USGA Pre-Championship Press Conference
JOE GOODE: Good morning everybody. Welcome to Merion Golf Club and the 113th U.S. Open championship. I'm Joe Goode, Managing Director of Communications for the USGA. I'm pleased to be joined by USGA Vice‑President Tom O'Toole and Championship Committee Chairman. USGA Executive Director, Mike Davis and Reg Jones, Senior Director of U.S. Open championships. We're especially pleased to welcome more than a thousand journalists, photographers and broadcasters representing the U.S. and nearly 30 countries.
We particularly want to recognize our friends from the Golf Writers Association of America and our partners at Golf Channel, ESPN and Sky Sports, who each year deliver world‑class coverage of our national championship.
All of us at the USGA take great pride in welcoming the global golf community, players, past champions, corporate partners, media and fans from around the world this week. We're proud to celebrate the game with this great city of Philadelphia, to showcase the classic beauty of Merion's fabled East Course, and witness the best professionals and amateurs in the world as they compete in the U.S. Open Championship. I'll turn the program over to Tom O'Toole.
TOM O'TOOLE, JR.: Thank you, Joe. Welcome and on behalf of the USGA's over 700,000 members, hundreds of volunteers and all of us here at the USGA, welcome to the Merion Golf Club as we present to you the 113th playing of the United States Open Championship.
With a heritage that dates back to 1895, while much has changed, the U.S. Open remains, to this day, a showcase of the world's finest golfers conducted at America's finest courses, presenting golf's most complete, yet rigorous examination, including one of both physical and mental endurance.
The U.S. Open is also the most democratic, the most inclusionary of all Major championships. So anyone who has the skill, the passion, the determination, can compete for the title of America's champion. And by the way, this year we received a record 9, 806 entries, shattering the 2009 record by nearing 800 entries.
I have a hunch that this historic place called Merion had something to do with that outcome.
So of the 9,806 we welcome 156 competitors, representing 21 countries, 10 past U.S. Open champions, 43 first‑time participants and ten amateurs.
Of the 156 some are well‑known, others who have persevered through the hard road of local and sectional qualifying are only known to their family and friends that they represent. Like Mackenzie Hughes a young Canadian professional. And get this, he birdies the last three holes to find himself an alternate in the local qualifying. Jay Haas withdraws from the sectional qualifying round and Mackenzie is in the field. He borrows money to get to the qualifying site, carries his own bag, birdies the last hole, and then wins the last spot in a playoff to qualify for his first U.S. Open. Where do you get that storybook, dream‑come‑true ending? Only at the U.S. Open.
Famed and formidable Merion Golf Club is hosting its fifth U.S. Open and 18th USGA championship, more than any other USGA member club. Those 18 championships, which include, besides the five U.S. Opens, six U.S. Amateur championships, including the 1930 version which saw Bob Jones complete the historic Grand Slam, a feat that has never been equaled and some say never will.
Four U.S. Women's Amateur championships, a Girls’ Junior championship, a Curtis Cup, and most recently the 2009 Walker Cup, which saw the USA victorious over the Great Britain and Ireland team, the U.S. Team captained by Merion member, Buddy Marucci. In addition to these 18 USGA championships, Merion gave host to the 1960 Eisenhower Trophy, the World Amateur Team competition, which saw the U.S. Team prevail in the overall team competition, and the U.S. Team member, Jack Nicklaus, win the individual title.
But within that unparalleled USGA championship history at Merion are four prior U.S. Opens. The first in 1934 saw a young Olin Dutra, despite his severe illness, overcome an 8‑shot deficit and win his second Major title.
In 1950 we celebrated an unrelenting victor in Ben Hogan, who just 16 months after a near fatal car accident, struggling to walk these hallowed grounds of Merion, where, yes, Hogan struck that now iconic 1‑iron, from roughly 215 yards on the 72nd hole, to force a playoff the next day. Hogan's victory in that playoff over Lloyd Mangrum and Joe Fazio propelled a stretch of 3 Open titles by Hogan in the next four years.
In 1971 the U.S. Open returned to Merion Golf Club and saw Lee Trevino's win after a boisterous playoff duel over Jack Nicklaus. And of course everyone remembers the snake incident at the first tee on the playoff.
Finally in 1981, what many within the club and the USGA said would be Merion's last U.S. Open, we witnessed Australian David Graham's almost magical and perfect round as he hoisted the U.S. Open trophy by defeating George Burns and Bill Rogers by three strokes.
If Merion's historic and exciting past is any connection with the future, the 113th version of the U.S. Open promises to be just as memorable.
From a fan perspective, the drama and excitement of our national championship continues to drive greater levels to demand at the U.S. Open. Merion marks the 27th executive ticket sellout and we're pleased to announce that we have met, through assistance through the club, our corporate hospitality goals for this year. Both of those achievements reflect the significance of the U.S. Open among golf fans and the corporate community and the excitement across this Philadelphia region.
Thanks to our partners at NBC and The Golf Channel and ESPN, who will deliver a combined 35 hours of live U.S. Open coverage over the next several days, that's up from 32 hours that they delivered in 2012.
To extend the reach of the championship to more local fans, the USGA has created a U.S. Open experience at Independence Mall. With the support of our corporate partners, Lexus, American Express, and Chevron, fans can be part of the championship experience right in the heart of historic center city, Philadelphia. Whether it's recreating some of Merion's most historic moments, like I just referenced, or learning about the science behind the game or viewing live golf on a billboard‑sized TV, Independence Hall will be the next best spot to take part of the U.S. Open experience. Now that's outreach.
In closing, none of this occurs without collaborative effort of many. Many, like the Merion Golf Club, its dedicated leadership and staff and all of its members. We said many times, you need a committed a dedicated partner. We had that partner in Merion. Led by Rick Hill, general chairman, Buddy Marucci, vice‑chairman. Harry Hill, vice‑president. Christine Pooler, general manager, and last, but not lease, Matt Shaffer, director of golf course operations. If there's one guy that's the most important guy in this individual championship it's Matt Shaffer, and we're indebted for your effort.
Also collaborative effort through the assistance of over 5,000 volunteers the club has enlisted to assist them in the conduct of this championship. Also municipal communities and government, Haverford Township, Lower Merion, Delaware County and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Let's not forget the property owners of the surrounding neighborhoods and especially the property owners along Golf House Road.
Also we'd be remiss if we didn't mention the tireless effort of our USGA staff. Ladies and gentlemen, they are the best in the business, and as I've said many times they lead what is simply the biggest production in championship golf.
Reg Jones, the Managing Director of the U.S. Open championship leads that team along with Frank Bussey, the operations director and Eric Reinhardt, his main sidekick. Hank Thompson, who has been here since the Congressional championship and interacted most with the club in preparations for these operations and preparations. John Coppins, Jaclyn Koehn and Eric Steimer in the championship office. The bottom line, we could just not do it, rain or shine, without this really integral staff.
And finally, inside the ropes, besides Mike Davis who you'll hear from in a minute, led by Jeff Hall, the managing director of Rules & Competitions and what's going on in the championship conduct.
So to all we say thank you and as you look back on the 2013 version of the U.S. Open, know that each of you will have an integral part of its historic success.
Finally, indulge me as I leave you with one thought. Let's not lose sight about what this U.S. Open is about. Before I tell you what it's about, let me tell you what it's not about. It's not about a score.
Sure, we want it firm and fast. We happen to play a sport that's played outdoors. We received significant rain over the last week and some tell us that we'll have even more significant rain tomorrow. So it's not a perfect world. It's not a perfect game. But we take what we're dealt with.
But what is important is that we revel and celebrate about a club. About a club that found its way to invite us back, pretty much with some outside the box thinking. After 32 years, a club that enlisted the community, a college, and again a neighborhood and property owners to pull this off.
So when President Nager awards the trophy, which we hope will be Sunday, I encourage you to assess this, not about that score, but join us in assessing this about this celebration, about the celebration of this historic club and a celebration of American golf. That is how we will assess it and we will assess the 113th playing of the U.S. Open in that light and we certainly encourage you to do the same.
From a Championship Committee's perspective we couldn't be any more excited about what faces us over the next few days. Weather notwithstanding. Let's get this rolling, let's have a wonderful, exciting and another historic championship at Merion.
Without any further ado, we bring to the mic our Executive Director, and the man responsible for the golf course set up, Mike Davis.
MIKE DAVIS: Good morning everybody. I'm going to talk about a couple of things today. One of which is just to talk about Merion. A little bit of its architectural traits. I will also talk about it as an Open venue. And then we'll get into the specifics with the golf course setup and a little about the weather this week and what we expect. And ultimately open it up to a Q and A.
Tom made some remarks, in fact I should have read your remarks before I got up here, I'm going to say a few things, but I think they're important that we both say them, in that this truly is going to be a magical week. For so many people, whether it's members of Merion, whether it's members of this community, certainly for the USGA, we've been looking forward to this for many years.
I will tell you, there were a lot of people at the USGA, including myself, that never thought this would happen. And it's not because of Merion, the golf course. It's because we couldn't figure out how to fit a modern day Open on this amount of property.
But as Tom rightly said, some great thinking on, not only the key members here at Merion, but some of our operational staff, really led by Reg Jones to Tom's right, and just incredible cooperation, whether it's from Haverford College or some of the homeowners along the 14th or 15th holes or what we've got in place over at Merion's West Course. This is not obviously a normal U.S. Open. But it is really special.
So I think Tom rightly said, this is a week celebrating the great moments in time here at Merion. We've gone through those so many times. You know what they are. But really to come back here and to have today's players measure themselves against the greats of Jones and Hogan, that's neat. That can't be done everywhere.
It's also exposing Merion as a golf course that so many people haven't seen before. The wonderful architecture here. And as they say, they just don't build them like this anymore. Hugh Wilson who was a designer did an ingenious routing, how he laid the property on these 111 acres, and I say laid, if you study those holes, that's exactly what he did. There's great movement to the property. There’s short walks from greens to tees. I'm not necessarily going to go in it, because you've heard it over and over from the players, but there's this wonderful balance to the course in terms of an ebb and flow. That there's opportunities for catch-up with birdies, but there's also holes that are as hard as any that you'll see in any U.S. Open. It really is magical.
I think that while Merion may be short on the scorecard, one of the things I really want to make sure that everyone in this room knows is that it absolutely has stood the test of time. In fact, if you ask me to rank other U.S. Open courses against it, I would say Merion has stood the test of time in terms of going from hickories to steel shafted clubs to the modern golf ball and so on. I think this place has stood the test of time maybe as good as anyone.
And that's because Merion has been this great blend of short and long. And one of the things to the club's credit they've been able to make the long holes continue to play long.
So in some ways, this golf course really should play ‑‑ even though the players' ball flights are different today and the clubs they're using are different today, but the challenges they face are going to be very similar to what Hogan, Jones, Nicklaus, Trevino faced in yesteryear.
It's really going to be a special time.
There's been a lot of talk leading up to this about the characteristics of Merion, the attributes of its architecture. I'm not going to go into a whole bunch. But I will say the putting greens here ‑‑ when we're asked to describe putting greens at U.S. Opens, there generally is a theme to putting greens.
If you talk about Winged Foot, what Tillinghast did with the rolls, the size of those greens, the ridges moving through the middle or Pebble Beach, very tiny greens, they're always firm in June, and they slope from back to front or at Pinehurst where we're going to be next year, where they're domed shaped greens.
Here at Merion, there is no theme except that they're 18 wonderful green complexes, and there's big ones. We have a few greens that are 47 paces in depth. We have a green that's 19 paces in depth. You've got big and small. You have ones that slope back to front, side to side, some that are relatively flat, some that have ridges to it, some that have plateaus, some are kidney shaped. It's an intriguing golf course architecturally. There aren't many level lies here.
Another thing, just because it is old style and Hugh Wilson utilized this land so beautifully, you do have a lot of blind or semi‑blind shots. So when players are standing on teeing grounds they may not see a drive zone. They may be aiming at something in the horizon or hitting to a putting green. Maybe they see the upper half of the wicker that's there. And that, even for the world's best players, that does add a dimension of the test.
Merion is about precision. When you think about golf courses and what they are, this to me would be a golf course that it's one of the most precise in terms of what it requires a player to do of any Open we go to. It requires, because of the rough here, and this is something that you see on a very regular basis at Major, it requires you to be in the fairway, otherwise you're going to pay a pretty good price.
Versus next year. You will not see rough at Pinehurst. It's different. And that's fine. And I think one of the things we have been trying to do and hopefully been somewhat successful is taking each one of these great courses we go to and say, what is its personality, how does it normally play?
And Merion is about precision. If you come here on a normal basis, they've got thick rough and it's something where you need to hit Merion's fairways. We thought, you know what, it's appropriate that we do it for this Open, as well.
Tom mentioned a couple of things, and I think it's worth stating, but we hear and read things that people say about what we're trying to do with a U.S. Open. And I think that oftentimes it's just mistaken or there's misconceptions.
So to me, and I know to Tom and our championship committee, we really focus on two things, outside what Reg Jones has to do with the logistics and the operations, is we want this to be the most complete test of golf we can have. Do we want it to be difficult? Absolutely. That's our DNA. That's been around for a hundred plus years.
But at the same time this is not all about difficulty, folks. If we wanted ‑‑ if our only goal was to make it difficult, believe me, that's easy to do. But that's not what we're trying to do. We really want to test every shot that the players are going to encounter, every club in their bag, so to speak.
So whether it's the actual shot making, whether it's the mental test, whether it's the course management or whether, come Sunday afternoon for the leaders, maybe it's nerves. That's all part of a U.S. Open test.
So, again, it's not, as Tom did say, it's not about the score. In fact, I will tell you, we never sit around and talk about the score. This notion that even par has to win or it's not going to be a good Open, we never talk about that because we know we can't ultimately control that, because we can't control wind, we can't control soft or firm ‑‑ we certainly control firmness if it gets too firm, but it's not something that we would use as a barometer or a metric for success.
This week if you see ‑‑ pick your number ‑‑ 14‑under win or you see 5‑over win, for us it's how did the golf course play. Did it play appropriately?
The other thing that Tom mentioned, the second part, is we want to go to great golf courses. And if you look at where we go, we truly go to some of this country's great golf courses. If you buy into the top 100 list, whoever's list it is, you see so many of those U.S. Open courses high up on the list. That's great. To see the world's best players get to play some of these wonderfully designed golf courses is really meaningful to us, and I think from a strategic and a standpoint of trying to find the best player that week, it usually does a wonderful job at that.
So a little bit about the setup this week. By the way, you will get ‑‑ we will send, after we get done each morning with the setup, you will get what we've done for the day. You'll get the exact yardage. That will be from tee markers to flag stick on every hole. And then we'll give you the total yardage.
The scorecard is 6996 this week. That is 452 yards longer than it was played in '71 and '81. And that, if you look at where yardage was added, it was really the long holes. The long holes are long again. The short holes are really no different than Jones or Hogan played, which means that players are probably playing different shots off the tee or different clubs off the tee, but they're playing the same type of shots into the greens, same approach shots.
The putting greens this week, they are predominantly a creeping bentgrass. So it's actually not some of the newer varieties of bent, which tend to be thinner bladed and grow vertically, these are the old creeping bents. And there's a variety of them.
And I think one of the things that's neat, Johnny Miller is going to have fun this week, because there's grain in these greens. If you get down-grain on these things, they really go. And if you're putting up to it, it's really slow. I think when he does mention that on television, he's going to be right this week, that there's grain. And I think that's neat.
We're going to prep these greens so they're somewhere around 13 to 13 and a half. That is a speed that we used at the U.S. Amateur in 2005. We also used that in 2009 for the Walker Cup. And that seems to be Merion's, for a championship, ideal green speeds, where you don't lose hole locations, but you're also really testing the players and you're using the ‑‑ when you get to that speed, some of the undulations, and the movement in the greens really come alive. So that's what we're shooting for. In fact, today was really the first day we got to the speeds, given the weather we've had, up the last several days.
The one green you might ask about is what about the fifth green? That's a green, if you haven't been out there, cants severely right‑to‑left. And that's one we will prepare to it's right around 12 on the Stimpmeter, maybe low 12's. Players have been notified of that. We've done this exact same thing in past championships here, and it works for that.
Teeing grounds, we will use some different teeing grounds, for sure. The third hole, the 14th hole, 17th and 18th holes and beyond that, we really just want to see what we're dealing with from a strategic standpoint, what Mother Nature is going to give us. There could be some other holes we ultimately use different teeing grounds.
Fairways this week are predominantly bentgrass fairways. There are a few other grasses in there. One of the things that almost nobody in the room would notice, but I think it's worth noting is that, when I started at the USGA, we were mowing fairways right around a half an inch. And then over the years it's almost like an arms race, it's just gone down. And now we've gotten down closer to a quarter of an inch.
One of the things that we're talking about with sustainability of the game, pace of play and making the game more enjoyable, we are not doing any golfers any favor, recreational players, by seeing golf fairways cut down so tight. It's harder for golfers to get the ball up. It's harder to hit pitch shots ‑‑ don't say anything, Tom, I know what you're thinking ‑‑ we decided to go a little bit of a throwback this week, so fairways are almost half an inch in height again. There's just more cushion under the ball. And I think that's something that we really want to start to message to the recreational game, that this should not be an arms race. You are doing recreational golf no favors when you're mowing fairways that low. We're doing it ourself to show that even the world's best players don't need to play off quarter inch fairways in height.
The roughs this week. As I mentioned, very precise golf course here, they are more penal than you've seen for the last few Opens. The fairways, because they're soft, in theory, play a little bit wider. So I think there's a nice balance there. Yesterday afternoon was really the first time we've had a chance to cut roughs in a while, because we caught a break with the weather.
So you now will see, if you go out there, a graduated rough. That the roughs closer into the fairways are less in length. The holes where players are hitting short irons into, that rough is higher than the ones that they're hitting longer shots into, just a theme that we've used the last several years.
There is an unbelievable mixture of grasses in the rough. I think for superintendents they wouldn't even believe that ‑‑ we have rye grasses in there, bluegrass, tall fescue, fine fescue. There's a grass, a real thick bladed grass called K‑31. It's a mixture, there's even bent grass and Bermuda grass in there, believe it or not. When you get in the rough this week you will get a variety of lies for sure.
I guess the last thing, let me comment a little bit on the setup for itself for the next day to two days. Interestingly enough, the weather report coming in today was for a not so great day tomorrow, at least in the afternoon. And how hard we get hit, we don't know.
But one of the things that came out of that weather report is that we are going to get pretty good winds out of the south. So they'll be blowing south to north.
So when we do our setup Tom O'Toole and Jeff Hall and I go through, how does that affect hole location, how does it affect tee shots? And interestingly on Friday they're calling for the exact opposite winds. So winds coming out of the north, northwest.
So if we have a scenario where we end up having Round 1, let's say we wouldn't get finished, going to Round 2. It's going to be a tricky setup with Round 1 and 2. Just because, if it is windy, trying to make it fair. So you think about the tee shots and the carries that they've go, but also hole locations. With these greens speeds if you get a downwind, downhill hole location you have to be careful with that. If a hole location is like that and then you carry it into the next day, it can be tricky.
So with that I'm going to end, but let me also just send out thanks to Reg Jones and his team. I know Hank Thompson has been our championship here, and has done a marvelous job. Merion has been a wonderful host club to work with, genuinely nice people, that are so excited about the championship. And I would also single out Matt Shaffer the way Tom O'Toole did. Matt's the superintendent here and Matt, you've just been an absolute joy to work with and thanks for all the hard efforts and the six and a half inches we've got in rain the last several days, wonderful work.
So with that, Joe, I'll turn it back to you for Q and A.
JOE GOODE: Exciting stuff. Why don't we get started with some questions.
Q. If there was limited play tomorrow or no play or whatever we get, how would that affect the ticket situation going forward?
REG JONES: We've got a ticket policy in place now that basically as long as we complete four hours of play that it will constitute a round having been completed for spectators. If we do not complete four hours of play, then we will look at either a possible refund situation or possibly accommodating those tickets on another day.
Q. There are reports of possible flash floods and hail. How bad are you expecting it at this point for tomorrow?
MIKE DAVIS: Well, I think the weather report we have in and our meteorologist is saying that he doesn't have a definite. He's looking at models right now, but it could be from quarter to half an inch up to 2, 3 inches. It really depends on ‑‑ this isn't a huge, in terms of a wide front coming our way, but ‑‑ so it depends on really what hits us or how lucky or unlucky we are.
But there could be some really high winds with us, potentially damaging winds, even some hail. So, again, that's kind of the worst-case scenario. But he is fairly certain that we are going to have some type of weather tomorrow. But it's ‑‑ let me clarify ‑‑ it's going to be probably mid‑afternoon or later, too. So I think tomorrow morning we're looking okay.
Q. You mentioned casual water when you were in here the other day. What circumstances, where would you expect that to be around the course and could guys get their hands potentially on the ball? Some guys have talked about mud balls, being concerned about that, especially when it dries out over the weekend.
TOM O'TOOLE, JR.: Certainly we had casual water during our practice sessions yesterday and there's less of it out there this morning. But the Rules of Golf certainly permit a player to get relief without penalty from balls that are interfered or stance or intended swing in casual water. Our officials, we have a walking referee with each group will be well versed in the discussion of that.
If the second question is whether or not we would make any adjustments if there was mud adhering to the golf ball. I think most of you know that there is a local rule to adopt for preferred lies. That said, it's been a long‑standing philosophical point of view from the USGA to not adopt that local rule in our national championships. And the current Championship Committee is consistent with that long‑standing philosophical point of view.
I will tell you, though, that that local rule is really adopted when the conditions are very adverse, meaning there's poor agronomic conditions to a golf course. Anybody that's been here that's been on Mr. Shaffer's golf course knows that it's anything but in poor condition, it's in fabulous condition. So we wouldn't be adopting that rule this week. And if it was so bad, then the obvious response to that or consequence would be we probably wouldn't be playing. But don't look for the championship committee to adopt the preferred lies local rule that is under the pending Rules of Golf.
Q. Just curious about something with the logistics of the range and everything, and how players warm up and then come over. If there's anything funky that goes on getting back to the course and they're late to the tee, are they still responsible? Is there disqualification, et cetera? And what do you advise them?
MIKE DAVIS: Well, Doug, yes, ultimately if there's a committee error, if you will, so if transportation were not ‑‑ we're not providing transportation, the player ‑‑ it would be allowed under the rules that we could waive a penalty of disqualification or some penalty for being late to the tee. But ultimately it is the player's responsibility to get to his first tee ground on the time.
We go through this whether it's at Pebble Beach, Bethpage or wherever, where there's a shuttle up maybe to the 10th teeing ground, I can think at Pebble it probably took longer, Bethpage it probably took longer. We have a wonderful transportation system set up.
By the way, they can get to point A to point B without traffic. That's not going to be an issue. If we erred, then we would make provisions to where the player wouldn't be penalized.
Q. You have discussed doomsday scenarios Monday with that rain, in discussing the possibility of wind damage or hail or something like that, have you explored at all a doomsday scenario, similar to what happened to the 18th tee at Congressional, where you might play to a reduced crowd or empty golf course?
MIKE DAVIS: Interesting question. We try to go through those scenarios, worst case, how do you handle it. A lot of times you just have to see what you're dealing with in terms of how much play do you have left, is it dangerous to spectators, can we get spectators here. So there's so many things that play in. And we not only make that decision, talk amongst ourselves, but we would use true professionals, whether it's police or security people or other experts.
So I would say in that scenario we would gather all the right group together and make a decision on not only what's best for the championship and the playing of it, but for the safety of the spectators, as well.
Q. Do you know how much rain the course has gotten in the last week, and then also you mentioned the 5th green would be in the low 12's, what is the green speed for the rest of the golf course?
MIKE DAVIS: Jeff, I believe we've gotten roughly six and a half inches really in the last four days. And then green speeds are ‑‑ what we're trying to do is have the players play greens that are between 13 and 13 and a half when they're actually playing out there. And that's what we did ‑‑ we've got that today.
So 12 is going to be roughly a foot slower, maybe even slightly more than that. But that's what we've done in the past and that's what they've got for practice rounds, as well.
Q. The logistical challenges as far as in the neighborhood and getting people in and out and how has that worked so far and have you learned anything for next year?
REG JONES: Well, again, just to reiterate Mike's comments earlier, the cooperation that we've received from the local neighbors, Haverford Township has just been incredible. Without that support, I'm not sure how we could host the championship here. But they've been behind us every step of the way and so far things have gone extremely well.
Q. You talked about this course being magical and the history and that's why you're coming back here and not focusing on score. If you were focusing on score, what are you kind of bracing yourself for this week as far as numbers? It's been a long time, two years since Rory at Congressional and weather like this. Realistically what are you expecting this week?
MIKE DAVIS: Honestly, I don't have a good read for that. I've never been great at guessing the score. If we do get enough rain that would probably keep us soft the whole way through Sunday which would mean that that element of trying to think about what a golf ball does once it lands, whether it's a drive that hits the fairway or wherever or a green, for these players that are so good at distance control, when you take that element away from them, and if we wouldn't have wind, that makes for ideal scoring conditions.
Think back a few years ago when we were at Congressional where, for four days in a row, they had soft conditions and they had no wind. And that was basically a 7,600-yard golf course. When you give players that, they can score well. If you gave them this golf course and it was firm for four days and you got wind, you could see 5, 6, 7, 8‑over win.
The point is that there are certain things that we can do to affect score, but most of it really is how firm it is or soft. And then do we have wind.
Q. Could you briefly explain what your pace of play policy is to the competitors this week?
TOM O'TOOLE, JR.: Sure. Our pace of play policy, some of you may have been in the earlier press conference that President Nager held about our global pace of play initiative, which the USGA is undertaking since our annual meeting in February and we kicked off a PSA campaign this morning. Certainly while we lead that pace of play initiative within the game, it would be disingenuous if we didn't also look at ourselves as to how we conduct and implement our pace of play policies in our individual championships.
This being said, we have been pretty happy with the pace of play at the U.S. Open the last several years. Again, the number of players that participate on Thursday and Friday, the championship test which you present and what's hanging in the balance, the U.S. Open title.
So this year at Merion Golf Club and again Glen mentioned this, we did a lot of more really integral modeling and research by our engineers from our equipment standards and test center to try and really figure out how long it would take to play these holes, taking into affect things like bottlenecks and teeing grounds that Mike Davis referenced that he would play or collaborative or joined or teeing grounds that are utilized together like the third and the sixth hole.
We spent of a lot of, believe it or not, scientific analysis to model it this. And also, by the way, to talk to people like Reg Jones and our ops to figure out, where are you going to have an exit on a putting green and where is the entrance on the teeing ground. Where is the exact route that the players and caddies and officials will walk from putting green to teeing ground or point A to B.
We did that and we came up with a pace of play allotted time of four hours and 39 minutes. Now let me make something perfectly clear, because it's been asked in these settings many times. Four hours and 39 minutes does not apply to the whole field. When you start at intervals of 11 minutes you can't play holes in 11 minutes. Other than groups 1, 2 and possibly 3, those groups are not held to a standard of four hours and 39 minutes in groups of three going from either the 1st or 11th hole. Instead they're responsible to stay in position.
So on that subject we modified that definition, as Glen explained earlier, in this year's pace of play policy to make it more strict, so we could assess when groups borderline or approach being out of position.
The other thing we implemented in this policy which we haven't done in decades at a U.S. Open is to allow our walking referees, which should be a source, to be proactive, of course albeit in a very diplomatic and proper and at the right time kind of way to encourage groups when they approach being out of position to assist us in that regard to stay within position.
So our policy, which was published to the players is, I would say, more in depth, it's more well thought out, it's more scientific than any policy we have ever had at a U.S. Open.
But it's a learning process. So we're going to collect data this championship and continue to use that to look at what's the best way to, again, operate pace of play at the national championship level, which is slightly different than the overall pace of play initiative that the USGA undertakes.
I also think that it's important to note that the timing aspects of this policy are the same as they were at Olympic. So we didn't give anymore or greater latitude of time in because we thought that would be in contradiction to what we're doing across the game globally.
Q. Given that we've already had six and a half inches of rain, what will the grounds crew be doing when it comes to the safety of spectators and visitors?
MIKE DAVIS: There's two aspects of that, what happens outside the ropes as the spectators. And as you can see Reg and his team, along with the grounds staff, have done a lot to try to make muddy areas more passable. So that will continue. In some places we've even probably had to put down rock roads, certainly in parking lots, where we're not on McAdam.
Inside the ropes it really is just trying to anticipate what you might get. Matt, because they've got two golf courses here, a staff of 50 people, which is a great staff. In addition, they've got over a hundred volunteer superintendents from, not only in the area, but around the country, even around the world.
So that is one of the wonderful things about these volunteers is that they know what to do when you get these huge weather events. So if that means rebuilding bunkers, if that means pumping, so that all goes into it.
But even when we do hole locations, for example, our hole locations for Round 1 we thought through every single one of them and said, not only do we need to be mindful of the wind we might get, but we need to be mindful of where we might get puddling. We said a couple of days ago in another ‑‑ well, here, talking about specifically the weather, this course drains beautifully.
And the putting greens, these are like modern putting greens in the sense that the drainage work they've done is just marvelous. They drain as well as any putting greens I've seen. The course itself drains beautifully. There's a lot of surface drainage to this golf that Hugh Wilson just laid this course out on the land, like I mentioned, and there's been a lot of drainage put in over the years by Matt and his staff. They're as equipped as possibly they could get for that rain event.
Q. There are no white stakes or white paint on the left side of 15. There is out of bounds or what's going on there?
TOM O'TOOLE, JR.: That boundary on the left of the 14th and 15th holes is marked by the low cut telephone poles that are situated in the ground. So the inside points at ground level of that circular, symmetrical telephone pole or short telephone pole which Matt Shaffer's staff cut off very proximate to the ground so balls would not be deflected in areas they're likely to be. That boundary pretty much from the 14th tee to the 15th putting green is marked with those telephone pole, in ground units. Looking for the right word.
MIKE DAVIS: When you look at that, it's part way ‑‑ where the fairway ends and the McAdam for the road is, it's part way into the rough is where the boundary actually is. So you've got a buffer of a few feet of rough that a ball that's just not going very hard is going to hit the rough and stop. But a ball that is going is hard will probably go out in the road and that will be out of bounds.
Q. Just to maybe delve into the mind of the Championship Committee for a minute on pace of play, would this be the first year or perhaps a start where you would be more inclined to not be as generous on pace of play issues and perhaps be more inclined to issue a penalty?
TOM O'TOOLE, JR.: Well, I think we've always been inclined to issue a penalty if one applied, because this condition which we adopt is part of the Rules of Golf.
I think where this policy departs from policies in the past is there's less wiggle room or latitude in groups as to this out of place definition. As Glen explained this morning, it used to be all players from a par‑4, par‑5 hole, had to have their ball in play ‑‑ one player had to have their ball in play on the teeing ground before the preceding group had left the putting green ahead.
We've made that more narrow now, which we think, again, allows our referees and our timing rovers, which most of you know are PGA Tour and other worldwide Tour officials, to be able to get on this problem before it occurs. And therefore we think more proactive and a better policy that will ultimately produce slightly better pace at the U.S. Open.
But, again, there's a lot of factors that enter into this, as you know. And we've been talking about weather and other things, and that will have an impact, as well.
I think it's important that we deliver the message that Glen delivered earlier this morning. This is an important initiative in the USGA and we're going to continue to look at this because of how this is damaging the game. Maybe not so much at this level, but again, if we look at ourselves in the mirror, we better be proactive to do something at the national championship level, as well.
Q. With no regard to the winning score or who shoots it, what, in your mind, is going to make this week a success to the point you'd want to return and what would make it a failure that you wouldn't?
MIKE DAVIS: Good question. This golf course is so magical that, yes, we want to see this week play out. Personally I'd already like to see us return. I'm not sure Merion wants us to return. But the golf course is so good that when we sit in Championship Committee meetings and the Championship Committee ultimately decides the sites, it always starts with the golf course, how special it is, will it test the world's best players, what kind of drama will you get?
And I think this week, as we talked about before, we could have a soft Merion, without wind. We could have a soft Merion with wind. We could have a firm Merion without wind. We could have a firm Merion with wind. Any one of those combinations are going to affect scoring greatly.
To me if things outside the rope, if parking and traffic is successful, the community support has been unbelievable, Philadelphia as a golf town is incredible. From a historic standpoint this truly is one of the great towns and great cities and great cultures for golf anywhere in the United States.
So I think from the USGA standpoint ultimately it will be a championship committee in the future that decides it. But we haven't seen anything that would say, no, we won't come back here. Everything has worked so well.
And for anybody to think that these rain events would curtail our enthusiasm for this, you're misguided. And I'm not saying you're misguided. But we have nothing to say but positive things about Merion now.
Q. Any thoughts or plans to make any of those shorter par‑4s drivable?
MIKE DAVIS: Well, the 10th hole really even from the back teeing ground is drivable by anybody in the field on any given day. Will we go down one tee more on that particular hole? We might. We might.
We want to see kind of how the golf course is playing and the wind conditions. We did that during the Walker Cup and it was just wonderful.
Other holes that are short, I don't think at this point we know for sure what we want to do. And again it goes back to how the golf course is playing. But those short holes play beautifully from the back tees.
So when you think about making a hole shorter, whether it's a par‑5 that you want to move up to make it reachable in two or a par‑4 that you want to move up or for that matter a par‑3 that you want to make shorter, you think about the risk and you think about the reward.
If we moved, for instance the 7th tee markers up or the 8th tee markers up or pick your hole, we would have to be convinced that a percentage of the players would try it and that there would be enough chance that they could actually pull it off and be rewarded. And if we don't think that's going to happen it doesn't make sense to do.
In other words, you're not showcasing the architecture. You're not doing it any favor.
Q. Since we're not just dealing with rainfall tomorrow but a pretty good chance of severe weather, including thunderstorms, can you tell us a little bit more about the lightning detection software you'll be using tomorrow?
MIKE DAVIS: Sure. We have used a company for years called Thor Guard Weather. They are outstanding. They're one of the people that truly invented some of the lightning ‑‑ not only detection, but prediction things. So we've used them and we've had tremendous success.
They use a combination of radar, they use lightning prediction, lightning detection devices. And not only are those devices here onsite at Merion, but they're actually spread out around Philadelphia.
Our meteorologist can look at what's happening ‑‑ I can't tell you the exact things, but what's happening west of here, north of here, south, east. And it really does give a great picture. We're quite comfortable with it.
As far as we're concerned when you're looking at weather forecasting from a micro standpoint, in other words we care about what's happening right here. We don't necessarily care about what's happening in Chester, Pennsylvania. We'll know about it. But they're as good as anybody in the business.
Q. A question on the rough lengths. How much was cut yesterday? What are the lengths of the rough? Do you plan to cut them again?
MIKE DAVIS: So, as I mentioned, we were able to get out ‑‑ very wet. And I'm not even sure I can tell you what the lengths were before, because we'd gone so long ‑‑ it was so long it was laying over.
But on the, what we would consider the short holes, in other words where you've got wedges, 9's, 8's, we've taken that down to four inches. It's a four inches that is mown tee‑to‑green.
In other words, when you get in there you shouldn't ‑‑ in most cases you shouldn't have the rough growing towards you. I think when many the rough is growing towards the shot they're playing, it allows them to get the club on the ball. But there's going to be grass in between the ball and the club, so it makes controlling distance tougher.
I said the short holes. The short holes we topped it off at five inches, I'm sorry. It's five inches growing towards the tee.
On the longer holes, the fifth hole, sixth hole, 14th hole, 18th hole, we've cut that down to four inches. The reason we chose that is the blend of grasses. If we go lower than those heights, particularly if it's mown to the greens, you get too many balls sitting right up on top of it, so it's almost on a tee. At those heights we think the ball sinks.
If you hit the ball wayward and you get outside of say a 18 to 20‑foot width, so you go from this fairway to the first cut, if you will, if you get outside of that, you're in the old traditional, U.S. Open, swing as hard as you can, and wedge it back to the fairway.
JOE GOODE: Good place to stop. Thanks for joining us this morning, and enjoy the 113th U.S. Open.