Getting to know Merion: The front 9

Getting to know Merion: The front 9

June 6, 2013, 11:45 am
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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. Today, the front nine:

Hole 1, Par 4, 350 yards
The opening hole at Merion is a short, dogleg right that sets up a birdie opportunity right out of the gate. A long iron, hybrid or even fairway wood should leave the players with no more than 100 yards for their approach. It's really more of a layup to a comfortable distance. The fairway and green are guarded by bunkers both left and right, but a well-struck wedge should leave a good look at three. The opening holes on both sides (even if some players will actually be starting on No. 11 as opposed to No. 10) should play as two of the easier holes throughout the week.

Hole 2, Par 5, 556 yards
This tee box has been moved back and to the left, as the fairway has been shifted right up against Ardmore Avenue. There's only a few yards that separate the right side of the second fairway from the out-of-bounds markers, and the tee shot sets up players with a solid view of the road. Nonetheless, the uphill second is likely a reachable par 5 even with less than driver off the tee. A new bunker has been added 40 yards short of the green to give the players something to think about on their second shot. The first and second holes will be important to take advantage of before Merion starts to show its teeth.

Hole 3, Par 3, 256 yards
The third will play as the second-longest par 3 in U.S. Open history, behind only the eighth at Oakmont in 2007 (288 yards). And it's all-carry. The tee shot will play across a valley and back up a hill marked with the first of many bunkers the players will not be able to see out of should they find themselves on the beach. At 37 yards deep and sloped from back to front, putting surface will be receptive to a well-hit shot, but the severe undulations will make for some particularly interesting putts. A front pin position here, barring rain that softens the green, could be murder.

Hole 4, Par 5, 628 yards
The longest hole on the East Course is also the last remaining par 5. Yep, we got both of those out of the way right up front. This tee is back far enough that the large cross-bunker about 210 yards from green really isn't in play unless the USGA decides to utilize a forward tee box. The landing area is sloped from right to left and could kick some tee balls with a similar shot shape into the left rough. This is a hole that executive director Mike Davis & Co. can really play with throughout the week to make it a potentially reachable par 5 or a true three-shot hole. A small creek and two tiny bunkers guard the front of the green but shouldn't be in play unless someone's going for it in two.

Hole 5, Par 4, 504 yards
Certainly the hardest hole on the front and arguably the hardest on the course, the fairway is severely pitched from right to left and in the direction of a creek that runs the length of the hole. Players hoping to avoid the creek or the bunkers left (285 and 315 from the tee) will try to play to the top of the slope but have to guard against missing this fairway right. Approach shots coming in from the right rough will have to land short of the green and both the landing area and the green will kick balls without spin towards the creek. Once aboard, three putts will likely abound. Take par and run.

Hole 6, Par 4, 487 yards
A blind tee shot to a narrow fairway guarded by bunkers left and OB right presents likely the toughest drive on the opening nine. The tee box naturally aims the players toward a fairway bunker 300 yards out unless longer hitters try to cut the corner on the right. A ball in the fairway will leave the players with a mid-iron to a fairly tame green guarded by bunkers left and right.

Hole 7, Par 4, 360 yards
The first of back-to-back par 4s 360 yards or less, the seventh fairway is pressed up against a line of trees on the right that will be the only way to stop wayward tee shots from going out of bounds and into backyards. Hanging branches may present an issue for balls down the right side of the fairway, but missing left and leaving an uphill approach to a green guarded by a large bunker isn't any better option. Iron is the smart play off the tee to set up a short approach to a green with a false front and three distinct shelves.

Hole 8, Par 4, 359 yards
You have to hit the fairway. Period. Anything more than an iron off this tee is an absolute mistake, as a tee shot less than 230 yards will take a cross bunker out of play, avoid a tricky approach off a downhill lie, and still leave the players with a wedge to the green. Much like on No. 11 (which we'll address Friday) players with a wedge in their hand still may not be able to hold this green out of the rough. The putting surface is just 23 yards deep, its front will kick balls to the back or over the green, and shots that go long have to deal with a steep fall off that makes for a very difficult up and down. Holes No. 7 and 8 are plenty gettable, you just have to hit the fairway. Otherwise, you're potentially trading a three for a five or a six and just giving shots away.

Hole 9, Par 3, 236 yards
While the members play this from straightaway and about 200 yards, the players will make use of a tee box that's moved up a hill and to the left. The new teeing area forces the players to deal with a large bunker, which protects the front left and makes a back-left pin position (which we could see on Sunday) almost inaccessible. The green is surrounded by a circle of five sand traps and is otherwise protected by a water hazard front and right. The water likely won't come into play unless there's a swirling wind that knocks down shots in the air or complicates club selection on the tee. Middle of the green and a two putt will work just fine.