ARDMORE, Pa. — It’s quite the ride from the driving range to the first tee at Merion, and that’s going to take some getting used to this week at the U.S. Open.
“That’s an interesting challenge,” said Matt Kuchar, a two-time winner on the PGA Tour this year. “I think that there’s a number of people who like to go straight off the driving range, hitting that last tee ball and trying to envision them being on the first tee and replicating that same tee shot.”
A 12-passenger van will shuttle the players, and Kuchar said the elapsed time from final practice swing to first competitive swing could be some 20 to 30 minutes.
“I think the guys that have to rely less on timing in their golf swing will certainly fare better on the opening tee ball and first couple of holes,” Kuchar said. “The guys that are more relying on timing and have to come straight from the range quickly to the first tee to kind of be fresh and ready to go may struggle a little more.”
USGA executive director Mike Davis said the rules allow for a player to avoid a penalty or disqualification if a tee time is missed because of a breakdown in the shuttle service, but he’s not expecting any problems.
“Ultimately,” Davis said, “it is the player’s responsibility to get to his first tee ground on time.”
REMEMBERING HAPPY DAYS: After beating Jack Nicklaus in a playoff to win the U.S. Open at Merion in 1971, Lee Trevino famously quipped: “I love Merion, and I don’t even know her last name.”
If a joke works, it’s worth repeating.
“I’m still trying to figure out what her last name is,” Trevino said this week as he returned to the historic course. “I know I fell in love with her when I was here.”
Trevino and David Graham, winners of the last two U.S. Opens at Merion, were among the featured guests at a champions dinner Tuesday night. They found the place to be the same, yet different.
“Our press conference, when Nicklaus and I were here, was on a bench in the locker room,” Trevino said while meeting with reporters in the expansive media tent, one of the modern-day necessities shoehorned into the relatively intimate confines of the suburban Philadelphia golf club.
Merion is “where I beat that guy,” Trevino said, meaning Nicklaus. And he did so after pulling one of the great golf pranks of all time — pulling a rubber snake out of his bag at the first hole of the playoff.
GREEN SPEEDS: USGA executive director Mike Davis says in good weather, the speed of the greens will be up to 13.5 on the Stimpmeter at the U.S. Open.
At least on 17 greens.
The fifth green at Merion is the toughest on the golf course, canting severely to the left. If that green were the same speed as the others, it would be difficult for balls to stay on the putting surface. That green will be running around 12 on the Stimpmeter.
“Players have been notified of that,” Davis said. “We’ve done this exact same thing in past championships here, and it works for that.”
As for the other 17 greens, they’ll have the speed used in the 2005 U.S. Amateur and the 2009 Walker Cup.
“That seems to be Merion’s — for a championship — ideal green speeds,” Davis said, “where you don’t lose hole locations, but you’re also really testing the players and ... the movement in the greens really come alive. So that’s what we’re shooting for.”
Wednesday was the first time the staff was able to get the greens at that speed because of rain earlier in the week.
FRIENDLY SERGIO: Sergio Garcia was an accommodating figure at Merion as he finished the back nine of his final U.S. Open practice round Wednesday, stopping multiple times to sign autographs.
Fans were supportive in return, yelling out occasional encouraging words. There was no sign, at least over the final few holes, of any fan backlash over his recent exchanges with Tiger Woods, which hit a low point when Garcia said he would serve fried chicken if he had Woods over for dinner during the Open. He has since apologized for the remark.
Garcia’s only visible clash was, well, truly visible. Even those with no sense of fashion whatsoever were quick to realize that his bright fuchsia shirt didn’t mesh at all with the orange worn by his caddie. ___
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