Golf notebook: For Simpson, Merion holds special appeal

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Webb Simpson didn't have much success the first time he played the Olympic Club in San Francisco in competition, getting eliminated in the first round of the 2007 U.S. Amateur by Michael Thompson.

Five years later, he won his first major championship -- the U.S. Open -- at Olympic, coming from four shots off the lead in the final round to beat Thompson and Graeme McDowell.

Simpson is hoping for similar karma when he defends his championship June 13-16 at the Merion Golf Club in suburban Philadelphia. The only time he played competitively at Merion, he was eliminated in the second round of the 2005 U.S. Amateur by Anthony Kim.

"I tell people all the time it is my favorite golf course in the world," Simpson said. "What it demands out of the players is so different than most golf courses, and it seems like most golf courses now are evolving to be bombers paradise -- every par 4 is 500 yards and you hit driver on every hole.

"Where Merion is the opposite. I only hit a few drivers. And so, for me, to try to defend such a big title ... it's even more of an honor at a place I love."

Simpson has been back to Merion several times since 2005 to play in corporate outings, and what he loves about the 6,996-yard East course is that it is almost two different courses.

The first 13 holes feature the only two reachable par-5s on the course and six par-4s that don't play any longer than 380 yards. The last five holes are among the most grueling anywhere in the country, including the 463-yard 18th, which USGA executive director Mike Davis calls "the toughest finishing hole in U.S. Open history."

"Potentially through 13 holes, if you drive it well, you can have nine wedge opportunities," Simpson said last week during a media preview at Merion in Ardmore, Pa. "That's kind of what I've calculated, including 13, the par 3.

"And then the last five are going to be some of maybe the hardest that we have ever had in the U.S. Open. So you kind of have the best of both worlds. And that's why I think this U.S. Open is going to be so unique in the sense that I don't think a long player or short player has an advantage. I think a guy with a good wedge game and a good mind will have the advantage because you'll have your birdie opportunities.

"But what I remember about Merion is the second that you think 'I got an easy hole, an iron and a wedge,' is the second that you probably will make a mistake."

Like the Olympic Club, Merion has a number of severely sloping fairways (Nos. 4, 5 and 12) that will cause the USGA to keep the fairway height at a half-inch on those holes compared to a quarter-inch on other holes. Also, Davis said the rough -- Merion's signature -- will be thicker and more penal on the shorter holes than the longer ones.

"I think one of the things we have realized is that the way courses are prepared now, when you get fairways cut too tight, it's just harder for the average golfer to get under the ball, hit pitch shots," Davis said. "And we said ... there's nothing wrong with having fairways that are a little bit longer, it sends the right message. So you're going to see us start to do things like this. We're talking about these things for every-day golf and why not incorporate some for U.S. Opens where we can."

Because of the shorter course and the precision required at Merion, Davis said, he thinks more players "can potentially win the U.S. Open" this year compared to other years.

"I don't think there will ever be a point in this U.S. Open where somebody will have it won because the last five holes are so hard that a guy will be hanging on as he comes down the last holes if he has a lead," Simpson said. "But I think that's what will make it more exciting. There will be birdie opportunities, but knowing, hey, even if I'm three or four-up, I got to step on the 14th tee and I got a long ways home."

Youth girls clinic

The Women's Golf Association of Western Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Women's Golf Association will sponsor a clinic Wednesday at Oakmont Country Club for girls ages 8-18.

Oakmont professional Bob Ford and World Golf Hall of Famer Carol Semple Thompson will conduct the clinic from 5-7 p.m. with other local PGA professionals.

"Allegheny Country Club and John Aber have done this for years, and we were there last year and said if you ever want to take a break we'd love to host it at Oakmont, and they were delighted to do it," Ford said.

"It's a great opportunity for girls to introduce them to the game, whether they are flat beginners, never played before or are nice players."

Registration forms can be found on-line at WGAWP.com and clicking on "Junior Golf" tab.

Tee shots

• I am not sure why the Golf Channel felt as though it had to hire ex-football player Ahmad Rashad to be one of the co-hosts for its new Morning Drive. This especially resonated the other day when he referred to the guys on the PGA Tour as "PGA players." Uh, Ahmad, the PGA is a group comprised of club professionals. They are no more a part of the PGA Tour than the Canadian Football League is a part of the NFL.

• Have you seen Michele Wie's new putting stance? She is bent over so far it looks as though she is trying to read the writing on her ball. Or maybe find her career.

• Let me get this straight, Vijay Singh admits to using deer antler spray, which contains a substance that is banned by the PGA Tour. But, three months later, the World Anti-Doping Agency rules the substance used in deer antler spray should not be on the banned list, and the PGA Tour announces that the case against Singh has been dropped. So what we have is an admitted violation of the rules and no penalty. Boy, that seems to be going around the golf world.

• The USGA could rotate the U.S. Open among five courses -- Oakmont, Merion, Shinnecock, Winged Foot and Olympic -- and I would never complain.

Dissa and data

The Tri-State PGA announced its annual awards for 2013. Top merchandisers: Peter Micklewright, Edgewood CC (private); Tom Beeler, Grandview GC (public); Ron Leporati, Bedford Springs (resort). Junior golf leader: Ron Lucas, Scally's GC; Teacher of the year: Jerry Stone, Scally's GC; Horton Smith Award: Eric Johnson, Oakmont CC; Bill Strausbaugh Award: Dan McMillen, Thiel College; Player development award: John Kerins, Tam O'Shanter GC: Patriot award: Sean Swidzinski, Olde Stonewall GC; golf professional of the year: Joe Boros, Treesdale. .... The 15th Parkway West Rotary Classic is July 29 at Sewickley Heights GC. Entry is $195 and includes dinner, gift and silent and live auction. Register at parkwaywestrotary.com. .... The 35th annual Young Life Golf Classic is May 13 at Willowbrook CC. Entry is $225 per player and includes dinner and gift. Call 412-242-1625 or email at dicnsar@verizon.net.

Looking ahead

• What: The 2013 U.S. Open, second of the season's majors, Merion Golf Club, Ardmore, Pa.

• When: June 13-16.

• TV: WPXI & ESPN.

• The skinny: The Open returns to Merion -- its ninth hole pictured above -- for the fifth time, but first since 1981.

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