U.S. Open golfers obviously can kiss Matt Shaffer's grass.
When PGA Tour player Shawn Stefani recorded the first hole-in-one in a U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club's East Course yesterday in the final round, he kneeled and placed his lips on the slope of the rough where his tee shot landed before it kicked off that area and trickled onto the green and into the cup.
Most of the rest of the time, though, all these guys such as Stefani could do was kiss their chances goodbye. Shaffer, director of golf course operations at Merion Golf Club (pictured), tells GCM today that he was stunned nobody broke par, including champion Justin Rose, who finished 1-over.
There had been predictions that tiny, 6,996-yard Merion would be destroyed by players such as Tiger Woods and Bubba Watson, big bombers who were expected to dominate a historic layout that many thought was past its prime. Instead, it was the golfers who took a beating. As for those who thought golfers might post 62s or 63s, well, not even close, folks.
"I knew they wouldn't go 15-under," Shaffer says, "but actually I was amazed they didn't break par. Not one of them. I didn't care if they broke par; I'm surprised they didn't."
That includes Woods, who shot 13-over, his highest score at a major since turning professional. Twice in the first round Woods misfired, landed in the deep, gnarly, nasty rough, and both times seemed to have hurt his wrist or elbow after whacking out of it.
Shaffer's analysis of Woods' issues on those specific situations?
"He shouldn't have put it in there," Shaffer says.
"Stan would be proud of us, I'm sure," Shaffer says.
Yesterday, Shaffer and his crew got to have their picture taken with Rose, who was surprised when he was presented with a wicker basket that adorns the tops of the flagsticks.
"David Graham (who won the U.S. Open in 1981 at Merion) told us he has all sorts of prizes in his trophy case, but only one wicker basket," Shaffer says.
After posing for the picture, Shaffer, his crew and his volunteers enjoyed some beverages in the green department facility, where they spent endless hours, on minimal sleep, and went about their business despite more than 6 inches of rain throughout the week.
"I didn't say a whole lot to them," says Shaffer. "What can you say that we didn't do? We know. They worked hard, did the unexpected every day, rose to the occasion."
So what's next? There is a corporate partners outing going on today at Merion. Once that is done, restoring Merion is the next order of business. Much of the work will feature returning the rough to standards that are more appropriate for the members, Shaffer says.
Otherwise, it will be back to normal for Shaffer. He is absolutely fine with that.
"Now I get to do what I like to do ... be a superintendent," he says. "I like growing grass."
Speaking of grass, Shaffer says he has a pretty good idea why Stefani kissed that patch of grass on No. 17 when he notched the first ace in five U.S. Opens at Merion.
"He knows it was a bogey or double bogey if it stays up there," Shaffer says. "He got lucky."