We had a week off after Sweden, then we were heading stateside again for the US Open, to Merion in Philadelphia. The tournament hadn’t been here for over 30 years, and there were concerns that the course wouldn’t stand the test of time, due to the changes in technology. It measured below 7000 yards, and people were talking about all sorts of scoring records being broken. They needn’t have worried, as I’ll explain later… The USGA made sure of that…!!!
I arrived on the Sunday, which gave me the chance to have a look at the course before Paul arrived. I prefer this on courses we haven’t played before. I can walk round on my own and work out a course strategy in advance, so that when we play our practice rounds, we know exactly what we’re doing. Paul might see one or two holes differently from me, so we’ll decide the best way for him to play the course. There is never one way to play a golf course, and players will want to play to their strengths. Monday was a write off due to thunderstorms and heavy rain, so we had Tuesday and Wednesday on the course, and practice went well. The only thing which gave me any cause for concern, was Chippie’s driving, and it wasn’t on the course. The USGA give every player a car for the week, which they drive themselves. Not known for his prowess on the right hand side of the road, the Chipster was awfy chuffed that he found the golf course at the first attempt, as he boasted to Marian on the phone that night. He also omitted that he had me as passenger with written directions and a sat nav as a back up. Even he couldn’t mess that one up. On the course, the talking point was the length of the rough. There was no 1st and 2nd cut of rough like we get normally. If you missed the fairway by 6 inches, you were hacking out with a wedge. Scoring was not going to be low.
The weather forecast for the first round was horrendous. Thunderstorms and heavy rain threatened to wash out the opening round. Heavy rain the previous week, and another downpour on Monday had left the course right on the limit. We were due to tee off at 12.40 on Thursday, and didn’t even expect to start, but the storm wasn’t as big as expected, and we eventually teed off at 4.15. We managed 14 holes before dark,which fell at 8.15. Due to the logistical problems at the course(it was ten minutes in a car from the range to the putting green, and five minutes walk either side), we didn’t get back to the hotel until almost 9.30. A quick bite to eat , bed, then an alarm call at 4.30am, and we were off again. It took us almost an hour and a half to finish our opening round, which was a 6 over 76. We had work to do..! Fortunately, we had a quick turnaround, and were back on the first tee in an hour, which allowed Paul to gather some momentum. He returned a 71, putting us at 7 over at the hallway stage. “Will that make the cut?” “Nae bother” I replied. The cut after the first round had been +4, and it turned out to be +8 in the end. This gives you an idea of the difficulty of the course. And this was in fairly benign conditions. Had it been firmer and windier, I dread to think what the scoring would have been like.
Onto the weekend, and Paul produced the round of the week on Saturday, with a 69, which rocketed him into the top twenty. It was his first ever under par round in the US Open, and it was difficult to remove the smile from his face. On Sunday we faced the threat of another thunderstorm, and everyone was prepared to book new flights, and hotels for the night, but the rain stayed away, and we got finished in time. Paul played just as good as he had on Saturday, but the Merion rough got its revenge, especially on the par 3 9th, when he was 10 yards from the hole and had to play almost backwards. Paul eventually signed off for a 77, which only dropped us a dozen spots or so, such was the difficulty of the course. It had been a solid week in a major championship, but one which drained everyone physically and mentally. I didn’t need much rocking when I got on the plane on Sunday night. I slept the whole the whole way, and woke up with less than an hour to go. That’s the way I like to travel….
I landed in Sweden late on Monday night. I had been up at 6am for the zone golf charity day in London, which raised some great money for Paul's Foundation. By the time I got to the hotel, it was midnight. My two roommates were already in bed. Ritchie and Dom are my two best friends on tour, and are great company, but they both have one downfall... They snore,like you can't believe!!! If they had an olympics for snoring, they would be atop the podium for as long as they lived. Thus, on Monday, I managed about 1-2 hours shut eye. Dom snored from midnight till 3am, then he handed the baton over to Ritchie, who rattled out the Z's till 6am. I was on the 7am bus to the course....Shattered. What a jetset lifestyle eh??? It was pretty windy, so we just hit some balls, and played a few holes. Paul was working on his posture, and could feel the benefit of the change. Our pro-am on Wednesday was a chirpy affair, as our partners all spoke great English, and could play the game no problem....Bonus!!!
We had the windiest part of the day for our opening round, but Paul was cruising, four under with two to play, but the dreaded 17th, an island par 3 very similar to the 17th at TPC Sawgrass, claimed another victim when we made double bogey, finishing on 2 under 70. Paul had played lovely, so it was a disappointing way to finish. Even our playing partner Jose Maria Olazabal was impressed, and he's very hard to please.
Onto Friday, and after nine holes, we were in trouble. Paul was +3 for the day, and +1 for the tournament. We needed something special on the back 9, and the Chipmaster duly delivered, coming home in 4 under to make the cut by a shot....happy days. He celebrated on Saturday by wearing his jazzy new tartan breeks " Where's that photographer from Getty Images?" He fancied himself rotten today. He backed it up with a 68 to move into the top twenty. His ball striking had improved greatly from Wentworth the week before, and the odd putt was dropping. On Saturday, it rained heavily overnight, softening up the course. By the time we teed off on Sunday, there was very little wind, and the course was there for the taking. Paul played nicely again, but struggled to gain momentum. A birdie at the last tallied to a 3 under 69, and we dropped a couple of spots, as scoring was very good in the calm conditions. A quick shower, and we were on our way to he airport. I was flying to Heathrow, where my car was parked, and then driving home. Chippie was flying to Edinburgh, then getting picked up and driven to Aberdeen. My flight was delayed almost 3 hours...I was raging, but I calmed down when I landed, and found out that Chippie had been delayed also, and was currently stuck on the Tarmac at Edinburgh. It was worth a wee chuckle.....