Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Severe weather forecast for U.S. Open

ARDMORE, Pa. — This is Merion Golf Club, where the buzz in advance of the U.S. Open, scheduled to begin today, was supposed to surround the flag sticks — which have no flags but wicker bulbs — and revisiting Ben Hogan's 1-iron to the 18th green, an image that has been indelible since it was struck back in the fourth round in 1950.

The U.S. Golf Association's decision to bring its signature event back to this classic setting for the first time since 1981 promised to make this a fascinating, if quirky, major championship.

And then Friday, the remnants of Tropical Storm Andrea blew through, and Merion absorbed 3½ inches of rain. On Monday, the field received a flurry of text messages — "It's open, it's closed, it's open again, it's closed again," said 2010 champ Graeme McDowell — as more storms dumped another 3 inches of rain on the course.

Practice schedules were in disarray. The squeegee replaced the sand wedge among the most popular tools. The 11th green became an island.

With today's National Weather Service forecast calling for a 100 percent chance of severe storms, strong wind and hail, the field of 156 was left to wonder: What exactly are we in for?

"I don't think we have an exact feel for it yet, what we're going to have to do and what we're going to have to shoot," Tiger Woods said. "The conditions keep changing."

The tournament is scheduled to be played on Merion's East Course (6,996 yards, par 70). USGA executive director Mike Davis said there was a "10,000-to-1" chance organizers would have to use a hole or two from the adjacent West Course to complete play.

"Literally, I played this golf course 12 months ago. It was phenomenal, ready to go," McDowell said. "I played it last Wednesday. It's phenomenal and ready to go. And then we get here and it's disappointing."

Matt Shaffer, Merion's director of golf course operations, said he believed the course drained well after Friday's and Monday's rain, and expected the same if similar amounts fell today. "You really can't prepare for something like that," he said. "So you just wait, assess and react."

Shaffer has about 130 volunteer course superintendents from around the world helping his staff of 50 make any repairs needed after a weather event, such as pumping water out of bunkers or rebuilding them.

Dry weather Tuesday and Wednesday helped the course drain and made the greens faster for Wednesday's final practice round.

The weather will dictate how Davis and his staff set up the course. The key, he said, is to set it up fairly and consider the possibility that weather will keep all 156 players from completing their rounds today.

Short trip home for Phil: Phil Mickelson left Merion on Monday because of the rain and his daughter Amanda's graduation from eighth grade. He originally had planned to leave Tuesday for the Wednesday graduation in San Diego but went a day early to practice in better weather. Mickelson was scheduled to tee off this morning at 7:11. His spokesman said he didn't know when Mickelson would leave San Diego.

Miller Barber dies: Miller Barber, who made the most combined starts on the PGA and Champions tours, died Tuesday at 82, the PGA Tour said. The tour didn't provide details of the death. The man nicknamed Mr. X played in 1,297 tournaments on the PGA Tour and the 50-and-over circuit. He won 11 times in 694 PGA starts and 24 times in 603 Champions starts.