Director of golf course management Matt Shaffer already knew the U.S. Open was nearing his door step. That point was driven home this week by the presence of the man who walked through the doors to his golf course.
The world's No. 1 player, Tiger Woods, paid his first visit ever to Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa. He came to play a practice round on Memorial Day, get a feel for the place where two weeks from today he will be back for when it really counts. That will be the first round of the 113th U.S. Open, and the first U.S. Open at Merion since 1981.
"Our boss said he (Woods) was surprised how short the course is (6,996 yards for the championship), and he was surprised how long some of the par-3s are (No. 3 is 256 yards, No. 17 is 246), and that the long holes actually are long and difficult (such as the 521-yard par-4 18th)," Shaffer (pictured) tells GCM. "He is among many modern-day players who haven't played Merion."
Players from past eras, though, have knowledge of Merion. They include Johnny Miller, who on Wednesday during a conference call with his NBC peers spoke about their experiences at Merion, which will be hosting its fifth U.S. Open.
"Dan Hicks (Miller's broadcast partner) has been on-site at Merion. He usually doesn't call me to say how exciting a U.S. Open course is going to be, but he thinks it's going to be a fabulous U.S. Open," says Miller, whose major championship record 63 occurred in the final round 40 years ago this year when he recorded a U.S. Open triumph at another Pennsylvania course, Oakmont.
"Once you get past the little 115-yard par-3 13th hole, with (No.s) 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, you better hang on to your underwear, so to speak, because there's some serious golf coming in," Miller said.
Maltbie thinks players who he called "technicians," such as Zach Johnson and Hunter Mahan, could do well at Merion. Still ...
"A lot of young guys are going to get schooled here," Maltbie said. "They're not used to seeing these old style golf courses that we saw more of. Courses are much longer, and they're used to bombing away. This is more about finesse, using power when you can, but you better use it effectively and the rest of the time you better use your head and be very precise, certainly with your wedge game and what not, if you're going to take advantage of the place."
On-course commentator Gary Koch mentioned the white faces of Merion, the trademark bunkers, that are gnarly, wispy, and long at their tops. He followed that up by speaking about the rough, which also will be tricky, especially when fairways are in the 20-something-yard wide range.
"Matt Shaffer thinks it's going to be very tough to play out of in some locations, so that could be kind of more a little bit of the old style U.S. Open we were used to playing in the 1970s and early '80s," Koch said.
Temperatures are expected to reach the 90s this weekend according to Shaffer, whose main weather concern now is what may occur come tournament time. He is keeping his eye on the potential for a tropical depression in the Caribbean that could affect the U.S. Open. That, however, is not a main issue now. Shaffer is dealing with the here and now, like the tree that fell on a tent this week in the corporate village.
Otherwise, Shaffer is trying to enjoy this ride.
"It's a bit chaotic, but everybody's loving life," Shaffer says. "We're getting amped up."