Wednesday, April 22, 2009

ARDMORE, Pa. (AP) — The history of golf and future of the game will collide again at Merion Golf Club.

The venerable East Course that tested Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus will challenge the modern golfer when it hosts the Walker Cup Match in September, a sort of dress rehearsal for hosting the 2013 U.S. Open.

Merion showed its mettle only a few years ago. Its narrow fairways, deep rough and sculpted greens held up against some of the country's top nonprofessionals during the 2005 U.S. Amateur. Not long after, the United States Golf Association awarded Merion its fifth Open, but its first since 1981, igniting a debate as to whether the Hugh Wilson design on Philadelphia's Main Line is a worthy test for today's long hitters.

U.S. Walker Cup captain and Merion member Buddy Marucci is convinced changes to the course, including adding about 300 yards, makes the storied layout a legitimate test for all golfers, including the best amateur players from the United States battling those from Great Britain and Ireland.

"Part of the genius of what has been done here is that the difficult holes were made more difficult, and the easier, shorter holes pretty much stayed the same," Marucci said at a Walker Cup press event on Tuesday. "I think what has happened is the architecture that was there for 100 years just popped out even more, and the challenges are back to where they were.

"At some places, 300 and some yards might not be significant, but it has made a tremendous difference here, just by allowing that architecture to come back out."

Marucci captained the U.S. team to a dramatic 12 1/2-11 1/2 victory over GB&I in 2007 in Ireland. That victory extended the American's record in the biennial competition to 33-7-1, though the teams have split the past 10 competitions. Scotland's Colin Dalgleish will captain the GB&I squad.

A two-time Walker Cup player with a 3-0 mark in alternate shot matches and a 1-1-1 singles record, Marucci is eager for some of the world's finest amateurs to take on Merion, the site of 16 USGA championships or international team events which will play to 6,846 yards and a par 70.

The Walker Cup's fourball and singles matches might not compare to the stroke play of the pros. But the players' plan of attack in two days of morning fourball matches and afternoon singles on Sept. 11-12 should shed light on how the course will be attacked four years down the road.

Marucci is convinced Merion won't be muscled.

"From a power standpoint, there will be some perspective given," said Marucci, who was runner-up to Tiger Woods in the 1995 U.S. Amateur.

Marucci has spent nearly his entire life at Merion, growing up near the course and ultimately becoming one if its high-profile members. He knows what it takes to tame the layout and will share his knowledge with the U.S. team he puts together through the summer.

"The one thing that I know ... you can't play Merion from the rough," he said. "I won't be preaching a great deal to them, but will certainly educate them to the fact that, and they will learn pretty quickly, you can't be competitive from the rough at Merion."

Merion has a reputation of being a golf treasure.

It's where Jones played his first Amateur as a 14-year-old and returned 10 years later to claim his first U.S. Amateur title. He completed the "Grand Slam" by winning the 1930 Amateur to go along with the U.S. Open, British Open and British Amateur.

There's a plaque commemorating Jones' final hole in a competitive event on Merion's 11th tee. It was on that hole he closed out Eugene Homans 8 and 7 in the 36-hole final.

Hogan left his mark, too.

Just over a year after surviving a horrible car crash, Hogan was on the 72nd hole of the 1950 U.S. Open in need of a par to force a playoff. In one of golf's most enduring photos, Hogan is pictured, from behind, hitting a 1-iron from the 18th fairway to a green circled by spectators. He went on to two-putt for par and won a three-way playoff the next day.

Before the start of a playoff for the 1971 Open, Lee Trevino pulled a prank on Nicklaus, tossing a rubber snake at his feet while on the first tee. Trevino went on to win.

Marucci is ready for more memories to be made at Merion.

"To me, what makes it special is when you walk out onto the first tee, every shot requires thought and is challenging," Marucci said. "The minute you step onto the first tee, you have to think about where you're going. And that doesn't necessarily mean you have to hit it far.

"You have to hit a certain kind of shot, and if you don't hit that kind of shot, you're going to be penalized and if you do hit that shot, you're going to be rewarded."

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