Editor's note: Ernie Els has been writing a blog for PGATOUR.COM this year, and here is his latest installment. For more information on the World Golf Hall of Famer, visit www.ernieels.com.
Merion is one of those golf courses that you can very easily fall in love with. It’s got quite a traditional, comfortable feel about it and the course is an absolute classic in the best sense of the word. And the history here is incredible – you can really sense it, from Bobby Jones’ Grand Slam in 1930 to Ben Hogan’s 1-iron to the last (hole) in 1950, just a year after he was nearly killed in a car crash. The iconic photo of Hogan hitting that shot into the 18th green, probably the most famous photos in the history of golf, is one of my personal favorites.
We arrived on Saturday night – earlier than is usual for me in a tournament of any kind – and it feels great to be here. Very few people in the field this week will have experienced this golf course in a competitive situation – actually one of that very few is one of my playing partners in the first two rounds, Webb Simpson, who played the 2005 U.S. Amateur here. Up until this week, my only experience of Merion was a sponsors’ company day for SAP a while back. You don’t need to spend long here, though, to realize this is a great golf course.
There have been some minor changes in recent years, which is normal. For every championship the USGA analyzes each hole on a case-by-case basis and any changes are intended to show off a hole’s strategic integrity and offer sound, balanced shot values. They like the U.S. Open to be the hardest test we see all year, but also that it is a fair test where good shots are rewarded and only bad ones are penalized. They’ve had the balance about right in recent years and that’s certainly the case from what we’ve seen so far this week.
This is not the longest of courses. In fact, by today’s championship standards it’s actually quite short at just less than 7,000 yards, which is rare these days. So it’s definitely not a bomber’s paradise, but length isn’t everything. This is a very strategic challenge – the fairways are a little narrower than in recent years, so you’re going to have to be precise off the tee.
The rough is very dense and the greens will firm up as the week progresses – that’s normal on both counts for any U.S. Open. It is going to be a tough test of your game and your temperament, but I like tough golf courses and I have always enjoyed playing U.S. Opens. To win you need to play well, play smart, make good decisions and hold your nerve.
And above all you need to putt well. Both of my U.S. Open wins, in 1994 and 1997, were among the best putting weeks of my life, especially 1994 when I don’t think I’ve ever putted better from inside 8-10 feet. Anyone who wins the U.S. Open this week is going to have a great putting week and Sherylle Calder is with us at Merion to give me the best chance of being sharp on the greens.
Obviously as a player you want to come into a championship with some form, but you can look at these things both ways. I’ve won majors on a hot streak and I’ve won majors when my form coming in has been only so-so at best. You just never know. Sometimes you find something as the week develops and that’s part of the reason we got here nice and early, to play some practice grounds, ‘get the lines’ and get comfortable with the golf course and how it’s playing. Then on Thursday you’re 100 percent ready to go.
Okay, that’s about it for now. We’ll have more U.S. Open news on the website as the week progresses and you can also now follow me on Twitter @thebig_easy where we’ll be posting photos and regular updates from Merion.
Catch up again soon.