Muirfield Village is great for Memorial, but it would be perfect for U.S. Open

Muirfield Village is great for Memorial, but it would be perfect for U.S. Open

Fans at the rowdy par-3 16th hole didn't disappoint on Friday.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

DUBLIN, Ohio — Only one thing is wrong with the Memorial Tournament being played this week at Muirfield Village Golf Club: the date.

It should be two weeks later.

That means the name is all wrong, too. It should be called the United States Open.

Muirfield Village is that good. Even though founder Jack Nicklaus modeled his tournament after the Masters, it is an Open-quality course. But as long as the Memorial holds down the date two weeks in front of the U.S. Open, Muirfield Village will never get a national championship. It's getting a Presidents Cup next year, but that's not quite the same, is it?

On Thursday, you didn't even have to close your eyes to imagine what a U.S. Open would look like here. Fast fairways. Firm conditions. Greens that were — yeoww! — lightning fast. Guys crashing and burning.

The idea of holding a major here never gets talked about because it seems unrealistic. You're not going to play the Memorial and then come back two weeks later for the Open. (Although given the USGA's plan to play the men's and women's Opens back-to-back at Pinehurst in 2014, maybe it's not that far-fetched.) Plan B would be to take a page out of the AT&T National's playbook. That event, usually played at Congressional, moved to Aronimink last year so Congressional could hold the U.S. Open.

"I don't know, I drove by that Scioto Country Club the other day, and it looked pretty nice," said tour player Charlie Wi, who posted an opening-round 71.

Scioto is hosting U.S. Open sectional qualifying on Monday. It would be an interesting stand-in for the Memorial, but it doesn't have the wide-open spaces that Muirfield Village does, or the kind of room for concessions and luxury suites that tournaments need.

Back to Muirfield Village. It's ready for its extreme closeup. "You could hold a major here right now," said Wi. "You could hold any tournament here."

Asked if it felt more like an Open or a Masters out there Thursday, he laughed and answered, "Probably a Masters."

There is no question, however, that these Muirfield Village conditions are major-like — a clear cut above a regular Tour stop.

"These greens are at a pace where it's hard to get the ball close, and you're going to have to hole some tough ones out there," said Tiger Woods. "You're making a ball mark on the greens, but the ball is running out. These greens have got to be near 14 [on a Stimpmeter]. It's a hell of a test out there, really."

Wi confirmed that these greens are the fastest he's seen all year. And that's including the Masters.

"There's a lot of undulation on these greens, so you've got to hit the right spots with your approach shots so you have a chance to make the putt," Wi said. "The greens in Boston for the Deutsche Bank are usually the fastest, but these have a lot more undulation than those, so these have to be the fastest we'll putt all year."

Told that Woods estimated the speed to be 14, Wi laughed. "I don't know what 14 is like, and I don't want to know," he said. "I don't mess with Stimpmeters. I just know these are as fast as they come."

What else felt like a U.S. Open on Thursday afternoon? Well, the leaderboard. The best score from the morning half of the field was a mere three-under-par 69. One of the players who posted that number was Blake Adams. The first-round U.S. Open leader is usually a player the public isn't familiar with. So that fit, too.

And a big-name player suffered a disaster. Rory McIlroy, the off-again, on-again, off-again No. 1 player in the world, took a quadruple-bogey 7 at the 12th hole, the Nicklaus version of Augusta National's famed par 3. He went on, however, to shoot a respectable one-under 71.

What doesn't fit the Open profile are Muirfield Village's ample fairways. The USGA prefers tighter driving lanes. Not a problem, right? Just grow the rough. Not so fast. The many severe slopes in the fairways make that problematic.

"There's a lot of undulation in the fairways here, too," Wi said. "So if you narrowed them, it would be very difficult to hit the fairway. Like No. 18, if you narrow that one five yards on the left and five on the right, where do you hit it? It's already one of the toughest fairways to hit.

"If they narrowed the fairways, it might be unplayable. Number one is like this. [Wi held up a hand tilted sharply right to left.] Two is banked like this. [Another steeply angled hand.] Wide fairways are not the USGA's style."

Still, Muirfield Village just has the look of a big course. You'd be hard-pressed to look down the fairway at the par-5 11th and say it's not a major-championship hole. It's flanked by hills and trees on both sides and a stream on the left that meanders back in front of the green. Only a superb drive, like the 321-yarder from Woods on Thursday, offers a chance to go for the green in two. And even then, with the firm conditions, it is difficult to hold. Woods watched Bill Haas drop a sweet long-iron shot onto the green, only to see it carom over. Then Woods did the same.

Muirfield Village is a big course, big enough for just about anything. Maybe the biggest reason an Open wouldn't come to Muirfield Village is that the USGA would take charge and run it. Jack Nicklaus would have to give up the reins to this place he built, something he might be loathe to do.

But file the idea away for future reference. Sometimes good ideas can be too obvious. Tour players raved for several years about Quail Hollow, which hosts the Wells Fargo Championship. Finally it landed the 2017 PGA Championship. Torrey Pines looked great on TV early in the year. It got a memorable U.S. Open in 2008.

Put Muirfield Village on the list. Make it an Open, make it a PGA, it doesn't matter. Just make it a major.