In hearing the reaction to the U.S. Open at Merion a few days removed, it's been fascinating how many people have said they found the last day dull due to the setup. A decade or so ago, the consensus would have been that this was classic U.S. Open golf and the way it should be to put these flatbellies in their place. But it seems at least in casual chats I've had that tastes have been refined to recognize the style of golf played at Merion erred a bit too much on the side of "last man standing" instead of "best man emerges."
Though as I noted in Golf World, there were political reasons to err on this side of things, and Jaime Diaz in the same issue suggested that Merion was the winner.
In person last week, Merion was even better, because for all its visual charms, on the ground the course's gritty substance was more palpable. Never have I witnessed a test of golf that so efficiently ground down nerves, eliciting Sunday collapses that left players helpless for several holes.
Merion was anything but a putting contest. In contrast to much bigger courses, superior ball-striking was rewarded more frankly than any major I can remember. It was right and just that Rose slammed the door by piping a drive and flushing a 4-iron on the kind of unforgiving beast of a finishing par 4 that used to be a considered a necessary validator of a satisfying victory.
John Huggan wasn't as taken with the "boring, one-dimensional way in which Merion, one of the world’s most varied and interesting layouts, was presented."
On hole after hole, highly skilled golfers were forced to hit their second shots from the spots the USGA wanted them to hit from. It is hard to think of even one hole where the players were allowed to participate in that decision-making process. They may have wanted to create more favourable angles into those wonderful putting surfaces, but they were never allowed to. Time after time, the ideal spot for the tee-shot was covered in rough, from where the only shot available was the mindless hack-out. Every player, of whatever ability, was thus reduced to the same hapless level.
Even more fascinating is how no one I've spoken to held their lukewarm reaction to the 2013 U.S. Open against Merion, but instead directly attributed the lack of excitement toward the narrow-fairway, high-rough course setup.
And as we saw in the poll last week of readers here--technophobic, anti-progress killjoys that we all are in the eyes of some observers--Merion's setup did not convince you of high-rough narrowness as the cure for the distance debate.