Getting to know Merion: The back 9

Getting to know Merion: The back 9

June 7, 2013, 1:30 pm
Share This Post

The 113th U.S. Open will officially begin next Thursday morning when the first tee shots are struck off holes No. 1 and 11. With one week left before the tournament gets underway, we're providing this hole-by-hole breakdown of Merion to get you familiar with the East Course.

Yesterday, we broke down the front nine. Today, the back:

Hole 10, Par 4, 303 yards
The 10th hole is the shortest on the course and, as a frame of reference, is just 15 yards longer than the longest par 3 in U.S. Open history (the 288-yard eighth at Oakmont). The tee shot is played through a shoot of trees and from an elevated box sitting on the edge of the property. Though most of the field will have the length to drive this green, long-hitting left-handers like Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson will have a distinct advantage in trying to stop the ball with a sweeping fade. That said, any shot over the green stands the risk of going out of bounds. In the event balls headed onto Ardmore Ave. are saved by the back bunker, the players will be faced with a downhill sand shot and overhanging branches that will complicate their backswing. Best course of action -- a 270-280 drive to the corner that takes the left bunker out of play and gives the players a straightforward pitch to most pin locations.

Hole 11, Par 4, 367 yards
No. 11 is best known as the hole on which Bobby Jones closed out the 1930 U.S. Amateur to claim golf's first ever Grand Slam, winning all four major championships in the same year. A plaque set beside the tee box commemorates his achievement. As for what the players will encounter now, 83 years later, this fairway has been shifted closer to the creek on the left to bring both the hazard and the left greenside bunker more into play. Much like on No. 8, this is another short hole where the players still may not be able to hold the putting surface with a wedge from the rough. The aforementioned creek winds it way around the front, right and back of this green. For players who draw particularly difficult lies in the rough off the tee, sideways layups back into the fairway could actually be an option. One other note, due to the logistical nightmare of shuttling players to the 10th tee, those who don't start on No. 1 on Thursday and Friday will begin on No. 11 instead.

Hole 12, Par 4, 403 yards
A group of bunkers 275 to 315 yards from the tee serve as a good target for a left-to-right ball flight that takes advantage of this dogleg. Players can hit driver here -- though for some it won't be necessary. The approach, off what's likely to be a severe sidehill lie, is to a green perched on top of a hill and guarded by a deep bunker on the right and another trap on the left. Pins located in the middle and back of this green should be accessible, but a flag tucked in the front brings both bunkers and false front into play on a shot that could be difficult to control given the slope of the fairway.

Hole 13, Par 3, 115 yards
Many of the courses you play around your house don't have holes this short. The players cross back over Ardmore Ave. to encounter a green that's just 19 yards deep. The front bunker is at least 6 1/2 feet below the surface of this green and the other four bunkers all force tricky shots off a downslope. That said, these are the best players in the world and they're all going to be hitting either a sand wedge or a gap wedge. These guys are going to destroy this tee box. Somebody get some grass seed.

Hole 14, Par 4, 464 yards
And so starts the stretch of holes defending champion Webb Simpson referred to back in April as, "the hardest [close] we've ever had in a U.S. Open." And he's the guy who shot 1-over to win at Olympic Club last year. This tee box has been moved back 46 yards and now sits on the East Course's putting green. The fairway gradually bends left but even longer hitters who want to cut the corner will have to carry the ball a good 325 yards off the tee. Otherwise, a tee shot aimed at the bunkers on the corner will leave a short-to-mid iron approach -- assuming there's no wind out of the northwest -- to a green flanked by a large mound on the left and bisected by an odd gully in the middle-to-back portion of the putting surface.

Hole 15, Par 4, 411 yards
Don't tell anybody, but I have it on good authority that 2010 champion Graeme McDowell smoked one over the fence here during a practice round last year. (Full disclosure: So did I last month.) The sharp dogleg-left 15th is marked by out of bounds stakes exactly one yard off the left side of the fairway. From a stretch of about 245 to 325 yards off the tee, if you're four feet left of the 15th fairway, you're OB. The good news: A tee shot of about 285 yards or more can carry last bunker on the right and will have about 25-30 yards to settle in the fairway. It's all mental, and if you're contending for a U.S. Open with four holes to play ... well ...

Hole 16, Par 4, 430 yards
The bunker on the left, about 280 to 300 yards off the tee, has been moved right up against the fairway and into the landing zone. Don't go in the bunker. In fact, don't miss the fairway at all. Why? The uphill approach to the 16th plays over a quarry that dominates the final three holes of the course. It's a blind second shot over a wasteland of bunkers and the fifth or maybe sixth circle of hell. The fairway actually wraps all the way around the quarry to the right and eventually intersects with the 15th tee box, providing players who miss the fairway a layup and approach from a far different angle. Once aboard, the first 12 to 20 yards of this green from the front left to middle right are a false front. So expect Sunday's pin to be exactly 13 paces onto the front left.

Hole 17, Par 3, 246 yards
To quote a Luke Donald tweet from the Thursday before the tournament as he stood atop this teeing ground, "#ManUp." From the very back tee, it's about 200 to clear the quarry and 220 to the front edge. Once the players tee off, they'll actually walk down a winding case of stairs and through the valley itself. The first 12 yards of the green are another false front, and the back left is complicated by a ridge wide enough for a pin position. Any shot that misses this green is going to take a remarkable recovery to save par. The 2013 U.S. Open could very likely be won or lost on this hole.

Hole 18, Par 4, 521 yards
A new tee box has been added back behind the quarry in an effort to make the players play their approach to the final green from roughly the same spot Ben Hogan hit his famed 1-iron to force a playoff and eventually win the 1950 U.S. Open (see The700Level). Longer hitters, however, can still fly their ball over the Hogan plaque (310 from the tips) and down the hill for an extra 30 yards of roll. The approach is to a raised green that's fairly flat, save for a depressed pocket in the back left. Anyone who plays the final five holes even- or under-par on Sunday likely stands on this green as the 113th U.S. Open champion.