Remember the Mailbag?

I prefer Non-Iced.

I prefer Non-Iced.

One of the things I like to keep track of in this space is the constant erosion of Americana.  Is that a dramatic enough sentence to get your attention?  What I’m saying is, I’m afraid a lot of things are getting worse and I’m also afraid that I have officially crossed over into, “They don’t make things like they used to,” territory.  Of course, I’m more qualified to point these issues out in some areas over others.  Essentially, anything trivial, or frozen dessert related rests right in my sweet spot.  Which brings me to the “new” Nestle Toll House Chipwich (not a trademark chipwich, but that’s what I’m calling it).  

The Toll House Chipwich was always the cleanup hitter in Wawa’s freezer.  It had the price tag to match.  Sure, it wasn’t a REAL Chipwich.  No chocolate option, no mini chocolate chips around the edges, but what the Toll House Chipwich brought to the table was an actual GOOD COOKIE.  It didn’t taste like something that had been in a freezer for a decade.  It was worth the money.  But, it was also an extravagance at approximately 3,400 calories.  It had been a while since I had one, they can turn into a bit of a shark/blood in the water thing for me, and so when I saw on the wrapper the other day that they were now, “Chipp-ier” or something, I had to try it out.  WELL, the cookie may have had more chips, but overall the product wasn’t quite right.  Now, I’m afraid to have another one.  Was this just a rogue Chipwich?  Because if they take the Toll House Chipwich away from me, I’m not sure I’m prepared to go on.  I’ll channel my concern into the mailbag…

Q:  If you only eat Swedish Fish are you a pescetarian? Goldie Fish, Augusta, GA.

I don’t know if you are a pescetarian, but you surely are a visionary.  I’m trying to remember when I became aware that being a vegetarian was A THING.  Back in the 80s, you didn’t see a lot of veggie options on the menu.  I probably saw a “veggie burger” listed somewhere, or came across tofu for the first time, made a gagging noise and then got on with my life.  But the vegetarians have risen up—to the point where you can’t fit them all into one category.  Don’t you dare call someone vegetarian if they are VEGAN.  They will meat is murder you.  I’m sure there are many other classifications that I know nothing about.  There are rules for fish, eggs, milks, cheeses, if a f*cking bee landed on an apple some people might not eat it—too complicated for me.  But, great job with your conviction.  I bet if you could sustain yourself off Swedish Fish alone that someone would certainly try that diet.  Swedish Fish are great, but sometimes I feel like a Swedish Fish sell out, because I used to eat the small RED ONLY fish, but now I’ve been wooed by the large size, and the flavor varieties.  It’s so rewarding to get a package of fresh Swedish Fish.  I call them “freshies,” because I have a way with words.  So soft and delicious. 

Q: About a month ago I saw a preview for a movie called, “The Purge.”  I didn’t digest everything, but I think the idea was that for a 12-hour window, you could do anything with no consequences.  I want to keep this light, so assuming there was no punishment, do you think you would engage in any non-violent crimes during,”The Purge.”  Al B. Looting, Chicago, IL.

A:  I’m sure I would, or I’d at least be tempted.  Some people might be rushing off to burn down the house of their sworn enemy, OR WORSE, but I’d probably have more modest goals.  I might go to a public park and HIT GOLF BALLS for example.  Maybe let the dog off the leash?  I might see if I could find a pair of metal golf spikes and stroll over to Merion–WITH MY CELL PHONE.  Things would get pretty wild.  But, the more I think about it, the more I realize I’d probably do nothing except lock myself down in isolation.  So, I couldn’t be arrested for stealing, or for breaking the law, but the person whose property I’m stealing also couldn’t be arrested for protecting their stuff in any way they saw fit.  Maybe you want to help yourself to a free fountain soda at Wawa, but what if the manager of that Wawa can get to a pretty dark place?  Choose the wrong Wawa and things get real dicey.  Just thinking about this question shows why it could never happen.  A little structure, a rational fear of consequence is really all that separates us from the animals.  And, speaking of that, maybe just watch your dog for about an hour and you’d get an idea of how humans would act during the Purge.

Q:  Have you seen the Pop-Tart Mobile?  It has Pop-Tarts sticking out of the roof.  Would you ever drive around in something like this, and which product would you choose?  Oscar Meyer Weinermobile, Mobile, AL.

A:  I have not seen the Pop-Tart mobile with my own eyes and the picture you see above is the best I could find during an exhaustive, 45-second, Google search.  That appears to be more of a truck pulling a toaster trailer, which I assume is at least as obnoxious and humiliating as driving around a full-on Pop-Tart mobile.  I do see this type of advertising on occasion, and I wonder if the vehicle is just for special corporate events, or if someone is on the payroll to drive it around at all times.  What would you pay someone to do that for you?  It can’t be much more than the use of the car.  But, would I drive around in something like this?  Probably not.  I’m really no fun at all.  I wouldn’t want to draw the attention to myself.  If I had to do it, it would need to be a product I supported through and through.  I have lovingly gazed at Sierra Nevada delivery trucks, but I think I’m more drawn in by the logo than the actual truck itself.  Maybe I’d drive for Heinz ketchup?  A nice red, ketchup bottle shaped SUV with a “57” on the side?  I could probably get used to that, plus I’d have an instant ice-breaker in case I ever came across someone driving a french fry.  

Q: Did you know Oakley made Asian-Fit Sunglasses?  Obviously I am for Asians getting to wear sunglasses that fit them, but is this what they should be called?  Sam Shade, Miami, FL.

A:  So, you’re asking me, is Asian-Fit the preferred nomenclature?  First, I’ll say I was not aware of Asian-Fit glasses.  I know absolutely nothing about sunglasses.  I think they’re all UNISEX, but other than that, I couldn’t tell you the first thing.  Polarized?  Great.  No clue what that means.  So, getting back to Asian-Fit.  I think there are probably more qualified people to answer this question than me, but I’ll give it a shot.  To me, the question: Is calling something what it is more offensive than coming up with a euphemism.  For example, if you’ve ever shopped for pants, you’ve probably seen “relaxed fit.”  Essentially, what the people AT DOCKERS are saying is, “ATTENTION: MAN WITH CHUBBY THIGHS.”  They are making pants for large people, but calling someone “fat,” is offensive, so they can’t be “fat fit.”  They must be “relaxed fit.”  But, as far as I know, calling someone Asian is not offensive.  It brings to mind the classic Office episode where Michael says, “Don’t say Mexican, that’s offensive.”  People are not only overly PC conscious, but they don’t know what they are talking about, don’t know what is, or could be offensive.  So, I think Asian-Fit is a fine name, assuming they don’t change their other styles to “Normal, White Person-Fit.”  

Q: Do the employee must wash hands signs in restaurant bathroom make you nervous?  I mean, do you want to be eating at a place where the staff need this kind of reminder?  Jim Ophobe, Frazer, PA.

A:  Are these signs mandatory?  I don’t think they are.  I feel like I’ve been to restaurants, both very nice and very sketchy that have no sign posted in the restroom.  I assume the sign is to provide some type of false sense of security.  Oh hey, your seat cushion floats, so if you by chance survive this plane hitting the water at a few hundred MPH and can doggy paddle through the debris and waves and find a seat cushion–YOU’RE GOLDEN.  So, you walk into the bathroom and you think, surely no one would dare ignore a sign.  I don’t really have too much time to worry about the cleanliness of restaurant kitchens.  I’m sure I’ve eaten some nasty stuff.  Here I am, living to tell the tale.  I also think that for the most part, kitchen workers have clean hands.  It’s just like most servers won’t take your credit card and steal your identity.  And you know what, depending on the restaurant, the bathroom really has no impact on my experience.  If I’m in some hole-in-the-wall dive, I almost expect the bathroom to be a disaster.  It’s a decision you make before you even walk in the door.  I’m reminded of Il Primo’s, the jewel of Paoli.  That place was a total sh*tshow.  The bathrooms?  Right in line.  But that didn’t mean you weren’t going to eat the stromboli.  

Q: Sunday at the Traveler’s (Travelers?) Championship, Bubba Watson had a little fit at his caddy and it sounded like he blamed him for hitting a ball in the water late in the round.  What’s your best example of blaming someone else for your own sporting demise?  

A:  Bubba lost a lot of fans on Sunday I would guess.  He’s lucky he pulled this at a low profile event.  He was right back to his normal self on Twitter after the incident, but the damage had already been done.  For all the heat Phil takes about being “fake,” you’d never see him do something like this, first and foremost because I don’t think he’d ever blame Bones for a shot–no matter the circumstances.  It is a childish thing to do, and so I’ve going to have to go back to my illustrious junior golfing career to find a prime example of me taking NO RESPONSIBILITY for my own implosion.  I’m going to ballpark my age at 11.  It was, I believe, the under 12 club championship also known as the 893rd most prestigious event in PA amateur golf.  18 hole, stroke play grudge match.  After nine holes I was miles ahead.  Carefree.  My closest competition was struggling so much they were concerned about running out of golf balls.  TRUE STORY.  I started to unravel around 13 and then on then on the 14th hole I got into a bunker and couldn’t get out.  As someone who now has an over-inflated opinion of their own bunker game, I don’t know what the hell my problem was.  So, round about slash #3 or #4, I’m in full panic mode and ask if I can “take an 8.”  We had this thing where you were supposed to stop at double par to keep things moving along (it may have been 10), but this was for regular play, not a match.  The kid I was playing with did what most kids would have done, they said, go ahead–who cares?  And, it probably didn’t matter, because at that point my lead was gone and I was a mess, but an adult monitoring the event saw me pick up and came to administer a penalty, make me finish the hole out, etc.  At this point I started in with the whole, “He said I could take an 8,” routine.  I don’t remember what I ended up with on the hole.  It could have been a baker’s dozen.  There was no dramatic comeback on the last four holes.  I lost, fairly and convincingly.  I think I learned my lesson pretty quickly, though.  By the time my father picked me up and asked me what had gone wrong, I pleaded ignorance instead of pointing at the kid who took pity on my sand game.  

 

 

 

 

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Roses Are Red, The Wicker is Too, When it Comes to the Open, Phil Has No Clue

The King of Philadelphia*

The King of Philadelphia*

*With Apologies to Frank Palumbo.

Last night Big Dub lamented the headline writer’s dream that Justin Rose’s last name creates.  It’s pun paradise.  I challenge anyone to do worse than this headline.  You can’t.  But it has all the elements–Rose, cornball factor, and of course the mention of Mickelson.  Winning  a major is great, but I’m sure it’s slightly diminished when the story is the guy who finished second.  Mickelson now has 8 runner-up finishes in Major Championships (6 in the US Open).  Jack Nicklaus holds what is believed to be the record with nineteen 2nd place finishes.  Could Phil catch Jack before Tiger?  Maybe if they played the US Open more than once a year.  I will get to Phil, but I don’t want to bury the lede any longer.  Let’s talk about the golf course…just kidding.

Justin Rose did manage to win the US Open on Sunday, even if you will hear arguments that Phil lost it with his front nine mistakes and back nine wedge play.  Rose was a popular pick all week (Hey, did someone pick Mickelson and Rose 1/2 in the wrong order?).  He’s a great ball-striker, a fixture atop the total driving statistics and as we saw at last year’s Ryder Cup, he’s becoming a bit of a clutch putter as well.  Rose made some beautiful putts in the early portion of his round Sunday, but it was his ball-striking that carried him through Merion’s last two holes when it became clear that two pars would likely be enough.

Rose is a bit under the radar for the general golf fan, but his win moved him to #3 in the world, and the more spotlight he gets the more the public will see why he’s considered one of the best guys on tour by the “insiders.”  Rose performed beautifully during his post-round interviews, and perhaps even won over a few fans who had spent the day living and dying with Phil Mickelson.  A lot has been made of the quality of Merion’s champions.  Certainly with Jones and Hogan on the roster you get off to a good start, but Rose’s ultimate place on the list will determined by how he finishes his career.  He’s certainly better than a fluke champion, but will Sunday be the high point of his career?  With the depth of the modern fields is it realistic to expect players to validate their major wins with more majors?

I don’t know if Rose will win another major, but it seems like he’s more suited for difficult setups.  And, already a winner at Aronimink in 2010, Rose is especially fond of what some might call, “old-style” golf courses.  The U.S. Open will likely not return to Merion during Rose’s prime, but I’m sure he’ll be content if the USGA goes back to growing 6-inch rough at its Open venues.

Which brings us to Merion’s performance as host.  The reviews seem to be mostly positive, bordering on raves from some of the top finishers.  Mickelson was smitten.  But there were certainly critics, Zach Johnson among them, who believe the USGA “manipulates” golf courses and doesn’t allow them to be played as they were designed.  It’s such a fine line with the US Open, and I think Merion did well this week to not cross over to the absurd.  The pins, at times, were borderline.  But it wasn’t Shinnecock and it wasn’t the Olympic Club in ’98.  As for the rough, when you get 8 inches of rain, I’m not sure how you contain the rough.  And the rough has always been a hazard at Merion.  Personally, I’m OK with requiring the players to hit straight tee shots, especially when 1/2 of those tee shots are irons or hybrids.  The rough may limit your ability to recover, but why is that the preferred skill as opposed to accuracy?

I think Merion showed itself capable of hosting the US Open this year, and in future years, but the logistics will remain a real challenge.  US Opens are already assigned through 2020.  How often is the USGA willing to sacrifice revenue for a smaller venue?  How often are the members willing to sacrifice both their courses?  I wouldn’t expect a return visit any time soon, but at least we know now that it isn’t out of the question.

Finally–Phil.  The early parts of Sunday’s round featured some spectacular collapses.  Luke Donald fell apart after drilling a spectator.  Charl Schwartzel couldn’t hit the hole from 5 feet.  And of course, Steve Stricker hit a cold shank.  On a hole where he’d already hit a tee shot out of bounds.  I’m not sure if there is anything more embarrassing than having a shank put on “pro-tracer,” but that’s what happened to Stricker.  How he took the club back the rest of the day is a real mystery.  That he only made only a couple more bogeys is a miracle.

Phil’s demise wasn’t as colorful.  He made what I’d call a couple of “routine doubles.”  No penalty shots,  just a few poor decisions and bad putts on difficult holes.  It happens.  Phil still hadn’t clicked when he holed out for eagle on 10.  That shot vaulted him back into the tournament, but also masked what wasn’t his best day.  Sure, he could have easily won by three or four, but without a little bit of luck on 10, he may not have even been in contention down the stretch.  His bogey on 13 was the fatal error, and why someone who hits 4-iron 235 yards was hitting pitching wedge from 121?  We’ll likely never know.

I do feel for Phil, my sympathy toward him has grown over the years.  I actually think he deserves to win a US Open.  He’s had a full career, but it’s plain to see how much he wants this one, and yet it feels destined to become his version of Norman’s green jacket.  The guy remains polarizing.  He was the clear fan favorite, and yet there are still those who can’t stand his “act.”  What I appreciate from Phil is the unwavering belief in his game and the unflinching candor in the face of defeat.  Not many players would stand up after the round and lay out for you that they were “heartbroken.”  There’s rarely spin from Mickelson after a major.  He tells you how bad he wants it, and how badly it hurts when he finishes second.

For those Phil fans out there, I can offer a bit of empathy.  As a die-hard Payne Stewart fan, I had to deal with countless US Open disappointments.  And, Payne wasn’t a guy who won a few times a year.  There were years where the US Open was the only time he really was in contention.  So, conceding the fact that he did win in 1991, there were excruciating moments over the next decade.  He lost to Lee Janzen in 1993.  Then in the mid-nineties, he took to leading early and fading fast over the weekend.  In 1998, Janzen, bad luck and a loose Sunday round got him again.  He was 41, you thought   he’d wasted his last, best chances, but he came back and won in 1999 at Pinehurst.  Where’s the 2014 US Open?  Pinehurst.  Maybe some hope for Phil.

 

Friday At Merion.

Not Pictured: Me.

Not Pictured: Me.

 

We put in a comprehensive effort at Merion yesterday.  Miles were walked.  Wares were acquired.  And mediocre food was consumed.  As someone who has now attended a handful of golf tournaments in person, I think it’s safe to say that when you go to an event of this magnitude, you go to see golfers and golf shots—not the tournament.  It isn’t very easy to follow the big picture while you are in the gallery, but it certainly offers a new perspective.  Mostly, you realize how good the players are and how difficult the shots they face can be.  For leaderboard watching, it’s probably best to get on your couch by Sunday.  Here’s a sampling of the day…(all times VERY approximate)

9:30 AM—On the walk in, we bask in the industrious nature of the residents of Ardmore.  They are selling their driveways, cold refreshments and in some cases abstract art.  We pass a yard that has several slabs of concrete, painted green, with golf balls glued to the top.  A sign says, “You can take this home.”  For now, we’ll pass.

9:36 AM—The scalper presence is pretty light, and feels a bit like Amateur Hour.  It is a golf tournament though.  But, tickets are available.  For a moment we contemplate what else might be for sale?

9:45 AM—We enter Gate 3.  Our shoes will be ruined in 3, 2, 1…

9:46 AM—Port-O-Lets.  Johnny-On-The-Spot.  All portable sh*tter companies must hyphenate their names.  The conditions inside promote dehydration.

9:55 AM—We pass up a decent vantage point on 13 to wander over to the 1st fairway.  We see our first shot.  A gentleman from New York, who has “been to 3 British Opens,” calls Merion a terrible spectator course.  He has a bit of a point, but damn, we just got here.

10:00 AM—Big Names start walking right past us to get to the 11th tee.  Donald, McDowell, Kaymer, Furyk, Westwood and Fluff Cowan.  Almost to a man, they appear smaller than you would think.

10:12 AM—ADAM SCOTT walks by (handsome as ever).  Steve Williams storms by and there goes Tiger, escorted by 4 police officers.  Tiger will maintain at least a 2-cop lead over the rest of the field for the remainder of the day.

10:20 AM—Who’s that tall blonde woman?  OH, just your every day Lindsay Vonn sighting.  Complete with a Red Bull hat.  Gotta satisfy the sponsors.  She walks with the regular gallery while Tiger’s agent was on his hip between the ropes.

10:30 AM—The 13th hole is now a mob scene.  We wander.

10:41 AM—1st beer.  The selection is, Bud Heavy, Stella Artois and Michelob Ultra.  Not that impressed.  What we didn’t know then, if we actually wanted anything on the menu, this would have been the time to get it.

10:46 AM—Melissa Stark!

11:00 AM—We arrive at the grandstand on the 18th tee.  It’s about ½ full.  We contemplate whether we should sit down.  We take a seat.  This is probably the best decision we make all day.

11:00-12:30 PM—We watch several groups play 17 and tee off on 18.  As Tiger gets close the crowd swells to ridiculous proportions.  Tiger makes an up-and-down par, G-Mac and Darren Clarke make a mess, Angel Cabrera smokes, but the best show was put on by Geoff Ogilvy.  Ogilvy flew his tee shot on 17 into the grandstand.  He then made a miraculous up and down, gave his ball to the fan he pelted, rushed over to the 18th tee and appeared to block one into the quarry.  He then went up and played from the middle of the fairway.  He took a double bogey on the hole, but I still have no idea how that happened.

12:30 PM—Along with 85% of the other people on the property, we decide to eat and hit the merchandise tent.  The merchandise tent is overwhelming.  In my mind, it is what looting would feel like if the people paid for the merchandise.  As soon as I get into line, I regret some of my choices, but there’s no turning back.

1:00 PM—Hundreds of people are in line for food.  Presumably, they all want the Thai Chicken Wrap.  The joke is, there are no Thai Chicken Wraps!  There are hot dogs, PB&J Uncrustables and cheesesteaks on hot dog rolls.  I want to remain positive, but when your food is significantly worse than what you’d find at a Little League concession stand—that’s an issue.

1:20 PM—Lunch becomes mostly beer and Rold Gold pretzels.  They’re the skinny pretzel with the big fat taste.

1:40 PM—Tiger is finishing up his round on the front nine and we head over that way.

1:46 PM—Lindsay Vonn!

1:55 PM—This portion of the golf course is packed.  We wait a while at a crosswalk as Ernie Els, Webb Simpson and Amateur Champion Stephen Fox walk by.  Els, as you’d expect is gets his share of, “Big Erns!”

2:15 PM—We head for open ground, ending up in the far corner of the property.  I enter an auxiliary merchandise tent to right previous wrongs.

2:45 PM—Ukee Washington!

3:00 PM—Contemplate riding the shuttle to the practice area just to sit down for a while.  Possibly time to mention the conditions.  It’s very muddy outside the ropes.  There aren’t really places to sit, the people who brought chairs are carrying them around all afternoon.

3:30 PM—There is a empty section alongside the 6th green and 7th tee.  We fill up on Michelob Ultra and make our way over.

3:35 PM—Our first look at what must be one of the hardest pin placements on the golf course.  Over the next several hours, no one will make a putt over 6 or 7 feet and those were straight uphill.  A good half the field is coming into the par four with a short 3rd shot.  Donald Trump’s club pro, John Nieporte, on his way to 84, makes a mess in the right bunker.  When he cleans up for triple, the crowd goes wild!

4:15 PM—Downtime as we wait for Phil and the other big names of the afternoon.  The gallery grows and it’s clear the sun and booze are starting to “influence” the crowd.  Things are getting a bit mouthy.  With no players around, most of the lip is being directed at the USGA volunteers, who I must say are walking around with a bit too much entitlement.

5:00PM—Bubba, Dustin Johnson and Nicholas Coalsaerts are the first big group to come through.  Bubba is the only one who hits the deadly 6th green.

5:03 PM—Bubba Watson’s Wife!  (No Paulina Gretzky sightings)

5:05 PM—Bubba hits the best putt we see all afternoon.  Still not sure how it didn’t go in, Bubba looks perplexed.

5:08 PM—Dottie Pepper!

5:11 PM—Bubba and Co. tee off on 7 and walk by us.  Someone in the gallery offers, “Come on Bubba, Bubby, Booby, Boobies,” in a baby voice.  This sends his entire crew into hysterical laughter.

5:20 PM—Here comes Phil.  He hits the green as does Steve Stricker.  Keegan Bradley goes long left.  As Bradley approaches the green, on his way to missing the cut by a mile, it’s quite clear he’s over-stimulated.  He hits a terrific chip, but can’t convert.  Mickelson, who doesn’t look chubby in person (and may have been wearing a Man-Spanxx t-shirt), is loving the crowd.  He’s starving for the attention.  The gallery is happy to oblige.

5:22 PM—Phil misses the putt with a so-so effort.  Stricker also misses.  We are not going to see a birdie.  No chance.

5:30 PM—One of the leaders, Justin Rose, hits it right next to our spot on the ropes.  He hits an incredible flop, but can’t convert the par putt.

5:40 PM—A Groundhog runs across the fairway.  Crowd goes wild.

5:47 PM—We have about had our fill.  Calf muscles are approaching failure.  We watch a few more groups on our way out.  It allows us to see our worst shot of the day.  Stewart Cink, the least popular Open Champion of the last 20 years, hits what I’d call a “cold, roll top” out of the left rough.  It’s in the air for a blink, trundles across the fairway at an almost 90-degree angle and nestles into the left rough—still a good 100 yards from the green.  Whoops.

5:50 PM—Groundhog again!

6:15 PM—So long, Merion.  It was an experience worth far more than a ruined pair of sneakers.

I think things are setting up for a good weekend.  The course could be brutal this afternoon as it drys out.  I think it will separate the leaderboard a bit, but there still should be enough people in contention for a shootout on Sunday.

Shankin’ in The Rain: The US Open at Merion.

If Only it Were the Fall. Though, At Merion, They Probably say "Autumn."

If Only it Were the Fall. Though, At Merion, They Probably say “Autumn.”

We’re here.  This is the week where every golfer within 100 miles of Philadelphia forgets the fact that Merion (occasionally pronounced Murry-In) is one of the more exclusive clubs around and adopts the venue as their home track.  This is the week people will lie about playing the course, they’ll give you sunnier than usual descriptions of Merion’s members and might not even complain about turning in their cell phones.  The Philadelphia area loves big sporting moments, for so long we were starved, and so for one week Merion might as well be the course in the Inquirer advertising the 2 for $55 weekend cart special.  The masses are going to overrun the place.  I hope they’re ready.  

Normally for a major championship I’d do at least two posts, but it’s all about time constraints.  So, we’re going to have to do a mega-post.  That will include me picking my winner on Monday.  That’s what we call in the business–prognostication suicide.  But saddle up, here we go…

***

The Golf Course:

Merion is the type of course that makes you appreciate golf architecture even if you know nothing about the subject.  A common complaint people have about public courses is that the holes are right on top of each other, too many holes run parallel to each other, etc.  All of this happens at Merion.  For example, my only time at the course I played to the 12th green from the 11 fairway.  I almost branded a grounds crew member working on 4 with my tee shot on 5.  The 18 holes are squeezed onto a tiny piece of property and yet it works–some would say perfectly.  It may not be the best course in the world, but you could make the argument it’s the best match of property and route.  

Not Pictured: The Main Line Mansions.

Not Pictured: The Main Line Mansions.

The U.S. Open has been absent from Merion since 1981 and many people thought it would never return.  The logistics of the property and the lack of yardage were a nightmare for the modern ball and merchandise tent.  It’s taken a lot of creativity (to stretch Merion to almost 7,000 yards) and a lot of compromise from the USGA and surrounding properties to make this event happen.  What we don’t know is if this will be a second last hurrah.  Could Merion possibly get back into the USGA’s rotation?  On a semi-permanent basis?  Or will they have to again downshift to events like the Walker Cup, or possibly a US Senior or Women’s Open?  

Speaking of downgraded events, Merion re-opened its relationship with the USGA with the 1998 Girls Junior.  This was the first time I ever saw the course.  I had two takeaways from that day.  First, the condition of the golf course was like nothing I’d seen.  Merion had put on its best face for this smaller event and I wonder if that showed the USGA something that had been lacking.  If you watch highlights from the 1981 Open, you’ll see a course that is hardly in the condition you’d expect.  Course conditioning has taken giant leaps forward from that time regardless, but I’ve also heard that Merion let itself go a little in the 1980s.  They needed to recapture the bunkering, the teeth of the golf course.  Everything was in full and stunning display for the 1998 Girls Junior.  Of course, I was an easily wooed spectator.  

The other thing I remember from that day is what makes this week so surprising.  These high school age girls were tearing the course up.  Obviously, the course wasn’t being played under US Open conditions, but the birdies were plentiful.  On that day I would have told you there was no way Merion could reasonably host the best players in the World.  To paraphrase a one-time roommate of mine, “They’d shoot 0.”  

How will all this work then?  A few years after the Girls Junior I had my one and only chance to play the course.  And even from the members tees, in benign conditions, playing the course gives you a better idea of what makes the course so challenging.  For a full rundown of my day there, you can read this post.  (Fair Warning: It has a very sad, non-golf related ending).  But, the point is, playing Merion allows you to see the importance of position, and shows you how quickly a hole can get away from you.  You also realize that the yardage on the card isn’t indicative of the test.  The long holes at Merion are very long.  The short holes are very short and will often require a layup.  So, while Merion certainly needed to be stretched to 7,000 yards, it definitely didn’t need to be stretched to  7,400.  

***

Oh My God–The Rain:

It’s a shame the USGA can’t move the U.S. Open around the calendar to accommodate the location.  Anyone who has played golf in the Mid-Atlantic knows that the fall is the best time of year.  The greens are the fastest.  The courses have firmed up as the humidity leaves the air, and there’s no doubt in my mind that a late-September U.S. Open at Merion would receive universally glowing reviews.  But, it’s June.  We’ve had an incredibly wet spring and it’s still raining.  Over the weekend we were pounded.  Merion took a body blow.  

The 11th looked more like 17 at Sawgrass over the weekend.  Via the 700 Level.

The 11th looked more like 17 at Sawgrass over the weekend. Via the 700 Level.

It’s raining again today.  It doesn’t look like things will fully dry out until the weekend.  Perhaps, on Sunday, we might get a glimpse of what the course could have been, but I’m afraid the damage has been done.  The greens and fairways are probably going to be a bit too soft.  It puts the course in a vulnerable position like Congressional faced a few years ago.  Do you allow someone to shoot 15-16 under par?  What Merion will have is incredibly difficult, tall and lush rough.  It’s been great grass growing weather and Merion has the tall stuff right off the fairway.  I’m afraid that the players will balk at this as well.  My great fear is that the weather turns the week into a bitch fest.  And, no one bitches like professional golfers.  So, everyone say a quick ode to Jones that this is the last rain we see all week.  

***

Hey, I’m Going Friday!

I’ll be at the course, trying to get a view of someone, doing something.  If you are going to be there, let me know and we totally will not meet up.  Unless of course, you are also showing up at 7:11 am to follow Angel, Geoff Ogilvy and Paul Lawrie.  I don’t really have anything more for this section, I just wanted everyone to know that I will be there and it should add volumes to my recap post.  And, if things get really weird, I might do a timeline.  

***

Speaking of the Pairings:

Things are going to be a little congested on the East Course.  Even with the spectators limited to 25,000, the consensus seems to be that you need to find a spot and park yourself if you want to see any quality action.  I probably won’t be doing this, but that’s the suggestion.  I’m not sure if the USGA has helped, or hindered the traffic problem by pairing Tiger/Rory and Adam Scott.  Will anyone be following the rest of the field?  Some other pairings, sampled from the full list of tee times…

Hunter Mahan/Nick Watney/Peter Hanson–Early reports have Mahan being one of the players who is attacking Merion with aggressive lines and plays.  It’ll be a story this week, aggression vs. control.  In this instance, I see Mahan losing out.

 David Toms/Darren Clarke/Jose Maria Olazabal–If it was 10 years ago, Toms might be the RUNAWAY favorite.  The other two guys have no shot.  

Luke Donald/Martin Kaymer/Lee Westwood–Donald is the rich man’s Toms at this point, but needs a major.  Westwood’s short game won’t hold up this week.  Keep searching–Lee.  Also, two guys named “Lee” can’t win a major on the same course.  Violation. 

Webb Simpson/Stephen Fox/Ernie Els–One day, I hope one year the defending US Amateur champion just loses his game and shoots 112 at the Open.  Not Fox, he seems like a nice kid, but I’d still like to see that happen.  I have problems.  Also of note: how will the Philly faithful deal with the long putter contingent?

Bubba Watson/Dustin Johnson/Nicholas Colsaerts–The obligatory long hitters group.  Can’t see more than 5 or 6 drivers for anyone.  We’ll see.  I’d give Colsaerts the best chance.  

Phil Mickelson/Keegan Bradley/Steve Stricker–Phil has himself talked into this week.  He LOVES Merion.  And, he rallied for a good finish yesterday.  One of these years will be Phil’s last, best shot.  Did it already happen?

Rickie Fowler/Matteo Manassero/Jason Day–There will  be at least 1,000 dipsh*t kids in flat brims following Fowler around. And half of them will dressed in some monochromatic Puma nightmare.  Steer clear.  Fowler could do well here if he could get clicking.

Sergio Garcia/Stewart Cink/Paddy Harrington–I fear that an article will be written this week about Sergio, Philly fans and Santa Claus.  I’ll post the link by Friday.  

***

Random Predictions:  

Low Score of the Week:  63–Thursday.  It’s coming.  Brace yourself.  I expect it may come from an American player you’ve KINDA heard of.  He’ll then shoot 71-70-76.  

High Score of the Week:  83–The Wheels are coming off someone’s wagon on Sunday.  

The Forgotten Hazard:  People might hit some balls OB this week.  Seems like pros rarely visit the white stakes, but there are some lurking pretty close at Merion.  

The Overrated Hazard:  The Quarry on 16.  It’s an incredible visual, it makes for a great hole, but it’s not like guys are going to be hacking around in the bottom of that thing.  

Most Fun Hole to Watch:  13.  The tiny little par three will feature countless easy birdies and probably a bunch of guys making a mess in the cavernous bunkers.  Also–Hole-in-One potential. 

Number of Times Hogan’s 1-Iron is Mentioned: Over/Under 234.5

Hardest hole on the course:  18.  No question.  On Sunday, you will hear, “We’ve had (pick a number between 1 and 3) birdies here all day.  

Winning Score:  11-under.  

***

The Definitive, Yet Arbitrary Top-10: 

  1. Phil Mickelson
  2. Justin Rose
  3. Matteo Manassero
  4. Charl Schwartzel
  5. Tiger Woods
  6. Bill Haas
  7. Frederik Jacobsen
  8. Jordan Spieth
  9. Scott Stallings
  10. Rickie Fowler

What if the Pacers Win?

Remember When LeBron was The One Who Disappeared*?

Remember When LeBron was The One Who Disappeared*?

*Never Actually Disappeared. 

Could we get to the point where we feel sorry for LeBron?  Wasn’t it supposed to be EASIER than this?  The Big Three, the 2012 Title, the obscene 2nd half record this year–the NBA Playoffs was supposed to be a coronation.  Once Russell Westbrook went down and Derek Rose didn’t appear out of the fog on a white horse for Chicago this was supposed to be a done deal.  Maybe Miami would drop a game here or there–boredom–but go ahead and book that 2nd straight title.  Then, something strange happened.  Perhaps a more astute NBA eye could fill you in, but here’s my opinion–the rest of the Heat, the non-Lebrons–are terrible.  Just a putrid collection of slop that has some people wondering whether LeBron actually had more help back in Cleveland.  

I find myself watching this series with the Pacers out of hate.  I didn’t realize how easy the Heat were to hate until I actually watched them play.  They have Battier?  And Birdman?  And Juwan Howard rallying the bench?  That’s an uncanny collection of players that are easy to hate.  Hating on LeBron has become a waste of time for a number of reasons, but don’t overlook the target rich environment that is the Heat bench.  

Along with being easy to dislike, the Heat also don’t look that dominant.  They have stretches where they shoot the ball well and are able to pull away from Indiana, but this is the Pacers.  They’re a “nice” team.  Not exactly the dynasty Bulls.  I’ve never seen a team waste more possessions than Indiana, or at least not a team in a conference final.  Every other possession they have the shot clock is down at 3 seconds and they still have no plan.  They take awful 3s, they miss dunks and bunnies, Lance Stephenson can turn the ball over at any moment.  I watch the Pacers and I see a team that shouldn’t be good enough to stretch Miami out this much.  The collective will of all that talent should have prevailed by now.

But the talent is suddenly looking a little thin.  Wade looks a shell of himself and at times disinterested.  He’s MAYBE hinted that LeBron is touching the ball too much.  Chris Bosh has not been seen in the paint in this series.  Maybe he hoists up a three, maybe it occasionally goes in, but do not expect this 7-footer to get you a rebound.  Sure, Indiana “matches up well” against Miami, but that’s always been a euphemism for a team that doesn’t have a ton of talent and isn’t going to win the game/series.  

The Pacers definitely have a shot tonight.  They’ve played Miami even or better all year.  They could have already won four games in this series.  Roy Hibbert, despite his press conference improv issues, is a player the Heat have no answer for.  He’s bigger and more willing to play big than anyone the Heat has to offer.  If the Pacers shoot it well, if Stephenson is under control, if West can knock down some shots–this game may be out of Miami’s hands.  That in itself is hard to believe, but true.  The Heat had little hope in game six.  Miami could play pretty well and lose.  I never thought that would have been possible a few months ago.  

So, will the Pacers come through tonight?  Will they create the San Antonio/Indy finals that everyone is clamoring for?  I don’t think they’re going to pull it off.  Why?  The line.  Vegas.  The Heat are 6 to 7 point favorites and to me that just feels like a monster Heat line.  Feels like they’re going to pull it all together.  It makes no sense otherwise.  But, the Heat have been wounded.  The Spurs should be feeling pretty comfortable as they rest.