ARDMORE, Pa. – When I won the media lottery to play Merion the day after the U.S. Open, I didn’t know whether to accept congratulations or condolences.
Henrik Stenson hung in my mind: “If the general public played a course like this, they'd probably all quit within a week ... You constantly get beaten down. “
Making matters worse, I trekked to downtown Philly late Sunday night to sample the city’s two most famous cheesesteaks. Pat’s had the more flavorful beef, making Geno’s the Phil Mickelson of this competition.
My stomach was angry with me Monday morning, but there was another factor at play: If former U.S. Open champ Lucas Glover could shoot 82 here, if Rory McIlroy could get frustrated enough to bend a wedge out of commission, if Sergio Garcia could hit not one, not two, but three consecutive balls out of bounds, what was in store for a 13-handicap?
The round began on the 16th tee – nothing is easy at Merion, where a 20-minute shuttle ride separated the competitors from the East Course’s first tee – and I was paired with journalists I’d never met from California, Ireland and Denmark.
The Irishman, Greg Allen, asked to borrow my long putter, explaining: “I’m afflicted.”
He four-putted the 17th green, providing an early challenge to his mental well-being. “It’s gonna be fun today,” he told himself. “You’re smiling. You’re playing Merion.”
I can barely break 100 on a Putt-Putt course (OK, slight exaggeration), so I was expecting the Merion greens to torture me. And they did.
As one U.S. Open competitor put it: “I struggled with the speed, especially right around the hole.”
You and me both, Tiger Woods.