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June 11 2013

7:43 PM

Insider: Merion forcing changes

Rory McIlroy says he will hit driver around seven times on Merion's short layout.

By Jonathan Wall, PGATOUR.COM Equipment Insider

ARDMORE, Pa. — Firm and fast. It's a term oft-used to describe U.S. Open courses in the past, but following several days of torrential downpours at Merion Golf Club that delayed play on numerous occasions Monday and nearly put the par-4 11th under water, the mindset of every player in the field changed.

"It's a real shame that we've had so much rain," Luke Donald said on Tuesday. "I think that most people would really like to see this course play firm and fast. And I don't think we're going to get that this week. But it's a good challenge, this course. I think if it was firm and fast this course, even despite the length, would hold up just as well as any other U.S. Open course."

At just under 7,000 yards (6,996 yards, to be exact), Merion is the shortest course in major championship history since Shinnecock Hills Golf Club (6,996 yards) hosted the U.S. Open in 2004. While length and lightning-fast green may not be an issue this week, players will have to contend with a number of other hurdles — namely the potential for mud balls in the narrow fairway, the course's diabolical rough and three lengthy par-3s over 230-plus yards.

"I've been saying this is the longest short course I've ever played," Steve Stricker said. "Everybody's told me how short it is and I've been wearing out 3-irons and utilities into some of these holes. So it's fairly long and it's still going to be very difficult."

Given the current conditions at Merion, players have been working with a number of different clubs in preparation for Thursday's first round. Here's a look at what they could have in the bag.

Driver, fairway woods and hybrids: Forget about getting a couple extra yards of rollout on tee shots; players will have to worry about mud balls more than anything else off the tee, which likely means you want see many players going with extra loft to keep the ball in the air, or less loft to get additional roll.

Of course, that's assuming the driver even makes it out of the bag. Luke Donald, one of the shorter hitters on the PGA TOUR, said he only hit five drivers during a recent practice round.

"I think there's only a couple of holes I probably only hit five drivers out there this week," Donald said. "Looking at the course, 5, 6 and 18, holes where I'd like to get a little bit of roll after my tee shots, because they're very long and I'm going to have long shots in. I'm going to lose that roll."

As far as fairway woods go, they could be the go-to club for a number of players in the field like Phil Mickelson, who went back to using his Callaway X Hot 3Deep fairway wood off the tee in Memphis in preparation for the U.S. Open. Mickelson can work the club in both directions and was averaging over 300 yards last week, two things that could come in handy at soggy Merion.

On the flip side, there's always the chance you could see players be a little more aggressive and go with just a driver or long iron like 2011 U.S. Open winner Rory McIlroy.

"I imagine I'll hit seven drivers out here," McIlroy said. "So I'll still play quite aggressively off the tee. But it's funny, there's seven drivers and then there's a lot of irons. So it's sort of there's not really many where you're hitting a 3 wood or 5 wood, it's sort of like driver or iron and that's sort of weighing how most guys will approach it this week."

And then there's the group considering higher lofted fairway woods and hybrids. Bubba Watson and Hunter Mahan tested PING G25 7-woods on Tuesday as an option for shots out of the thick rough — the wider sole helps get the ball out the rough — and to fill a specific yardage gap.

Irons: When it comes to irons, you won't see many players tinker with the setup the week of a major. You will, however, see some consider different long iron options as an alternative to the standard fairway wood or hybrid.

Rory McIlroy goes between a Nike VR Pro Combo 2-iron and 19-degree Nike VR_S Covert, depending on the course conditions. McIlroy confirmed he'll likely stick with the 2-iron this week, but he was going to make a final decision following his practice round on Tuesday.

Jason Day could use his TaylorMade RocketBladez 1-iron with a 125-gram UST Mamiya Recoil Proto shaft, or go back to his go-to long iron — a TaylorMade Tour Preferred MC 2-iron.

Other players might opt to go with a driving iron at Merion. Titleist's 712U or Adam's DHy have more forgiveness than the traditional long iron with a similar ball flight.

There's also a select group that could pull their long irons for easier to hit options like Cleveland's 588MT. Keegan Bradley is currently using a 588MT 4-iron — he said it goes the distance of a standard 3-iron — instead of a carrying a 588TC 3-iron. He was also testing a 588MT 2-iron in the run-up to the U.S. Open to potentially use as a "bullet" iron off the tee.

Wedges: Fresh grooves have become almost become a prerequisite at the U.S. Open — when the greens are playing firm and fast. Dustin Johnson picked up a new set of face plates for his TaylorMade TP xFT wedges, and Sergio Garcia added new TaylorMade ATV wedges (50, 58 degrees) with fresh grooves. Holding the green is crucial at the second major of the year.

However, with soft conditions around the greens, players could opt to pass on extra bite and add more bounce to their wedges or go with a different grind that has wider sole and a prominent trailing edge that prevents digging.

Putter: Depending on the weather between now and Thursday morning, Merion's greens could be rolling slower than usual. The USGA went out to the 14th green on Tuesday and confirmed it was rolling 12.4 on the Stimpmeter.

While that's not exactly slow by TOUR standards, Tiger Woods hinted players are already adding lead tape to the putter head to help them adjust to the the slower-than-usual greens.

"The mindset coming into a U.S. Open is they're going to be hard and fast and crusty," Woods said. "But that's obviously not going to materialize this week with this weather. Some of the guys are already throwing lead [tape] on their putters, and getting a little more weight behind it to try and adjust."


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