wedge, is the second that you probably will make a mistake.
There’s a little slope to the fairways similar to Olympic. You might have to shape certain tee shots into the fairways, but I think it’s one of those golf courses that you give a lot of respect, a lot of credit, and even par still even though the course might be a little shorter, even par’s going to be an incredible score out there.
Can you describe for us how your life changes after you win a U.S. Open, not only professionally, but more so maybe even personally?
Webb Simpson: Well, in the personal level I think what changed is just being recognized more. I show up at tournaments and I always tell people when I used to sign autographs the kid would ask the mom who I was and sometimes she would say, I don’t know who that is. But now people know who I am more.
Me personally, Webb Simpson, I don’t think I've changed, I hope I haven’t. I don’t want to change based on successes or failures, but when it comes to golf, a lot has changed. My World Ranking went up a lot. I think I made it to fifth in the world after the U.S. Open. My confidence grew tremendously. I experienced what it’s like in a major on the back nine and so my confidence just skyrocketed.
I think what it did is it proved to me that in the most pressure-packed situation, the U.S. Open’s the hardest test of golf on every level, and for me to with a play well that Sunday on the back nine was a huge relief just knowing, hey, I’ve been here, I can look back and say I've been here before, I know what to do, I know what to expect and I was able to perform under the pressure.
Golfers also express appreciation of the historic nature of a golf course, so in that vein can you talk about what it means to you to defend your title at Merion and what it means for you to be here at a historic venue like this?
Webb Simpson: Well it’s pretty cool because I played the U.S. Amateur in 2007 at Olympic and I loved the golf course. I lost first round to Michael Thompson, so I didn’t, you would think I would have a sour taste in my mouth after leaving after one round. But I love the golf course.
Same with Merion. I tell people all the time it is my favorite golf course in the world. What it demands out of the players is so different than most golf courses and it seems like most golf courses now are evolving to be bombers paradise, every par 4 is 500 yards and you hit driver on every hole.
Where Merion’s the opposite. I only hit a few drivers. And so for me to try to defend such a big title, it’s an honor, but it’s even more of an honor at a place I love. I can’t wait to get there.
At Olympic, I recall reading your winner’s transcript, you didn’t look at the leaders until after five holes last year and just curious to see how much did that help not looking at the leader board and also if you are in contention this year what do you think about the plans are whether to look at the leader board on the last day.
Webb Simpson: Well, the big key in me not looking at the leader boards was we were playing the U.S. Open golf course so to try to make a birdie is almost impossible. I mean, at the U.S. Open you’ll hear Tiger Woods say that you got to let birdies come, especially at the U.S. Open. So I normally do look at leader boards at regular tournaments because most golf courses you can play more aggressively and have a little more risk-reward, but U.S. Open you have to remain patient all day.
And a good story I tell people is the 18th hole at Olympic it played like 350 yards or 360 on Sunday. And I think that my caddie told me there were six birdies. And so it just proves that although a hole might look like it’s a birdie hole, it’s still just as tough as the others. So the strategy worked well there Sunday.
I wasn’t leader-board focused, I wasn’t thinking about my position, I was just trying to remain patient and take one hole at a time and I think that’s what I’ll try to do at Merion. If I’m five or six up or back maybe it will be a little different but when it comes to one or two shots, there’s no need for me to look.
First of all, when you played the U.S. Amateur here in the aftermath of that did you get any people looking for feedback about the course and about the U.S. Open worthiness of it or the sort of the getting a fell from any other pros or any other executives and my second part would be, every time you Skype do you have the jug next to you there in your championship trophy, because I think I would.
Webb Simpson: Second question, no, I don’t. We got a great place for it here in this room actually that I just thought it would be fitting to have it in the media call. So there you have it.
But the first question, yeah I had a lot of people ask me what I think it will be like. I remember even people asking me after the U.S. Amateur, well what will a U.S. Open be like here. Will it be tough enough and I think initially people see the scorecard and assume it won’t be as hard as Oakmont or Winged Foot. But that is the thing where people will get in trouble at Merion. Because the uniqueness of the sloped fairways, they’re tight, the greens are small, they will have some tough pins, there’s a lot of intricacies with Merion that a player will go around the first time and not see them all.
And so that’s where I think that that will help me playing. I’ve already played in a big championship there. The golf course, I think what will be big that week for USGA is Mike Davis has done a great job setting the U.S. Open courses up and I think that rain will be a big factor because if you got this golf course a little wet, scores are going to be better.
And that’s just kind of universal with golf courses on the PGA Tour. When we get a little water on the ground like you saw New Orleans yesterday, there was tons of low scores. But if that golf course can stay firm and fast, it will be so hard. Even just to keep it in the fairway. So I think the scores will be a little bit weather permitting, but again they will set it up great for us.
The question is, will you change any of the clubs in your bag for playing at Merion?
Webb Simpson: I won’t. Technology now is so good that I have a hybrid 3-iron and I can hit that 3-iron as high as I want and as low as I want. Normally I might, it would be smart for me to take a 3-iron up there because I will hit that off the tees a bunch but in terms of the middle part of the golf course especially where you’ll hit a lot of 3-irons and 5-woods, I feel comfortable enough with being able to control my trajectory that I probably won’t. And I won’t. A lot of guys will put in a low-lofted lob wedge, but I don’t do that, so I probably won’t change anything.
To change the subject to anchored putting. You play a lot in pro-ams and socially with people, I’m wondering what reaction you get, your sense of the people you’ve encountered, are they tending to be for the ban or against it?
Webb Simpson: It’s been a conversation now for a few months. I talked to so many people that there’s mixed feelings. I talk about it on Twitter, you get feedback. I think there’s camps on both sides that think it should be illegal and camps that don’t think, that doesn't think it should be illegal.
So I have seen both ways and a bunch of different arguments for and against it. So there’s a lot of info out there about it and I’ve kind of heard everything, both sides.
You say this is your favorite golf course. You say there’s a lot of makeable birdies possibly out there. Do you think that will increase the excitement of this U.S. Open. Obviously they’re generally exciting, but do you think that will add to it for fans who don’t want to see players making double and triple bogeys?
Webb Simpson: I do. I think the great thing is, I always talk about a hole like 11. 11 is a perfect Merion golf hole. If someone is wondering what Merion’s about you need to go to 11. Because it’s a blind tee shot, it’s not that long, I would be guessing, but I would say it’s like 400 yards at the most, so you got a blind tee shot. The choice of clubs probably going to be something around a 230 to 250 club.
But the green has water short and all the way around the right side. So that hole if you drive it in the rough you probably are not going to go for the green because you won’t be able to clear the water. So it turns it into a quick bogey.
If you do drive it in the fairway, you’ll have a sand wedge and it's a great birdie opportunity.
So I don’t think they will ever be a point in this U.S. Open where somebody will have it won because the last five holes are so hard that a guy will be hanging on as he comes down the last holes if he has a lead. But I think that’s what will make it more exciting. There will be birdie opportunities, but knowing, hey, even if I’m three or four up I got to step on 14 tee and I got a long ways home. So that will be exciting for the fans.
You mentioned controlling the trajectory of your shots. Is that emphasized here with the fairways having the slope to try to keep the ball in the fairway?
Webb Simpson: A little bit. I think of a hole like five where it slopes hard right to left. And it will require a cut. I think six is right to left as well.
But any time us pros, you watch some of the best ball-strikers, any time they’re trying to hit it straight they tend to hit it lower. So again if it’s firm, the one good thing about being firm is you can take less club and hit it just as far off the tees. So we’ll see. Obviously into the greens the guy who can hit a higher ball and have more spin in the U.S. Open will have an advantage over the other players. So I might go back to the tour balata.
Joe Goode: Well, thanks for joining us. We appreciate it. Good luck for the rest of the season and we look forward to seeing new June.
Webb Simpson: Thanks a lot. I appreciate it.
Joe Goode: Very good. Why don’t we, in terms of the agenda, Mike will finish up his remarks in terms of course setup and then we'll open it back up to questions for all of these gentlemen up here. Mike.
Mike Davis: Listening to Webb Simpson you can understand why he won a U.S. Open. Did you see just how he picked, kind of picked apart the golf course and in terms of course management and he picked up so many subtleties from the 2005 U.S. Amateur and the few times he’s been here.
So that is part of a U.S. Open test is trying to really size up a golf course and figure out the best way to play it. So let me continue, Webb did touch on a lot of things and I’m not necessarily going to reiterate them, but back to kind of the ebb and flow of this golf course, what's interesting is there’s only two par 5s, it's a par 70. And that by the time you walk off the fourth green, you're done. You played the second hole and you played the fourth hole and the rest are just par 4s and par 3s, which is really an interesting rally.
So many other characteristics about Merion. Particularly as it relates to other U.S. Open golf courses. This probably is the most precise golf course we play a U.S. Open on, it just requires precision off the teeing ground and precision into the, with your approach shots.
There is probably less width here than most U.S. Opens. The rough is another characteristic of Merion. When you come here just on a regular basis, whether it was five years ago or five years from now, rough, there’s just a history to Merion with rough. So you need to keep your ball in the fairway.
Some other characteristics, they talk about the white faces of Merion. They’re bunkers. Very deep bunkers here at Merion. As good as Tour-level players are in bunkers, there are some bunkers here they’re so deep you get down and you can’t even see the flagstick or the wicker they call it here, so those are things that a lot of, I would say half these bunkers here you really want to avoid. They are hazards. Kind of a little bit like, not the same style architecturally as Oakmont, but you want to avoid Merion's bunkers if you can.
The putting greens, what’s interesting or well almost fascinating about Merion’s putting greens is that in so many ways there’s no trait to these greens. What I think about Merion or other U.S. Opens whether it’s a Tillinghast design or Pebble Beach or Oakmont’s big undulating fast greens, here at Merion you got big greens. You got tiny greens, you got greens that slope from back to front you got greens that have plateaus and undulations. You have the 18th green that kind of remind you of a Pinehurst No. 2 green that’s almost hump backed. You got the 11th green which is pretty flat.
So one of the characteristics of Merion’s greens are that there’s not really a trait that runs through them, but they are wonderfully designed and I think for that they’re fascinating the more and more you get to study them and certainly how you approach them strategically in a U.S. Open is very important.
Webb touched on – he mentioned the word blind when he was talking about the 11th hole. One of the things you never hear people talk about at Merion is that there are a lot of blind or semiblind shots to this golf course. I counted up and at least to my way of thinking, 11 of the 18 holes has something in it that is blind. Maybe don’t see the whole green surface you see the top half of the flagstick or you’re on a tee and you’re hitting down to a fairway that there’s a crest in between you.
That, if you’re a member here and you’re playing it every day you get used to it. But for players coming here for the first time or even not the first time, that does add an element of difficulty.
And I guess in terms of just characteristics of Merion, before I get into the course setup, I would say here that there are probably more players that can potentially win this U.S. Open than in any other U.S. Open venue we go to. And I think some of that is the overall distance that we’re under 7,000 yards. In fact our distance on the scorecard would be 6,996, par 70. But that’s from the tips. I think there will be days when it will play 68 and change.
So what that does is it allows, I think, more players to be competitive. And again, back to going to different courses, there are different courses for different horses. Next year at Pinehurst it’s a wider golf course, a longer golf course, I would contend a player that hits longer there that can hit the ball high and stop it on those humpback greens would have an advantage. This year you, I don't care who it is, whether it’s a long or short hitter or medium hitter, you have got to control your ball, you got to be very precise and think your way around.
I mentioned that the total yardage, that’s roughly 400 yards longer than what you saw in 1971 and 1981. There have been quite a few tees added back then, but as I said, the long holes are longer and the short holes really aren’t much longer at all the. In some cases not any longer than we saw it back in Bob Jones’ day.
The greens speeds will be probably somewhere in the 13 to 13-and-a-half speed. That’s what we did for the U.S. Amateur in 2005. That’s what we had for the Walker Cup in 2009. And that seems to be Merion’s perfect speed where it’s fast enough to really challenge you both on the greens and when you miss a green, but it’s also not so fast when you happen to miss a green or excuse me, that we’re missing really good hole locations on certain quadrants of the greens.
The rough, I did mention. It will be penal by U.S. Open standards relative to past years. But we would still do intend to graduate it. So on the shorter holes, you’re going to see it a little bit more penal than the long holes. When you miss it closer to the fairway it will be a little less penal than when you miss it further out.
The fairways themselves, Webb touched on it, a lot of sloping fairways here, a lot of tee shots that you can’t quite see drive zones. One of the other things we’re going to do is that these fairways are going to be prepared a little bit longer. When you’re out there, if you get out there today, they’re cut about four tenths of an inch. We may even go up to a half an inch. And the reason we’re going to do that is there’s some fairways that slope so much like the fourth hole, the fifth hole, the 12th hole, that if they get too fast we would worry that maybe they get unfair.
But the other thing, there is this element that USGA is very focused on the future of the game, making sure it’s fun, sustainable, and I think one of the things we have realized is that the way courses are prepared now, when you get fairways cut too tight it’s just harder for the average golfer to get under the ball, hit pitch shots. And we said to ourselves, you know what, there’s nothing wrong with having fairways that are a little bit longer, it sends the right message.
So you’re going to see us start to do things like this. We’re talking about these things for everyday golf and why not incorporate some for U.S. Opens where we can.
I’m going to skip the flyover because we have just run out of time here. So I’m happy to answer questions on any given hole, but before I sit down, let me just again reiterate what Tom said about what a wonderful working relationship it’s been with Merion. This club, as he mentioned, has hosted more national championships than any club in the United States, it’s a great group to work with, and I also am going to single out one person, and that’s Matt Shaffer, the superintendent. And I think Matt’s in here somewhere. I don’t know where you are but, okay, over to my right.
But I said this before, really say it every year, and I genuinely mean it, that there’s no one in a U.S. Open that has more influence on the success of a U.S. Open, if you take Mother Nature and set her aside, no one other than the golf course superintendent and Matt is just fantastic, the things he’s done to Merion to make it just a better course day to day for the members, but also for a U.S. Open, I just can’t give him enough accolades and beyond that he’s a wonderful person to work with.
So from there we’re going to, I’m going to sit down and we’re going to turn it over to some Q&A, which Joe Goode will moderate. So thanks very much.
Joe Goode: Thanks, Mike. Again just out of a point of procedure. Wait for the microphone so they can hear the question. Let’s start here.
Mike, there have been several changes to the course, even since the Walker Cup, could you review each of the changes I’m thinking the cross bunker at two, raising the 11th green, the front, things like that. Just each one and your thinking that went into them.
Mike Davis: Sure. Let me quickly in my mind go hole by hole. No really changes, there were some fairway alterations, but let me kind of move past those.
On two, there was a cross bunker and the idea with that is that two is a par 5 that every single player in the field can reach in two, if they want to. They have a choice on that tee, do you want to hit driver or really hard 3 wood or knowing how close the out of bounds is to the right of Ardmore Avenue, or do you want to lay back and play it as a three shot hole.
So that cross bunker really almost makes them think that if you’re going to lay back, lay back, otherwise, you really need to hit it up over that cross bunker, which is well short of the green, that can you bounce a ball into.
The third hole was a change that we during the Walker Cup in 2009 we felt that that was a hole that had played about 220 yards, par 3, but it’s Merion’s one of its biggest greens, but most receptive greens. And we tried using the basically the back tee at number six, which is the exact same angle for all the other teeing ground on three. You have to kind of see it to understand it. And felt that you could have a really long par 3 there which is much more receptive than say the 17th green, the par 3.
So we ended up building a tee where literally you can use it for both the third hole and the sixth hole together.
Four, there’s a new tee back there that was put in that really brings the bunkering in in the drive zone. We won’t use that back tee every day. But I think that that really makes that hole one that you probably do want to hit driver. You might want to lay back with 3 wood.
Really no changes to five. No changes to six. Seven. Really no changes there. Eight not many changes.
Nine, the par 3 down the hill, we did put in a new teeing ground and we went back and looked at that kidney-shaped green, we went back and studied and realized that in the 1971 and 1981 Open that if you were going to play to the front of that green you were most likely hitting 6 irons middle of the green, 5 irons and to the back left little finger 4 irons. So we built a tee so they would basically have sixes, fives and fours into that green now.
The 10th hole no change.
11th hole really shifted the fairway more players left, which is you go way back where it used to be.
12, no real changes. 13, no changes.
14, I think the only change there is that we played literally off the practice putting green in the 2005 U.S. Amateur and the 2009 Walker Cup. And that green got rebuilt just because we were trying to move spectators through for this U.S. Open. So we’ll still be using that.
15, there was a new middle bunker, basically put in, but it was a bunker way to the right in between, you have to see it, the drive zone to the right, that was moved closer to the fairway to get it into play. And what that really does is the short, rather short par-4 dogleg-right 15, it makes you make a choice off the tee. That do you want to take a long iron hybrid maybe a 3-wood or even take driver, it is your choice, which is what Merion does so much is it gives the player options. But this is one that if you’re not comfortable working the ball left to right, you get a disadvantage. And those players that work it right to left and that can’t do it the other way or at least aren’t comfortable in competition, that is probably the scariest tee shot at Merion.
16, no big changes to speak of. There was a bunker in the drive zone moved a little bit more into play because it was way out of play.
17, no changes, other than a lot of trees coming down around the green.
18, a few changes there. And I would consider 18th toughest finishing hole in all of the U.S. Opens. It requires a great tee shot, a great second shot, and it’s one of Merion’s most challenging greens.
But there was a tiny little new teeing ground built back there, should we get really warm weather and no wind in the face and wind in your face is the prevailing wind. That the idea was we want to see drivers on that hole. We want to bring that back into play. And we felt from the 505 tee that under certain conditions you may see a lot of 3 woods to that plateau where Hogan played his shot in.
And so we did that and we also brought the fairway back and I almost have to defer to Matt Shaffer, but I would say a good, 20, 25 paces closer to the canyon, so if you clear the canyon, you’re going to hit fairway, which would be before you would a lot of times hit rough. So in general those were the changes to Merion.
Mike, when was the last Open played under 7,000 yards and then one for Tom.
Mike Davis: Last open under 7,000 yards, I would guess – we’ll look that up. But it might be Pebble Beach. I would have to think. I would have to check that. Certainly go back – we’ll look that up. Maybe Pete can get that for you.
Tom, Mike said walking out of here in ’81 we all thought this would be the last Open there. Are we walking out of here now thinking this is the last Open here.
Tom O’Toole Jr.: I hope not. But you know, obviously we’re so excited about it, we think that Reg Jones and his team, coupled with Rick and the club have this operations figured out and we said that we were going to come here and it would be a smaller U.S. Open. And from a board of directors standpoint that was perfectly acceptable. We don’t look at this as a one-year financial exercise, we look over a period of years and we’re perfectly comfortable that we could come back and have a less financially significant Open, but with the history here and what’s gone on and what we think the experience is going to be here in 2013, we would be excited to have that opportunity again.
Are we using the wicker baskets and how did that come about, that decision?
Mike Davis: The question was, are we going to be, well I think everybody heard it. Yes, absolutely we will be using the wickers. It’s one of the things that makes it, gives Merion, one of the many that things that give Merion its personality. So we will be using those. They were used at most USGA championships we have had in the past, although I think that if you go back to 1950 when Hogan won, they were not used, but we never gave that a second thought.
Do you set up the course so that you expect to see as many birdies here as any U.S. Open recently? With that in mind do you set up the course either for that or make it as difficult with score in mind so that you preserve as close to par as you can.
Mike Davis: Well good question. When we set a golf course up, we really, in years in advance you really start with a putting green and work your way backward. So you say, what did the architect want you to hit into a give hole and what are the ranges, is it lofted clubs or middle irons or long shots, where you bounce the ball in.
So when you get closer to the event, the whole mindset is we want it to be the most complete test in golf. We want it to be difficult, exciting and swings in scoring, but we want to really showcase the architecture, but at the same time I think that Webb Simpson mentioned it, a soft U.S. Open golf course is significantly easier. Because for these players, they’re so good at distance control, that if they know when a ball hits, whether it’s in the fairway or into a green that it’s going to stop, it literally, I would contend that if you saw Merion firm for four straight days versus soft for four straight days, you may see a 18- to 20-shot difference in the winning score. We can’t control that.
So I would say that people think the USGA is more fixated than we are about the winning score. We’re not. What we’re fixated about is trying to get the golf course to play properly and that, so are this there things that we do to change a little bit of the setup if it’s real firm and tough? Absolutely.
And if it gets real soft and easy, sure. But those things are minimal and we really try to set it up as fairly as we can, and then it’s, it’s really up to Mother Nature.
Will there be any extra measures to take on slow play in this tournament?
Tom O’Toole Jr.: On slow play? Well we are always looking at our championships, obviously the USGA has a new pace-of-play initiative and that’s for the collective global look at golf, recreationally and otherwise. But, of course, we would want to think that we would be remiss if we didn’t also look at our championships and scrutinize them.
But we will continue to look at all the metrics around Merion to try to implement the best pace-of-play policy we can, because we think that impacts the championship experience.
So just like Mike’s reference about the golf course setup, we want to make sure that the pace-of-play policy is consistent with what the challenge is here at Merion. So we’ll be looking at it closely.
The average width of the fairways and you talked about the graduated rough. How much different will it be than graduated rough at previous Opens?
Mike Davis: On the width, there’s certainly a variety to Merion, but I would say in general you may see fairways that I think on their most narrow side might be somewhere 24, 25 yards wide. Some of them get wider because they need to be wider. There might be slope to the fairways. So you may see some in the, you know, 30, 35.
But what I would say is that I think that this golf course requires more precision than most other U.S. Open golf courses. You really have got to work your ball. And then the second part of that question was?
Mike Davis: The graduated rough. Yes. You will see it here. Because there’s so many shots where you have lofted clubs coming in, you have wedge, 9 iron, 8 iron, which is just easier for these guys to hit out of the rough it’s going to be thicker versus you take a hole like five, six, 14, 18, when you’re asked to hit a long shot in, we’re going to have that rough less penal but relatively speaking we hope to get it where they can at least play out of it. But you’re going to see it, it’s just Merion’s personality that you’re going to see the rough being penal.
Mike, talk about how close the out of bounds is to the fairways, specifically on two and 15 and how unique that is to a course like Merion?
Mike Davis: Sure. Out of bounds holes two and 15, when you stand on the second tee, when you stand on the 15th tee, if you’re not thinking about out of bounds, you have fallen asleep, because those are definitely characteristics to those two holes.
On the second hole what will be interesting is that you don’t have to play that hole aggressively. It’s a short par 5. You could take in theory a 3 iron and then hit another 5 iron and have a wedge on to the green. So a player really does need to make a choice there.
We have given them plenty of width. And by the way, one of the things we did this winter, which was comical to some of you is we actually widened some fairways and that happened to be one that we widened. We didn’t feel like there was enough room on the left.
On the 15th hole, that is just a gradual dogleg right as I mentioned before, that’s a hole where I do think that players are going to be standing they’re saying, what will it take to get my ball in the fairway. And you’re going to see some drivers on that hole, you’re going to see some 3 woods, some 5 woods, some hybrid, some 3 irons, you may even see somebody hit a 5 iron. And obviously that’s going to change the shot they have into what is truly one of the most challenging greens here at Merion.
But I think that is, that’s part of it. That they have got to think about it. It’s part of Merion’s architecture and it’s not as if this is the only course where out of bound in a U.S. Open have come into play. You look across the pond at some British Opens where out of bound on certain holes are very much in play.
You talked about how this U.S. Open’s going to be smaller than most. Are you expecting a lot fewer spectators and if so how many more than maybe the average U.S. Open?
Reg Jones: We’re expecting our paid attendance is probably going to be about 25,500 for our peak days. For the week of the championship obviously based on weather it’s probably going to be between 180 and 190,000 people. And just in comparison with probably recent years, Congressional, Olympic club, that number’s probably been closer to like 230,000.
You have mentioned about the golf course setup, the scorecard is 6,996, but one day may be a 6,800 and change. Just a few questions. Do you expect to see any drivable par 4s and also how much of the tee position changes that you let the players aware in the practice rounds and so forth is that they, is that a day to day basis or is that one that will just fall on each day.
Mike Davis: Good questions. Let me start with the last one. We sometimes tell players of all of the teeing grounds we’re going to use and sometimes we don’t. We do think a part of the test of golf should be, can you think through a situation under pressure. When I say you, it’s not only the player, but the caddies get nervous too. And we do think that that’s part of the test of saying, we may throw something at you you just didn’t practice or you didn’t think about. And when you’re put on the spot, how will you deal with it. And they deal with it differently.
Drivable par 4s. The 10th hole by its very nature is almost a par 3 and a half. You don’t have to try to drive that green, but most of the players in this field in theory could probably get there with a 3 wood if they tried or a driver. But it’s their choice. You may see 6 iron off that tee and a sand wedge in or you may see a 3 iron or you may see a hybrid, again, that’s one of the neat things about Merion is that you give a lot of choices.
Some of the other par 4s in theory could be reachable. Seven, I don’t think we ever intend to set that up as drivable. But will somebody go for that? You know, maybe.
And I think that again there’s a hole where you could see everything from a maybe a 5 iron off the tee to a driver. The 8th hole, that’s roughly the same length, I think it’s 359 yards. That’s one that we did, we did try it one day of the Walker Cup where we moved the teeing ground up and it was neat. But the Walker Cup’s match play. So would they play the same in match play as they do stroke play? Who is to say? So some of these questions just can’t get answered until the week of to know what kind of weather conditions we’re going to have. But there’s certainly opportunities here at Merion.
Joe Goode: I think that’s a pretty good place to stop. Thanks very much, Mike, Tom and Rick.
This concludes today’s news conference. We appreciate your attendance. We do have some time for one on ones, and would like to invite you to the trophy room where lunch is being served.
Thanks for joining us today. And we look forward to hosting you all in June for the 2013 U.S. Open.