COMMENTARY | When the 2013 US Open tees off this week at Merion Golf Club, the world's best players will be tested by a course as intimidating as any major venue over the past decade.
Located 11 miles west of Philadelphia, the Ardmore-based track will be one of the shortest in recent US Open history. However, don't let Merion's sub-7,000 yard layout fool you. A challenging blend of short and long holes, deep bunkers, punishing rough and high risk-high reward opportunities will tempt players throughout the week. USGA chief Mike Davis and his team rarely disappoint when it comes to setting the stage for our national championship.
What Merion lacks in distance it makes up for in variety. After the mild 350 yard par-4 first hole and manageable 556 yard par-5 second, players are immediately greeted by the 256 yard par-3 third hole, the monstrous 628 yard par-5 no. 4 hole and the frustratingly-long par-4 no. 5 hole, measuring over 500 yards.
Any shots dropped on the front nine can be quickly found after the turn, however, starting at the drivable 306 yard par-4 no. 10. Every player in the field will be tempted - and able - to reach this green off the tee, although the shape of the hole requires a sharp right-to-left curve to cut the corner. Hole nos. 11 and 12 offer two additional birdie opportunities heading into the tiny 100 yard par-3 no. 13, which may play as short as 96 yards one round.
This US Open may be decided on Merion's final two holes. The downhill 246 yard par-3 no. 17 hole will feature a gallery amphitheater that is sure to be wild come Sunday afternoon. Players will need to land their shot on the front of the green and allow the contours to feed their ball to a back right pin position. Of course, Merion's final test is the famous 521 yard par-4 no. 18 hole, which golf historians will recall as the site of Ben Hogan's majestic 1-iron shot during the 1950 US Open.
Mother Nature, on the other hand, has made things difficult for tournament officials. According to ESPN's Bob Harig, Tropical Storm Andrea swept through the area last week, pummeling Merion with over three inches of rain in the process. While most areas of the course were at risk of flooding, the creek-lined par-4 no. 11 hole presented the biggest concern to USGA officials. A plan is in place to use two holes from Merion's West Course should weather conditions deem it necessary.
Nevertheless, Merion Golf Club is sure to be a unique and challenging test for players over all four rounds of the season's second major. Distance off the tee will be less of an equalizer and possibly a detriment on some holes, while a strong wedge game and hot putter prove invaluable. As is the case with most US Open championships, a mixture of patience, consistency, discipline and aggressive shot-making will proof to be the blueprint to success.
Adam Fonseca has been covering professional golf since 2005. His work can be found on numerous digital outlets, including the Back9Network and SB Nation. He currently lives in Chicago with his wife. Follow Adam on Twitter @chicagoduffer.
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