COMMENTARY | Rickie Fowler will carry some fond memories into the U.S. Open this week at Merion Golf Club.
Fowler was a star of the 2009 U.S. Walker Cup team that beat Great Britain & Ireland 16-1/2 to 9-1/2 in the last USGA competition to be hosted at the historic course outside Philadelphia. The then 20-year-old amateur compiled a perfect 4-0 record to lead a team captained by Merion member Buddy Marucci.
So what did Fowler pick up from that September weekend nearly four years ago that he can put to use as he chases his first major title on the 6,996-yard par 70 Hugh Wilson gem?
"My best memory is after we won it, standing on the 18th green with two of my teammates from Oklahoma State, Peter Uihlein and Morgan Hoffmann. Peter and I both went 4-0 and Morgan didn't lose a match (2-0-1)," Fowler told the Philadelphia Inquirer last week. "And playing for Buddy [Marucci] in the two years I got to play the Walker Cup was awesome. Those are pretty cool memories to be able to draw off."
Fowler and Hoffman are two of a handful of players in the U.S. Open field who have played Merion in competition. No one in the field has played a professional tournament at Merion.
Hoffman, making his third Open start, also competed in the 2005 U.S. Amateur at the Ardmore, Pennsylvania course. He was one of 64 players to qualify for match play before losing in the first round. Others in the 2005 U.S. Amateur field included:
Webb Simpson: The defending U.S. Open champion shot a 3-over-par 143 to qualify for match play before losing in the second round.
Kevin Chappell: If's there a favorite among the Merion veterans, it's Chappell. In addition to the local knowledge gleaned from making it to the third round of match play in the 2005 Amateur, Chappell tied for third in the 2011 U.S. Open at a soggy Congressional and finished tied for 10th in last year's Open at Olympic. And don't forget his late charge two weeks ago at the Memorial Tournament where he finished a close second to Matt Kuchar.
Billy Horschel: Horschel didn't qualify for match play in 2005 but he comes into Merion riding the high of his first PGA Tour win and a career year in the making.
Kyle Stanley: Stanley also missed the match play segment in 2005 but like Chappell, he's coming off a strong third-place showing in his final tune-up at Memorial.
Nicholas Thompson: Thompson, who lost in the second round of match play at Merion, is making his third U.S. Open appearance.
The remaining Merion vets competed in the 1989 U.S. Amateur and include:
Phil Mickelson: Lefty made it into match play on a Merion course that played quite differently 24 years ago due to poor maintenance. Mickelson has proven to be a good mudder - witness his 2012 win at Pebble Beach - so he's got that going for him on what should be a soggy track.
Steve Stricker: The plethora of short approaches should suit Stricker's precision wedge game. He's second in greens in regulation on the PGA Tour this year and 13th in putting -- a powerful combination if he can find enough fairways.
Jim Furyk: The 2003 U.S. Open champion grew up just 20 miles from Merion. Winning on his home turf on the 10th anniversary of his only major would be something special for Furyk. And it would provide a measure of redemption after his back-nine collapse at Olympic.
Mark McLaughlin has reported on the PGA Tour for the New York Post, FoxSports.com, Greensboro News & Record, and Burlington (N.C.) Times-News. He is a past member of the Metropolitan Golf Writers Association. Follow him on Twitter @markmacduke.
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