15th Annual Gerry Dulac Parkway West Rotary Charity Classic
Monday, July 29th
Sewickley Heights Golf Club
Benefits Robinson Twp. Parks & Recreation Department and Parkway West Rotary Charities
Includes: 18-hole Scramble, Gift, Continental Breakfast, Dinner, Auction.
Register online at parkwaywestrotary.com
Special Editions of the Golf Show
The Golf Show LIVE at Kiawah Island Resort in South Carolina, Monday March 11th, 8-9pm
The lure of the U.S. Open returning after a 32-year absence to Merion Golf Club -- Philadelphia's answer to Oakmont -- is probably the reason.
Or it could be that Merion, with two reachable par-5s and six par-4s under 380 yards, will offer a challenge that is more about precision than power -- bringing more potential winners into play.
Whatever the motivation, the United States Golf Association received a record number of entries -- 9,860 -- for the 2013 U.S. Open that will be staged at one of the most historic clubs in the world.
In the Philadelphia area, the entries were so large -- 255 players -- an extra qualifying site had to be added.
Locally, the number of entries for the two local qualifiers is 124, an increase from a year ago. The first of those two qualifiers is today at Westmoreland Country Club in Export, the beginning of what is a long and arduous path to the U.S. Open.
"It's harder than it's ever been," said amateur Sean Knapp, who has never made it to the U.S. Open despite advancing through 10 local qualifiers. "About 25 years ago, there were two rounds, which was better for the better players. A fluke hole wouldn't knock you out. Now you're one round with a higher caliber of player."
Knapp, a seven-time West Penn Amateur champion who won the Pennsylvania Public Links Championship for the fourth time last week, is part of the field of 55 players -- 32 amateurs, 23 professionals -- at Westmoreland. Three qualifying spots are available.
Among the other participants are former PGA Tour player Bob Friend, Web.com Tour player Jon Mills, local PGA professionals John Aber, Rob McClellan, Kevin Shields, Ryan Sikora and Joe Boros, and mini-tour player Mike Van Sickle.
The second local qualifier will be Tuesday at Grove City Country Club, where 40 amateurs are part of the field of 69 players competing for four qualifying spots.
Among the players are Oakmont Country Club professional Bob Ford, teaching professional Gordon Vietmeier, and mini-tour players C.G. Merkatoris of Robert Morris and Adam Hoffman, a former state amateur champ who played at Vanderbilt.
Also in the field is amateur Rick Stimmel, the last player to advance from a local qualifier in Western Pennsylvania to the U.S. Open. Stimmel did that in 2000 at Pebble Beach.
Of the 124 players in the two qualifiers, 72 (58 percent) are amateurs -- and most of those are college or high school players.
"That's been the case for almost five years where amateurs are outnumbering the professionals in our locals," said Jeff Rivard, executive director of the West Penn Golf Association, which stages the qualifiers. "The number of [club pro] jobs where you have playing opportunities has diminished and father time has caught up with a lot of those guys. That generation hasn't been replaced by an equal number of good players."
Webb Simpson didn't have much success the first time he played the Olympic Club in San Francisco in competition, getting eliminated in the first round of the 2007 U.S. Amateur by Michael Thompson.
Five years later, he won his first major championship -- the U.S. Open -- at Olympic, coming from four shots off the lead in the final round to beat Thompson and Graeme McDowell.
Simpson is hoping for similar karma when he defends his championship June 13-16 at the Merion Golf Club in suburban Philadelphia. The only time he played competitively at Merion, he was eliminated in the second round of the 2005 U.S. Amateur by Anthony Kim.
"I tell people all the time it is my favorite golf course in the world," Simpson said. "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 is the opposite. I only hit a few drivers. And so, for me, to try to defend such a big title ... it's even more of an honor at a place I love."
Simpson has been back to Merion several times since 2005 to play in corporate outings, and what he loves about the 6,996-yard East course is that it is almost two different courses.
The first 13 holes feature the only two reachable par-5s on the course and six par-4s that don't play any longer than 380 yards. The last five holes are among the most grueling anywhere in the country, including the 463-yard 18th, which USGA executive director Mike Davis calls "the toughest finishing hole in U.S. Open history."
"Potentially through 13 holes, if you drive it well, you can have nine wedge opportunities," Simpson said last week during a media preview at Merion in Ardmore, Pa. "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."
Like the Olympic Club, Merion has a number of severely sloping fairways (Nos. 4, 5 and 12) that will cause the USGA to keep the fairway height at a half-inch on those holes compared to a quarter-inch on other holes. Also, Davis said the rough -- Merion's signature -- will be thicker and more penal on the shorter holes than the longer ones.
"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," Davis said. "And we said ... 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 every-day golf and why not incorporate some for U.S. Opens where we can."
Because of the shorter course and the precision required at Merion, Davis said, he thinks more players "can potentially win the U.S. Open" this year compared to other years.
"I don't think there 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," Simpson said. "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 the 14th tee and I got a long ways home."
Youth girls clinic
The Women's Golf Association of Western Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Women's Golf Association will sponsor a clinic Wednesday at Oakmont Country Club for girls ages 8-18.
Oakmont professional Bob Ford and World Golf Hall of Famer Carol Semple Thompson will conduct the clinic from 5-7 p.m. with other local PGA professionals.
"Allegheny Country Club and John Aber have done this for years, and we were there last year and said if you ever want to take a break we'd love to host it at Oakmont, and they were delighted to do it," Ford said.
"It's a great opportunity for girls to introduce them to the game, whether they are flat beginners, never played before or are nice players."
Registration forms can be found on-line at WGAWP.com and clicking on "Junior Golf" tab.
• I am not sure why the Golf Channel felt as though it had to hire ex-football player Ahmad Rashad to be one of the co-hosts for its new Morning Drive. This especially resonated the other day when he referred to the guys on the PGA Tour as "PGA players." Uh, Ahmad, the PGA is a group comprised of club professionals. They are no more a part of the PGA Tour than the Canadian Football League is a part of the NFL.
• Have you seen Michele Wie's new putting stance? She is bent over so far it looks as though she is trying to read the writing on her ball. Or maybe find her career.
• Let me get this straight, Vijay Singh admits to using deer antler spray, which contains a substance that is banned by the PGA Tour. But, three months later, the World Anti-Doping Agency rules the substance used in deer antler spray should not be on the banned list, and the PGA Tour announces that the case against Singh has been dropped. So what we have is an admitted violation of the rules and no penalty. Boy, that seems to be going around the golf world.
• The USGA could rotate the U.S. Open among five courses -- Oakmont, Merion, Shinnecock, Winged Foot and Olympic -- and I would never complain.
Dissa and data
The Tri-State PGA announced its annual awards for 2013. Top merchandisers: Peter Micklewright, Edgewood CC (private); Tom Beeler, Grandview GC (public); Ron Leporati, Bedford Springs (resort). Junior golf leader: Ron Lucas, Scally's GC; Teacher of the year: Jerry Stone, Scally's GC; Horton Smith Award: Eric Johnson, Oakmont CC; Bill Strausbaugh Award: Dan McMillen, Thiel College; Player development award: John Kerins, Tam O'Shanter GC: Patriot award: Sean Swidzinski, Olde Stonewall GC; golf professional of the year: Joe Boros, Treesdale. .... The 15th Parkway West Rotary Classic is July 29 at Sewickley Heights GC. Entry is $195 and includes dinner, gift and silent and live auction. Register at parkwaywestrotary.com. .... The 35th annual Young Life Golf Classic is May 13 at Willowbrook CC. Entry is $225 per player and includes dinner and gift. Call 412-242-1625 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• What: The 2013 U.S. Open, second of the season's majors, Merion Golf Club, Ardmore, Pa.
• When: June 13-16.
• TV: WPXI & ESPN.
• The skinny: The Open returns to Merion -- its ninth hole pictured above -- for the fifth time, but first since 1981.
ARDMORE, Pa. -- When David Graham won the 1981 U.S. Open with a near-perfect final round at Merion Golf Club, the United States Golf Association was convinced it would not come back to the club that has authored some of the most memorable moments in golf history.
And has those cool and distinctive wicker-basket flagsticks.
Never mind that Merion was the site in 1930 when Bobby Jones closed out his match on the 11th hole of the U.S. Amateur to become the first player to win golf's four major tournaments in the same year.
Or that in 1950, Ben Hogan hit a 1-iron from the middle of the 18th fairway to par the 72nd hole and force a three-way playoff that he eventually won -- just 16 months after a horrific auto accident nearly claimed his life. The photo of Hogan's shot, taken from behind and capturing his classic follow through, remains the most famous picture in golf.
Merion was even the site for Lee Trevino's 18-hole playoff victory against Jack Nicklaus in the 1971 U.S. Open, a match remembered for Trevino pulling a rubber snake from his bag on the first tee and playfully tossing it at Nicklaus.
It didn't even matter that Merion has played host to more USGA Championships (17) than any other club in America.
The USGA was convinced it could not continue to stage the U.S. Open there because, well, Merion was just too small.
"When we closed up in 1981, we really thought this was the last time, at least at a national Open championship, you would ever see Merion played on TV," said Mike Davis, the USGA's executive director. "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 111 acres."
At 6,996 yards -- the first Open course less than 7,000 yards since 2004 at Shinnecock -- Merion will be an exacting test for the players. It is Oakmont-esque with its deep bunkers and fast greens and has maybe the five toughest finishing holes in golf.
But staging the championship will be an even more demanding test for the USGA. That's because the club is shoehorned into a quiet, charming neighborhood with almost no room to maneuver.
The driving range for the players will be 1 1/2 miles down the road, at the club's West Course. Most of the corporate hospitality tents are more than a quarter-mile from the club's entrance, along County Line Road, with absolutely no view of the course or even the clubhouse. Thankfully, a neighbor across from the 14th hole has donated his front lawn to be used for some type of hospitality tent.
Merion is so compact it makes Oakmont Country Club look like Disney World.
"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," Davis said at a recent media preview of the championship, scheduled for June 13-16. "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."
All because of the sheer charm, intrigue, and challenge of Merion, one of golf's grandest clubs.
There are only two par-5s -- none after the fourth hole -- and three of the four par-3s can play at least 230 yards. Of the 12 par-4s, six play 380 yards or less.
"There's going to be more birdies made, trust me, at this U.S. Open than any we have seen in recent history," Davis said.
But, after walking off the green at the 115-yard 13th, Merion quickly becomes one of the Broad Street Bullies. The final five holes -- four par-4s and a 245-yard par-3, are rife with trouble, showing everything from heavy fescue, deep sand bunkers, boundary stakes and a rock quarry.
And, oh, those wicker baskets for flagsticks.
"I tell people all the time it is my favorite golf course in the world," said Webb Simpson, the defending U.S. Open champion who played in the 2005 U.S. Amateur at Merion.
"Merion is on virtually everybody's hit list of great golf courses, great architectural features," Davis said. "To come back here is truly magical."