ARDMORE, Pa. -- The prospect of a firm, fast course for the 113th U.S. Open diminished with every raindrop Monday at Merion Golf Club, where the 11th hole remained off limits and practice rounds twice were suspended due to heavy rain.
More than an inch of rain fell before 9 a.m. ET, and the East Course was not opened until 11; it was closed again at 3 p.m. for another 30 minutes. The 11th, a short par-4 at the lowest part of the East Course, has been so problematic over the years that United States Golf Association officials have taken the drastic step of having two holes on Merion's West Course available to use in case the 11th green is flooded.
A crew of more than 20 people worked on the hole throughout Monday, with more rain in the forecast for Thursday.
"You're not going to see a firm U.S. Open this year, I'm sorry," said two-time champion Ernie Els, who is making his 21st appearance in the championship. "I don't care if they get helicopters flying over the fairways, it's not going to dry up.
"We're going to have a soft golf course this week, all week. It means that if you're on your game, you're going to have a lot of birdie putts. There's quite a few par-4s where you've just got to put it in the fairway. ... You're going to see a lot more birdies than ever."
And that has been the fear ever since the U.S. Open was awarded several years ago to Merion, which last hosted the championship in 1981, when the course measured 6,500 yards. It has been lengthened to 6,996 yards, but it is still the first time since 2004 an Open course will be more than 7,000 yards.
The hope all along was for hard, firm conditions that would punish off-line tee shots and approaches to greens that were not hit properly. With brutally long rough along the fairways and around the greens, golfers who are not accurate will be in trouble, regardless of the conditions.
"You start missing some shots, the rough is as bad as I've ever seen it," said Els, who is also the reigning Open Championship winner. "If you hit it in the rough here, you're just advancing it 120 yards, 140 yards, most of the time. That's still very penal."
The dozens of workers who make up the Merion grounds crew, along with volunteers from surrounding clubs, were out on the course to squeegee greens or bail pooled water.
The historic 11th hole-- where amateur Bobby Jones closed out the 1930 Grand Slam, when the U.S. Amateur was played here -- along with the 12th tee were closed all day and is vulnerable to flooding. A creek runs through the middle of the low-lying fairway and the hole has been known to flood even with minimal rain.
The USGA long ago decided to prepare two holes on the nearby West Course just in case the 11th and 12th holes are deemed unplayable, although USGA executive director Mike Davis said such a scenario is highly unlikely.
The USGA long ago decided to prepare two holes on the nearby West Course just in case the 11th and 12th holes are deemed unplayable, although USGA executive director Mike Davis said that scenario is highly unlikely.
"This golf course is not built on sand, but it is maybe the best draining golf course I have ever seen," said Davis, who sets up the course for the U.S. Open. "If you walk this course, you know there's hardly any flat lies at Merion. It surface-drains beautifully.
"[As for 11], when it rains hard you get these streams moving quickly and that's what fills up and ultimately in some cases causes you to go over the 11th green. But we got three and a half inches over roughly 24 hours [Friday] and the course handled it beautifully because it really does surface drain well."
The heavy rain forced the closure of the course Saturday. More rain overnight Sunday had workers scrambling all day.
"I've been here since Friday and I've been studying the course by the yardage book so far," said Masters champion Adam Scott, who did get in a practice round Sunday after having visited the course three weeks ago. "Not so much playing, unfortunately."
Among those who managed to sneak in a few holes were Tiger Woods, who began an abbreviated practice round on the 13th hole. Woods played holes 1 thru 13 on Sunday, then played 13 thru 18 on Monday.