A fascinating U.S. Open experience

Posted: June 18, 2013

IT TOOK ME a week of walking Merion to determine that the grand old course is the Main Line version of Roxborough's Walnut Lane - seven holes on one side of the dividing road and 11 on the other. It is 1-7 and 8-18 in the city; 1, 13-18 and 2-12 in the suburbs.

The main difference I noticed was that there is no John Chaney and no pinochle in the Merion clubhouse. Merion plays to 7,000 yards and a par 70, perhaps a bit tougher test than Walnut Lane, which is 4,500 yards and par 62.

Mike Kern and I played Walnut Lane one day with Chaney. We even got him to cross the street and play more than seven holes. Once they clear all the tents off the Merion property, it obviously will be time for a foursome of Chaney, Mike, me and my new best friend, Scott Nye, Merion's head pro. Perhaps we can even bend the rules and make it a fivesome with Dave Smith, who does such a great job running the First Tee program at Walnut Lane. Or I will just putt.

The entire U.S. Open experience was fascinating - from all those close calls involving flying carts in close quarters (Bob Cooney and I even saw a guy texting and driving yesterday), to the crowds that were getting more Philly-like as the week went on, to watching the best players in the world wishing for par.

Shortly after noon, I watched Tiger Woods walk to the first tee. This was not basketball. He was not coming back, but the fans lined up five deep in front of the tee box either did not know or did not care.

"Shoot a 60, Tiger," one guy yelled.

After Tiger birdied the first, somebody yelled, "You're only eight over."

Not for long.

His drive on the second went hard right and flew over Ardmore Avenue and way out of bounds. He was on the green in five. Three putts later, he had an eight and was 11 over.

Tiger was heading to the third tee as Sergio was coming off the sixth tee, their paths crossing briefly. If they noticed each other, they did not acknowledge it. They were just trying to survive Merion.

"Come on, Phil," a voice yelled at Tiger, a flesh wound in a lost week for the world's No. 1 player.

"Nice shot, Joe," somebody said to Matt Bettencourt, Tiger's playing partner.

The 628-yard fourth hole summed up Tiger's tournament. He drove it 360 yards right down the middle. His second shot came to rest 25 yards beyond the hole, at the top of an incline that, viewed from behind his putt, felt very much like the front seat of roller coaster as it is about to roll off to the first big drop. Three putts later, Tiger's ball was in the hole.

So, 650 yards for two shots and 25 yards for three shots - golf defined perfectly.

Watched Tiger tee off on No. 5 as some guy yelled: "Get 'em in the British Open."

I was going to catch Tiger again on the 11th green. First, I was off to investigate the "Mystery of the 10th Tee."

As I was about to cross the ninth fairway, a fan, who may have had a few beers, spotted poor Sergio, dressed in pink pants and flanked by two policemen, walking to the green and actually said: "What are you having, fried chicken?"

A sad commentary on the world, indeed, but this is the world we live in. I could not be deterred on my march to discover the truth at 10.

Was told the homeowner behind the tee had been approached about using his driveway to bring players in to the tee on the first 2 days when they used different starting points because the field was so large. I was told he did not like what was offered and no deal was made. The players went off 1 and 11 the first 2 days.

A fence was built on the course, just a foot or so from the home's backyard fence. It would have made viewing difficult. The homeowner constructed a giant platform that towered over the fence and invited so many friends over that numerous trash cans were overflowing. Alas, I could not get any closer to conduct an interview and discover the truth of the matter.

Me? I would have taken the cash and rented out the penthouse at the Four Seasons for the week.

I went in search of the Bobby Jones rock near the 11th tee. It was not accessible during the Open so I wandered down the shaded path by the 12th fairway back to the 11th green and 12th tee. Found the only concession stand on the course with no people and then tried to imagine the moment at the 11th green in 1930 when the legendary Jones completed the Grand Slam, then the U.S. and British Amateurs along with the British Open and, finally, the U.S. Open. The scene back there yesterday was timeless, with a few dozen fans hanging on the stone patio of the stone house overlooking the green. Well, maybe not timeless with that TV tower next to the patio.

Tiger arrived and his second shot touched down 15 feet past the hole.

"Spin, spin," one fan implored.

It did not spin and Tiger did not make the putt.

The real tournament was beginning on the first tee as I headed back across Ardmore Avenue for the 13th, that pitch-and-putt par-3.

After watching perhaps 20 "drives" on the hole since last Monday, I became convinced that I could break par at Merion if I could play it 18 times.

It was 13 where I saw my first iron shot struck during last Monday's practice round. It was there where I would see my last shot live yesterday, Tiger's long pitch into the trap behind the green on the way to bogeying the easiest hole on the course.

It was now time for the contenders to play and the writers who actually know something about golf to chronicle it all.

DN Members Only : How Justin Rose to the occasion.

Email: jerardd@phillynews.com

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