HAVERFORD — A full day prior to the opening shot of the tournament, USGA Executive Director Mike Davis fielded a question concerning Merion's fate as a future site of the U.S. Open. Obviously a bit premature, but Davis' response should bolster the notion that despite ending a 32-year break, the 2013 Open may not be a one-shot deal.
“This golf course is so magical that, yes, we want to see this week play out,' Davis said. “Personally I'd already like to see us return. I'm not sure Merion wants us to return. But the golf course is so good that when we sit in championship committee meetings and the championship committee ultimately decides the sites, it always starts with the golf course, how special it is, will it test the world's best players, what kind of drama will you get?'
America's governing body in golf has never been reticent about tabbing Merion as a venue for its championships, dating back to the U.S. Women's Amateur in 1904. In fact, the 113th U.S. Open is Merion's 18th USGA Championship, more than any club in the country.
“Everything has worked so well,' Davis said. “And for anybody to think that these rain events would curtail our enthusiasm for this, you're misguided.
“We have nothing to say but positive things about Merion now.'
That could change, especially if the complex logistics of hosting a massive event on a condensed piece of land bordered by neighborhoods proves to be too much for Merion to overcome. Davis briefly mentioned that the biggest hurdles for Merion's fifth U.S. Open are outside the ropes, like parking and traffic.
“(But) the community support has been unbelievable; Philadelphia as a golf town is incredible,' he said. “From a historic standpoint this truly is one of the great towns and great cities and great cultures for golf anywhere in the United States. So I think from the USGA standpoint ultimately it will be a championship committee in the future that decides it. But we haven't seen anything that would say, no, we won't come back here.'
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The term “mud ball' is not a new to golf, but it's been the topic of a shocking number of conversations with players leading up to today's opening round at Merion. The weather conditions this week — lots of rain, followed by a drying out period, then more projected rain and more drying — provide the perfect environment for mud to stick to a golf ball and potentially affect a shot.
For the uninitiated, Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell explains how it happens: “When it's wet and skidding, (the ball) is not going to pick up mud, it cleans as it (rolls). But when it bakes and tops a little bit, there's going to be a lot of mud balls.'
When asked about the potential for mud balls, USGA Vice President Tom O'Toole said the rules of golf permit players to seek relief without penalty due to casual water. But he reiterated in no uncertain terms that the U.S. Open will not be granting players the option to “lift, clean and replace,' no matter how much mud in on the course, equipment or golf balls, due to a long-standing USGA philosophy.
“If it was so bad, then the obvious response to that would be we probably wouldn't be playing,' O'Toole said.
According to 12-year PGA Tour veteran Steve Stricker, some mud on a golf ball could wind up costing an unlucky player a shot at the championship.
“It wasn't too bad (Wednesday) but it's still pretty sloppy and wet,' Stricker said. “So I imagine once we get a little bit dryer, we may be starting to get a little bit more mud on the ball. It's just golf and we've got to deal with it even though we're not going to be happy about it.
“We are more apt to get a mud ball nowadays than we were earlier in my career. I think the reason for that is that the golf balls have been made to spin less so the launch angle is a little bit higher. Mud takes spin off so it doesn't take much to really affect that ball.'
McDowell said that mud balls are unfair because it afflicts players randomly, often penalizing them for well-executed shots.
“I think golf is designed to be played from a closely mown fairway,' he said. “If you hit it in that fairway you deserve a great line and a great opportunity to attack the green surface. That's the reward you get for hitting the fairway.
“I think guys who hit it low, guys who hit it high, and guys who have a different spin rate, mud balls affect them differently.'