PGA Tour Confidential: Our U.S. Open predictions

Merion No. 4
John Mummert
The fourth hole at Merion.

Every Sunday night, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group conducts an e-mail roundtable. This week we are joined by Shane O'Donoghue, host of CNN's "Living Golf." O'Donoghue will also be a contributor to Golf.com's U.S. Open coverage this week. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

1. What are you most looking forward to this week at Merion?

Shane O'Donoghue, Host, CNN's "Living Golf": First and foremost, I am looking forward to having a front row seat! What privilege that is and I don't take it lightly. I've been intrigued by the U.S. Open since 1982. My parents attended that one and brought back a program, which intrigued an 11-year-old boy no end. Tales of the defending champion David Graham and his peerless performance on the final day at Merion. They teed up the battle between Nicklaus and Watson and identified a young Bobby Clampett, who would go on to lead the Open at Muirfield a few weeks later. Merion fascinates me, Hogan is my golfing hero and in our latest Living Golf show on CNN International, I visited the course a few weeks back, traced the history of the place, hit Hogan one-irons on 18 and interviewed both Graham and Trevino. Dreams can come true! My hope is that we get a worthy winner, one fit to stand alongside the great who have triumphed there.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: It's going to be a fascinating test, a kind of retro-Open. The tension between this old course and the modern game should turn this is into the ultimate thinking-man's Open.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: The place is dripping with history so the course standing up to 21st century technology and players is the biggest focus, not including all things Tiger. Is virtual par going to be 68 or is Merion going to remain a classic Open test? The world waits to see. Also, I can't wait to see the gallery try to follow Tiger, Rory and Adam Scott around the narrow spectator walkways at Merion. Furthermore, I can't wait to see if the Philly golf fans are more sophisticated than the Philly baseball fans who booed Mike Schmidt all the way into the Hall of Fame. "Now on the tee..." Boo-ooooooo!

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Interested to see how the course holds up. That and a few good cheesesteaks.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Seeing how the golf course gets played. Every hole offers so many options. It's such a thinking-man's course.

Eamon Lynch, managing editor, Golf.com I'm most interested in seeing how one of America's greatest courses stacks up against the modern professional game. Even if the pros devour it, that's no rap on the venue. Merion was a great course when the Open was last there in 1981, and it will be a great course when this Open passes. It is some of the finest golf course architecture this side of St. Andrews, and a welcome oasis in the architectural desert we trudge through most weeks following the game.

Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com: Can't wait to walk the course. I've heard about it. I've read about it. I'm excited to finally see it.

Joe Passov, senior editor, travel, Golf Magazine: I'm most excited about seeing how the ol' girl will hold up, and to watching how Tiger, Rory and Phil will fare amid the powerful ghosts and lore radiating from Jones, Hogan, Trevino and Nicklaus.

2. Recent rains and threat of more rain appear to make Merion more vulnerable to low scoring. Does that help -- or hurt -- the favorites coming in?

Bamberger: If the course plays soft -- and I don't think it's going to play THAT soft -- it brings in many more players. The faster it is, the more skill it takes.

Van Sickle: The rain softening the course was the difference in 1971 for Lee Trevino, a low-trajectory guy, against Jack Nicklaus, a high-trajectory guy. The high-ball hitters, generally the power players, just lost whatever edge they had in stopping the ball on firm greens. This is going to be a short-iron and putting contest now. It probably was, anyway.

Lynch: Many majors venues play longer and harder when wet -- Augusta National, for example. But wet conditions won't stiffen Merion's defenses. Quite the opposite. Soft fairways mean the ball won't run through into the thick rough as often, and it's not as though these guys are going to be hitting many drivers off the tee to begin with. Soft conditions widen the pool of contenders but I don't think it hurts the pre-tournament favorites. The favorites are the favorites because of more than just scoring potential. It's their patience and nerve under pressure that makes counts, and those demands haven't changed.

Gorant: I think the favorites have generally been the ball-control guys and soft conditions shouldn't hurt them. Long hitters may benefit from getting less roll out, anyone off target is gonna struggle in what will be wet, heavy rough.

Shipnuck: Hurts in a big way. If Merion is really crispy only a handful of guys have the will, patience, course management and talent-shots to tame it. But soft conditions allow for a more mindless kind of golf and brings tons of guys into the picture.

Ritter: Doubt the rain has much of an effect on the favorites. This Open was already wide open because the course isn't long enough to eliminate part of the field, as so often happens at other majors. The player with the best combination of ball-striking and putting is going to win this week.

Passov: I keep hearing that soft conditions bring more players into possible contention, but typical (pre-Mike Davis) U.S. Open setups, wet or dry, always seemed to yield a bunch of unexpected contenders. Merion resembles an old-fashioned setup, with no graduated rough, brutal primary rough and small, hard-to-hit greens. I think the favorites will be fine -- even helped. It will aid the nerves to know that a poor shot won't be penalized quite so badly as when it's firm -- and allow favorites to recover more aggressively when the time comes.

O'Donoghue: Luckily, the rain came ahead of the U.S. Open and the weather looks set to be perfect for the championship. I expect it to be a classic Open test, with rough about 4 inches long and undulating greens stimping at 13. There will be carnage out there, but the great players will be set for the challenge. It's a course for strategists. The best in the world are here. I can't wait to see them tested.

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