Merion, the USGA's Mike Davis and Matt Shaffer (Merion's Super Super) have intimidated the best players in the world. Maybe, intimidated is too strong a word, perhaps we should say challenged the best players in the world... no I'll stick with intimidated. The level of intimidation is probably inadvertent but it appears to be affecting the players or maybe the players just realize that it's Merion and the Open. The golf course as set up by the USGA with narrow fairways, long rough and some good length added on already long Par 4s and Par 3s has apparently confounded the players not just overtly with conditioning but with the subtleties of the design. When any golfer has doubt or indecision in their minds while hitting a shot, it usually does not bode well for them.
But before that, Matt Shaffer put a kind of doubt into their minds that they have rarely if ever had. Matt talked about how Merion's greens have grain in them. He wasn't mentioning this as a problem simply a fact; his members, mostly all "real" golfers are used to the additional challenge of grain. Now, I'm not talking about the drivel that we hear every week from Johnny Miller, who doesn't understand grass or grain, I'm talking about real grain with areas of grass blades laying down in one direction and right next to them, areas with grain running other directions. Matt likes grain; it's naturally what bentgrass likes to do.
Then, Matt went even further, he talked about all of the different grasses in the roughs at Merion and how the player will have to adjust to the 8 or 10 different grasses in the roughs. Usually, for a Championship or tournament, Superintendents and Clubs try to create a uniform rough. So in other words, most of the time the grass is adjusted to the players' desires instead of what Merion and the USGA have done...let the players figure it out or possibly not.
So now, the best golfers in the world are thinking about a golf course that embraces grainy greens and roughs that have all kinds of different grasses offering all of these different lies. It's enough to send the guys to their sports psychologists with panic attacks. I think that Wilson, Flynn and the Valentines are looking down from the heavens with smiles on their faces.
Memories of the 1981 US Open:
In 1980, we rebuilt several championship tees on East Course. Richie Valentine manipulated the slope of these tees. He believed that the greatest golfers in the world should be able to figure out the slope of a tee and adjust their shot accordingly. An example of what we did was the 15th Championship tee, which we put a 1% grade on from the right side to the left side, creating a hook lie on a hole that you probably want to hit a fade on since there is OB very close to the landing areas on the left side. The member tee was sloped 1% from the left side to the right side creating a fade lie to help the member stay in bounds.