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The Battle of Merion – she gets the 2013 U.S. Open

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MAMARONECK, NY – The forces of good that battle for the preservation and promotion of golf’s greatest classic, strategic courses won a great victory today. Merion Golf Club – once thought lost to the mists of time forever as too short for major competitions – will host the 2013 U.S. Open.

The return of Merion to the informal U.S. Open rota is a victory on three levels – first for the great golf history already written at the club (including Bobby Jones finishing the Grand Slam there in 1930), second for all short course members and supporters s who believe a great shot-shaper’s and thinker’s course can stand up to the game’s of the world’s greatest and third for the promotion of great golf course architecture.

Built in 1912 by Hugh Wilson, no other golf club has hosted more USGA Championships than Merion. If Augusta is golf’s Yankee stadium, then Merion is Fenway Park.

Bill Iredale, Merion’s Championship Committee Chairman said “The 2013 Open will be the 18th national championship in the club’s history.” Merion has hosted four U.S. Opens with Ben Hogan and Lee Trevino among the winners, but has not hosted a major since 1981 when David Graham won with -7 (273).

“Merion has always taught us that brute length does not necessarily make for great golf” said venerable golf writer Marino Parachenzo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “It’s a pleasure to have such a course of charm and integrity.”

Indeed, some believe the success of the 2005 U.S. Amateur, won by Italian Edoardo Molinari who was -7 after 15 holes cemented the decision. “From the standpoint of length and difficulty, Merion certainly answered the question in the affirmative during the 2005 U.S. Amateur.

Molinari himself brightened when told of the news. “It was such a joy to play because it’s not just driver-five iron. You have to hit a lot of different shot shapes and there is a nice mix of short and long holes. I hope to go back. I have a lot of great memories. And we had a few great parties.”

Philadelphia Inquirer reported Joe Logan agreed the choice was monumental news. “It is a nod to a hallowed place. The USGA is doing a good job of being all things to all people. They have given a nod to public players with Bethpage, Pebble Beach and Torrey Pines. There is a nod to great classic courses with Shinnecock and Winged Foot and Merion.”

The most serious competition came from The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., site of a phenomenal Ryder Cup in 1999 but it seemed to base its hopes on people being sentimental that 2013 would be the 100th anniversary of the victory of Francis Ouimette.

Come on people, it’s Francis Ouimette not Francis of Assisi. Taking the argument ad absurdum we should honor Orville Moody’s centennial anniversary with by going to Champions in Houston in 2069 and Steve Jones’ 100th anniversary by going to Oakland Hills in 2096. Rigid adherence to a scheduled golf calendar of anniversaries would lead to a chaotic checkerboard of venue selection and will disappoint somebody necessarily in case of conflict.

The impact on the future of technology and equipment is equally staggering. Does this mean we will have a tournament ball by 2013? A 10% ball solves a lot of problems regarding older, shorter courses. While the USGA downplays any link between choosing Merion and the reduced distance ball, six manufactures have submitted balls to the USGA for testing and balls are also being given to players to see how they perform.

Finally, Alistair Mackenzie once wrote “we must fight for the soul of golf course architecture as though British hegemony were at stake.” Nott only is Merion historic, but the course is one of the strongest designs architecturally – all the more amazing because it was Hugh Wilson’s first effort.

Even if we admit Merion is short and “easier” than Oakmont, Oakland Hills, Winged Foot, etc, Merion still requires superlative planning and execution. She tests all shot shapes. Besides, if Merion is where Tiger ties or breaks Jack’s major recordk – a not-so-remote possibility – will it really matter if –14 won? Either way, it is likely that the winner will likely approach the aggregate scoring record. David Graham missed the then record of 272 by one stroke in 1981, a fact that may have contributed to Merion’s long absence.

Merion has always been short, is short and will continue to be short but that is irrelevant. You don’t need length to defend par. The 10th at Riviera says more in its scant 310 yards than most par fours say on 460. It still plays over par to the field average at the Nissan Open.

Once more players will come from all points of the compass to walk her hallowed halls. She will no longer worry about joining the tombstones of major venues past. And once again, the ghosts of Bobby Jones and Ben Hogan do not sleep tonight; no peaceful slumber.

They’ll be out playing in the moonlight – celebrating. They may even invite Hugh Wilson.

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