July 12, 2013
Late in the Open’s first round, as I sat in my assigned spot in the Media Center, a familiar baritone voice boomed into a cell phone a few feet away. It was the unmistakable sound of Merrill Reese, the longtime play-by-play announcer for the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles.
Reese was doing a piece about Phil Mickelson’s cross-country flight to California for his daughter’s middle school graduation, returning to Philadelphia shortly before his 7:11 a.m. start.
I introduced myself when Reese finished, and we had a nice chat.
Reese works with the Eagles nearly full time, beginning with summer camp and through the season. During non-football months, Reese does other sports commentary for WIP and other Philly media outlets.
He’s also an avid golfer, and admits to an 11 handicap.
Reese’s enthusiasm for the game was obvious as he described what it’s like to play Merion, which he’s done several times.
“It’s set up for about 6340 yards normally, and it’s actually very playable. I hit it straight, but not long, so I can usually do pretty well here. I’ve shot 85 and 86 here. The short par 4s and the [par 3] thirteenth hole give me good chances for par, and for the really long par 4s, I take three shots to reach the green, sometimes with a hybrid for the third shot,” he grinned.
Reese was pleasant and gracious. A round of golf with him would probably be a lot of fun. For those who know his voice, just think how it would sound if Reese yelled “Fore!” or how he might concede a short putt: “It’s gooood!”
Hitting the wicket
Unlike nearly every other golf course on Earth, Merion Golf Club refuses to use flags to mark the holes. Instead, the course famously relies upon wicker baskets, perched atop steel standards, for the same purpose.
At least twice during this year’s Open, players came to regret these otherwise charming features of the Merion landscape. I watched Brian Stuard of Michigan hit the 15th green’s wicket on Thursday afternoon, out of the rough from 125 yards out. The ball bounced onto the green, and spun back to a stop several yards short of the green. Stuard’s chip checked up and stopped 15 feet short of the hole. He just missed making par.
Great Britain’s Lee Westwood hit a wicket elsewhere on the course, and his ball bounded away from the green. He ended up making double bogey.
So, if you’re playing your home course, and your ball hits the flag and drops gently to a stop a few feet from the hole, be glad you weren’t playing Merion.
Merion is its own attraction
The Wall Street Journal ran an article shortly before the Open began, describing how hard Merion’s members worked to bring the Open back to the classic layout, just over 30 years since the 1981 Open.
Now that I’ve walked the course several times, I can certainly appreciate the dedication and effort that returned the Open to the site of Bobby Jones’ 1930 Grand Slam victory.
I have been to other Open venues, including Pebble Beach, Bethpage Black, and Congressional. Merion more than deserves its stature as one of America’s top-rated golf courses.
The L-shaped configuration of its relatively modest acreage presented serious challenges to hosting a modern U.S. Open, but the club and the USGA pulled it off.
Some folks suggested before the Open that the relative shortness of the course would produce a well-below-par winning total. Merion made a point of proving otherwise. Some holes presented birdie chances every day, but for several other holes, a par score gave the players a distinct advantage over the competition. Justin Rose’s one-over-par victory was no fluke.
I enjoyed watching the Open golfers play the very hard holes, because these situations gave them the chance to show how skilled they really are.
My son-in-law and my nephew joined me Friday, and we sat in the huge stands on the 236-yard par 3 17th hole.
Zack Fischer’s tee shot landed in high fescue above the back right greenside bunker. After careful consideration, Fischer whacked his second shot directly into the sand. He then hit a beautiful wedge out of the bunker to inside a foot, proving once again that some bogeys are better than others.
On the PGA Tour’s regular stops, the goals are generally making birdies and saving pars. At the U.S. Open, those goals switch to enjoying the rare birdie, making par, and saving bogeys.