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Davis Pleased with How Merion Held Up & U.S. Open Turned Out
There were a lot of naysayers prior to the start of the 2013 U.S. Open that this year's venue, the East Course at Merion Golf Club near Philadelphia, would be a pushover. After all, the historic course had last held a U.S. Open in 1981 before the advent of high-powered golf balls, high-tech equipment and highly-toned professional tour players.
But those predictions turned out erroneous, thank you very much, as the sub-7,000-yard course held up very well. Despite heavy rains before the championship's start that only made the voices louder about a soft Merion being reduced to a short bomb-and-gouge layout that would quickly succumb to the world's best golfers, that assertion proved false as well.
All one had to do was look at the scorecard Sunday night to see that this relic of a golf course - built in 1912 and occupying a mere 111 acres - provided the stiff test the USGA seeks when selecting the annual site for its premier event.
The winner, Justin Rose, finished 72 holes with a grand total of 1-over 281 on the par-70 layout. The top-two ranked players in the world and the heavy pre-tournament favorites, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, recorded unimpressive tallies of 13-over 293 and 14-over 294, respectively.
The main problem, if there was one, is Merion's limited footprint to house the many subsidiary elements of a U.S. Open - multiple access points, media center, gallery-viewing areas, merchandise tent, near offsite parking, etc. But the USGA recognized this fact. Before the championship began the organization estimated it would make $10 million less than it normally would for a U.S. Open due to Merion's space restrictions.
Though he said it was a "great test" for the championship, Brandt Snedeker addressed the tight spaces of Merion. "I love the history here, but there's so much more that goes in a U.S. Open than just golf.
"Just from an infrastructure standpoint, from a fan standpoint, from a global marketing standpoint, I feel this tournament needs more space to put on a championship in the right way."
One of the strongest reactions came from the normally soft-spoken Iowan, former Masters champion Zach Johnson, who shot rounds of 74 and 77 and missed the cut. "I would describe the whole golf course as manipulated," Johnson sniffed. "It just enhances my disdain for the USGA and how it manipulates golf courses."
As expected, the fellow who sets up the course for the U.S. Open, USGA executive director Mike Davis, was happy with how things turned out. "At the end of it, regardless of whether some things were tougher operationally than normal, regardless of whether you make less money from it, which is a very minor thing as far as we're concerned, it was great for golf," Davis said.
"And in the sense you got back to a great historic site," he added of a place that's hosted more USGA championships than any other. "You celebrated history, you celebrated one of the great architectural sites. You celebrated a great championship site, so it was really worth it, I thought."
Here's what else Davis had to tell reporters during his Q&A Sunday. Also on hand was Tom O'Toole, head of the USGA's Championship Committee.
Q. Phil expressed his displeasure about the third hole setup. How do you feel with the way the wind was coming and did you feel like you got that one right?
MIKE DAVIS: Well, let me start out by Phil is a class act. He was nothing but complimentary week from the standpoint of he embraced this golf course, which is great. He saw all the architecture when he played the third hole today. We set the golf course up today for a south wind. So you saw us move tee markers up. For instance, if you're playing the 18th hole, you're dead into what would be a south wind. So that's how we set it up. That's why we didn't go to the back tees.
When we got to the third hole, we were really getting a westerly even a northwesterly wind. So it played long. It played longer than we would have but having said that, it was a back hole location that was the most receptive on the green, we felt that it could handle 3 wood shots, if need be. So anyway, I mean, he mentioned that he thought it was too long. That's fine. We wouldn't have put the tee markers back where we did had we known we were going to get that wind. But he was terrific and to be a six time runner up in the national open championship is - well, it's not only a record, but it's a - he's a very classy about it.
Q. How did Merion perform this week, do you feel?
MIKE DAVIS: Wonderfully. Absolutely, like a lot of us thought, it stood the test of time. Merion for those that haven't seen that really studied Merion, it's always been short relative to other championship sites, and it's always, always held its own. It's always a great test of golf. And we knew it would be. Our question all along is could we pull off the operations of this event. And it was never a question of would the golf course stand up. When we had the 2005 U.S. Amateur here, we played 312 players stroke play, and we play a lot of U.S. Open courses for the U.S. Amateur. From a stroke play average, it was the second hardest next to Oakmont. So we have known all along this golf course was going to hold its own. But it was just, it was a wonderful test of golf. It was great to have the world see Merion again, because there's been so many great moments in time that have happened here. And it hasn't the time hasn't passed Merion by.
Q. And how did you feel operationally?
MIKE DAVIS: Well, operationally and Tom might want to speak to this one, but we were pleasantly surprised. So, Tom?
TOM O'TOOLE: This was a tough footprint to put together, a lot of pieces to the puzzle, the college, the neighborhood. Merion pulled it off with their creative team, their intrigue, and our outside the box thinking operational people. It was a smaller Open. It was a tight. Was there a lot of people around? Yeah, but you didn't get the players didn't get that feeling on the golf course because most of the ancillary activity was going off, going on outside the golf course. So I thought we and the Club did a wonderful job and it was a smaller open, but they pulled a rabbit out of their hat.
Q. Was it worth it to come here and to potentially come back, say, in 2021?
MIKE DAVIS: I would say, I mean early reviews from our side would be absolutely. I think that all along before we pulled the trigger on this, we had to be convinced that we could do this operationally. And I think that we went into it hoping that some of the things would come together. But you know what? At the end of it, regardless of whether some things were tougher operationally than normal, regardless of whether you make less money from it, which is a very minor thing as far as we're concerned, it was great for golf. And in the sense you got back to a great historic site. You celebrated history, you celebrated one of the great architectural sites. You celebrated a great championship site, so it was really worth it, I thought.
Q. Do you feel a certain satisfaction since this was something that you initiated really so long ago? Does this feel different than other Opens for you?
MIKE DAVIS: Well, mine from a personal standpoint, mine I guess it does, because I'm from Pennsylvania. But you try listen, I try not to let that play into it. But, yes, I think that those of us that knew Merion as a site wanted to see whether this could happen again. I will admit it, I was one of those that thought it would never happen because I didn't think we could make it work operationally. But think about it, when all these homeowners gave up their homes, gave up their front yards, when Haverford College gives up their, literally their campus and changes their schedule, when players can go a mile down the road, I mean it's just a lot of things have to happen, a lot of people have to want this to happen. We don't usually get that type of community support, Club support. You get support, but not like this.
Q. What was your favorite moment of the weekend?
MIKE DAVIS: Well, there were a few times. There were a few times Thursday when we teed off and there were a few people, Merion members, who came up to me and literally broke down because they just thought they had worked so hard to see this happen and to see that first shot come off. I think that those were things I will never forget. You never forget Justin winning here, and this is somebody that we knew would eventually win a Major, but some people that put their heart and soul into this and were so emotional about it. Those are things you'll never forget.
TOM O'TOOLE: Let me say something on that because Mike hasn't gotten enough credit about what happened in 2006. Most of you may know that Mike's early beginnings at the USGA came from an operational background at the U.S. Open. And it seems to me that as I've navigated through that, my time on the Executive Committee, that everybody would maybe want to take credit or revel in what's happened here this week, but I can tell you that I didn't sit in the Championship Committee then, I know people that did. Mike's the one who stuck his neck out professionally and otherwise, to say that we could do this from both of the hats that he wore. Operationally, which we had to get a little creative, but from a golf course standpoint. And so the record really needs to reflect that, that Mike stuck his neck out. And as I said at the member meeting, mission accomplished.
Q. Does being able it pull this off put any other great old courses back on the radar screen?
TOM O'TOOLE: We react to invitations we get from clubs. You all know that, so I expect there's clubs sitting somewhere tonight thinking, maybe this puts us back in the mix. But we'll react to those invitations. We're fortunate to have member clubs like Merion that would step up and make this commitment. So we look forward to the future and whatever that plays out.
Q. Why do you think it took so long to have the U.S. Open come back to Merion?
TOM O'TOOLE: For all the reasons that Mike stated, because this was a puzzle. Then they said, well, it's not going to work operationally. Production of the U.S. Open, you all know has gotten I mean, what do you think exponentially it's grown since 1981? Fifty times? Just pick a number. And so that's why folks thought Mike has said all week that his hunch was the golf course could handle it. The club added 300 or 400 yards in length, but they made the long holes up to technology and the short holes are still the short holes. So it was the operational part that said, well, it just doesn't, it's not going to fit, you got two roads running through here, separate parts of the golf course, and 111 acres. So it wasn't until this Club got beyond the realm of reason to go to these, the college, the property owners, and all of a sudden these pieces of puzzle started to fit together. But Mike's the one who stuck his neck out to get this.
Q. Why was everybody so wrong about Merion as far as it's going to get wet, they're going to shoot 62. What were we missing?
MIKE DAVIS: The last time we had a U.S. Open here was '81. We were still using persimmons and balatas. And so much has happened since that period of time. Just how you play the game. So I think there was that natural tendency to say, well, Merion's been passed by. And I really do think that in addition to the operations, I think a lot of people said there's just too many short holes to test these players.
But at the end of it, you have to still remember that it's a four and a quarter inch hole that you have to get it into. And it's not all about distance. I'm telling you, we could play an 8,500 yard course with straightaways, and these guys would have no trouble. It's when you all of a sudden get holes that move different directions, unlevel lies, wind, some blindness, greens that undulate, that's what tests these players. They can hit it a long way and they can hit it straight, but it's this type of architecture that you really have to think your way around it.
Q. How much different would the pin positions and hole locations this year have been maybe than in '71 and '81?
MIKE DAVIS: Very good question. I'm not sure I can answer that totally, but if you look at the architecture on some of these greens, take 17, there's only certain places you can put it. There's quadrants you have to put it. So if you look back on the hole location sheets as my predecessor, we were saying that we had a lot of locations that were three paces from the side. A lot. But in a lot of cases that's where they had to go. You look at the hole location on 17 today. If you were going to put it back right, it had to be there. If you went four or five, you were going to be on a slope that you couldn't do it. So we used to find some in terms of saying, it was like there might be three, but we would never put it on the sheet. We put it on the sheet now. So I think that strategically, hole locations are only part of it. It's a very in some ways it's a minor part of setup. Because at the end of it, they're trying to hit to a green and putt to a location, but there were some hard locations to short holes where they had wedge, nines in their hands, and they should be.
We feel for a national open, they didn't have to go at every one of those. They could play to the middle and putt to it. But think about the 13th hole today, the short little par 3, 123 yards. You did not have to go at that hole location. And if you did, you might make a 2. You could make a 1, but if you did go toward it, look at Phil. He went towards it, he tried it, and he didn't quite execute and he made a bogey. 123 yards on a tee. I think that's some of when you have a short shot, giving some of those, because it tests the mental game.
Q. It was very hard to make putts, too. And that seemed like Trevino and Nicklaus you watch and they made more putts. Now I don't know what happened.
MIKE DAVIS: That's a good point. I don't know what the greens stimped at in '71, but they weren't 13. I know that. But they were fast for that time.
Q. No. 18, didn't have a birdie all weekend.
MIKE DAVIS: Didn't Round 3 or Round 4? I was not aware of that. I thought there would be a birdie today in that back left, because the ball does feed to it. But listen, it's the hardest hole, I really do believe it's the hardest hole we play in any U.S. Open. You have to hit a great tee shot, it's a blind tee shot, it's a drive, mine it's a drive zone that cuts right to left. And if you're good enough to get your drive into play, you have this some type of awkward stance to a green that's back that you're hitting 210 to 240, 245, 250 yards in. So it is a hard hole. And that's meant to be that way. At the end of it what we're trying to do is say the player that has the lowest score for 72 holes gets that trophy. So if it plays to a 4.5, and some other hole plays to a 3.8, it's just, who has the least amount of strokes after 72 holes.
Q. Some players thought this week at the beginning of the week that the setup would have to protect Merion. Do you feel afterwards with 1-over par being the winning score that you guys over protected Merion?
MIKE DAVIS: I do not, because I don't think we would have done anything differently. We could be standing here right now and whatever, 12 under could have won. And we would have had the same tee locations, the same rough, same green speeds. We wouldn't have done anything different. You have to remember, one of the reasons this was hard is it was windy out there. We had four days of wind. I can't believe, I thought coming into this we would have zero days of wind. In June? In Philadelphia? Usually get hot, humid conditions. If we would have had four days of still conditions, plus 1 over wouldn't have won. I don't know what would have won. So we didn't try to manipulate the scores as some would have it.
Q. Talk about the city of Philadelphia's response to having a U.S. Open at Merion.
MIKE DAVIS: Wonderful. Philadelphia is one of the most historic golf cities in the country and they put on a great show. Great spectators, great golf course, and marvelous.
Q. What determines if you come back when you come back?
MIKE DAVIS: Well, we have to be invited by the Club. So I mean, I would think we would all want to sit down and digest this. But the club would have to invite us and think about it, it's usually 10, 12, 15, 20 in this case, 32 years. So I think that's really what's got to happen is that we would assess things, they would assess things. But ultimately we're very reactive. They got to invite us and then at that point is when we start to look.
Q. Had it played hard and fast, how high do you think the scores would have been?
MIKE DAVIS: If it had been windy and firm, I don't know, 5-, 10-over. But you know, if it had been soft and no wind? That's why we say you could have a 20 shot difference and it has nothing to do with us.
Q. Were you afraid it was going to get too soft because it didn't really seem like it ended up that way?
MIKE DAVIS: I still wish we would have seen one day where it was firm and it was bouncy where they had to think about it. But you had four days of wind. And the other thing is, on soft holes, when it's, excuse me, when it's soft, the way it was, on short holes, it actually sometimes can be harder. When you're hitting a wedge in and you're saying how can I not spin this thing, you would almost want to bounce a little bit.
Q. Did you have a moment of fear on Tuesday and go oh, my gosh, best laid plans are going to be washed away?
MIKE DAVIS: No, but the moment of fear a little bit operationally with that tropical storm.
Q. You had had ultimate faith in this golf course, didn't you?
MIKE DAVIS: It's never failed. Not one time. Never. It's never failed. Never failed.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.