U.S. Open Golf Week Gets Soggy Start at Merion, More Rain on Way

The U.S. Open week has gotten off to a soggy start at Merion Golf Club, and more rain is forecast through the first day of play on June 13.

As much as 5 inches of rain has soaked the 117-year-old course over a four-day period. Yesterday’s practice round at the course in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, was postponed three times due to rain and a tornado warning before play was canceled for the day in the late afternoon.

“It’s going to be very sloppy now,” Ernie Els, a two-time U.S. Open champion, told reporters. “You’re not going to see a firm U.S. Open this year. I don’t care if they get helicopters flying over the fairways, it’s not going to dry up.”

More than an inch of rain fell on the course yesterday, sending many of the tournament’s 175 maintenance workers onto the fairways with squeegees as players sought shelter. The deluge came after Tropical Storm Andrea dropped 3.5 inches of rain on the course on June 7. Additional rain was expected last night.

Forecasters said more rain was on the way. On-site meteorologist Jake Swick of Thor Guard Weather Services said storms were possible today and tomorrow, and there was a 60 percent chance of heavy rain -- at least a half-inch -- during the opening round. The sun is expected to return the following day, Swick said.

The U.S. Golf Association, which stages the event, closed the par-4 11th hole yesterday for the entire day. The hole sits in the lowest part of the East Course and the green is surrounded by a creek, putting it in danger of flooding.

“The green has managed to stay above water, which is a good thing,” Merion superintendent Matt Shaffer told reporters after play was called off. “Certainly it’s saturated.”

Sand Replaced

Maintenance crews spent most of the day trying to repair a rain-soaked sand bunker adjacent to the 11th green. Almost all of the sand was removed and then replaced with three tons of new sand, Shaffer said.

If the 11th hole isn’t playable during the tournament, the USGA has a plan that would allow the use of holes on Merion’s adjacent West Course. As of now, officials said there is no plan to use the other holes.

“We do think about worst-case scenarios, but we don’t anticipate that happening,” USGA Executive Director Mike Davis said.

While the 6,996-yard course will be wet, scoring conditions will be favorable, players said. The wet and soft green will enable shots to be hit closer to hole locations without players fearing their golf balls will roll too far. In turn, birdies could come in bunches.

‘It’s Frustrating’

“With it being a little soft, it becomes a little more simple than what it was,” Masters Tournament winner Adam Scott told reporters. “The ball is just going to stop where it lands. So if you’re accurate, you’ll be fine.”

Scott was one of many players who arrived in the Philadelphia area on June 7, just as the heaviest rain drenched the course. Scott said he had only been able to play 18 holes since arriving.

“I’ve seen the inside of the clubhouse a lot and restaurants,” he said. “I haven’t been able to get out much. I’ve been studying the course by the yardage book so far. It’s frustrating.”

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