Merion Golf Club plays host to its 18th United States Golf Association (USGA) championship, and its 5th US Open, when 156 of the world's best golfers descend on Ardmore, Pennsylvania on Thursday 13th June 2013. Merion's East Course, with its links type features, will greet Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and the latest Major winner Adam Scott, although it's debatable whether the term greet is wholly appropriate!
The US Open is always played in June and traditionally slots in as the 2nd Major of every golfing calendar between The Masters in April and the Open Championship in July. Player form into the tournament is absolutely paramount at tougher courses so look for those who have had Top 10 finishes at key tracks this season like Copperhead (Technical Course and Conditions), Doral (Technical Conditions), Bay Hill (Classical Course with Technical conditions), Harbour Town (Technical Course and Conditions), Quail Hollow (Classical Course) and Muirfield Village (Classical Course). If you want to know more about how I classify courses you can read my PGA Tour Course Type Guide.
The US Open is traditionally known as the most gruelling tournament on the calendar and with good reason. Take 2012 as an example where Webb Simpson won his first Major Championship at a juicy 80/1. The Lake Course at Olympic Club in San Francisco played as a 7,110 yard Par 70 and, with USGA Executive Director Mike Davis' remit to 'protect par', the course was an absolute brute. Simpson won with a +1/281 total and Olympic Club played as the toughest course on last season's PGA Tour with an average score of 73.84 - almost 1.2 shots per round harder than 2nd placed Kiawah Island which hosted the PGA Championship. So what can we expect from Merion in 2013?
East Course, Merion Golf Club, Ardmore, Pennsylvania.
Designer: Hugh Wilson 1912.
Course Type: Technical; Par: 70; Length: 6,996 yards; Rough: 3.5"+; Greens: Bentgrass; Stimpmeter: 13ft.
The last US Open played at Merion was in 1981 when Australian David Graham won by hitting 17 fairways and 15 greens in Sunday's final round. He won with a -7/273 total. 2005 saw Merion host the US Amateur Championship won by Italy's Edoardo Molinari. Despite being an Amateur competition, it's worthy of note that every hole across that tournament played over par. The course has been lengthened by an additional 150 yards since then and will play at 6,996 yards for the US Open. That's over 500 yards longer than the course was in 1981.
The East Course at Merion will be a true US Open test in 2013
The last significant event to be held at Merion was the 2009 Walker Cup where a US team featuring Rickie Fowler, Bud Cauley and Cameron Tringale trounced Britain and Ireland 16.5 vs 9.5. Fowler scored 4 wins from 4 matches that weekend with Cauley ably supporting with 3 wins and a half from his matches. Worthy of note....?!
Merion is a mercurial mix and has been described as the most beautiful parkland course in the world. Course designer Hugh Wilson back in 1909 was dispatched to Scotland with the brief to bring a Scottish links type golf course to Philadelphia. After visiting many of Scotland's best courses Wilson returned and started work on a tiny property in Ardmore which opened in 1912 to fantastic reviews. Fast forward to 2013 and the course still looks and plays like a links course with small undulating greens and deep fescue-topped bunkers.
The 36/34 course split features both of the track's Par 5s in the first 4 holes meaning that early birdies are available, although that will be far from easy as the Par 5 4th is 628 yards in length. The mid part of the round features Holes 7,8 and 10 (easiest hole in the 2005 US Amateur), all of which are attackable Par 4s where players will need to score. The Par 3 13th, which measures only 115 yards, was the 2nd easiest hole in the 2005 US Amateur and is followed by 5 amazingly difficult closing holes including the 521 yard Par 4 18th - the most difficult hole on the property.
Average and Hole Difficulty numbers relate to the 2005 US Amateur Championship.
Merion's setup for 2013 is already a huge debate across the golfing world. The course itself already features tight fairways, many of which are uneven and slope inextricably towards the rough. For the US Open fairways have been shaved further, leading to incredibly tight driving target areas and the USGA have also decided to only have graduated rough on the longer Par 4s. This has already prompted the World Number 1 Tiger Woods to comment, “I have never been to Merion. From what I hear, I don’t think they are going to have the intermediate cut. I think they are just going to have rough and fairway, that's it.” The rough will be a minimum of 3.5 inches in length and Merion's Bentgrass greens are likely to be 13+ on the Stimp. Short-siding yourself around this course quite simply won't be an option.
Steve's selections for the US Open will be published here on the Tuesday before the event around teatime BST.
Steve Bamford's recent Major record speaks for itself. He picked Rory McIlroy at Congressional in 2011 at 22/1 as well as 45/1 2nd place Jason Day. 2012 saw him back Rory McIlroy who delivered the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island for a nice 20/1 return for Golf Betting System readers and 2013 has already seen Steve tip Jason Day at Augusta who delivered a 55/1 Each Way return. Paul Williams will also publish a longshots and alternative markets preview for the US Open, hoping to go one better after backing Angel Cabrera in his Augusta article and narrowly missing out on a 110/1 winner following Adam Scott's playoff victory.