Commentary

At Merion, smaller may not be better

Originally Published: June 13, 2013
By Rick Reilly | ESPN.com

ARDMORE, Pa. -- Reason No. 317 we all love Merion but won't ever be coming back for another U.S. Open: Thomas Gravina came downstairs Thursday to find a bunch of golf pros eating muffins in his living room.

Because Merion is the size of a casserole dish, the Gravinas' kitchen, living room, dining room and library are now the U.S. Open Player Hospitality Center, which means he can walk in his front door nearly any time of the day and find Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson or some other touring pro loitering around his house.

[+] EnlargeMike Weir
Rick Reilly/ESPNMike Weir answers questions in a backyard that's been turned into an interview area for the U.S. Open at Merion.

"I'm sitting there eating breakfast this morning with some guy's kid," says Mike Weir. "He was sitting on the couch, eating, oblivious to us even being there. Their dogs are running around. The guy's wife is coming in and out. We're watching "SportsCenter" and the kid changes over to the Golf Channel. I start to say, 'Hey wait a minute, kid … ' and then I realized, oh, yeah, this is his house."

The Gravinas' backyard? It houses the giant tent that is serving as the Player Locker Room. Why can't they just use Merion's actual locker room? Because it's the size of a U-Store-It (Reason No. 117).

There's no room at Merion for anything beyond 18 holes and a putting green, and even that gets tromped on by groups trying to get to the 14th tee. This course is so small you have to leave the property to sneeze.

David Martinelli's front yard looks like the scene of a daily tractor pull, since all the vans that drop off players at the 14th hole (yes, the 14th hole) drive over his lawn to do it. It's a hole now.

"People see what a wreck our yard is," says Christine Martinelli, David's wife, "and they're like, 'Oh, my god!' But, really, when you think about it, if somebody is going to wreck your grass, who else would you want fixing it than the USGA?"

All these people turned their lives upside down (for no money), so the USGA could shoehorn one last U.S. Open into this little jewel box. But this is getting ridiculous.

The Martinelli back yard is the Volunteer Hospitality tent. The neighbor's backyard and driveway is where the media interview the players. I have never interviewed U.S. Open combatants next to a kids' playhouse before.

There's so little parking, fans have to be bused in from 18 miles away. They're calling 526-yard holes par-4s just to keep the red off the scoreboard. And yet the rest of the course is so short, they've had to make the fairways as narrow as sidewalks.

The whole thing is just, quirky, right?

"Quirky doesn't even begin to cover it," Jay Don Blake said Thursday.

How small is Merion?

Merion is so small that to get from the media center, which is near the 16th tee box (yes, the 16th), to the Martinelli Family Interview Area, vans go through a guy's gate, down his driveway and out the other side. (Reason No. 256). One woman from the Philadelphia Daily News knocked on the people's door in hopes of using the restroom.

Merion is so small, only 25,000 people a day can come watch. At last year's Open, at Olympic in San Francisco, there were 40,000. That's 15,000 people who don't get to see it. The USGA will lose an estimated $10 million this week (Reason No. 118).

Merion is so small there is no decent practice area to speak of, so the players warm up right next to the Gravinas' house, at Merion's West Course, a mile away, or up to 30 minutes in traffic (Reason No. 22).

Can you imagine this in any other sport?

[+] EnlargeDavid Martinelli
Rick Reilly/ESPNDavid Martinelli stands in the yard he has willingly let the USGA wreck to bring players in and out of Merion.

Announcer: Well, the Miami Heat seemed a little cold in this first quarter, possibly because they had to warm up at the Fort Lauderdale YMCA and then bus here.

And yet a very large space at Merion is mostly going to sit empty this week: the big interview room in the media tent.

Players won't be coming to be interviewed in it because to get to it requires Google Maps. Phil Mickelson, for instance, had a two-shot lead when he finished Thursday (after clearly earning a nomination for Father of the Year) and refused to come to the main interview room.

Why? Because he started on 11, finished on 10, had to walk another 1,000 yards to get to the Martinelli Family Scoring Tent and wasn't about to then get in a golf cart and ride 15 minutes to get to the interview room before he navigated the congested one-mile van ride back to the Gravina Family Player Hospitality Area and Locker Room.

Are you starting to see the problem?

Look, Merion is like playing in your favorite grandmother's attic -- the basket pins, the steep wooden staircases in the middle of holes, the giant rock walls that are in play. But it's a rotary dial phone. Ebbets Field was wonderful, too, but we had to give it up.

Trying to force a U.S. Open into the pillbox hat that is Merion is like trying to fit into the pants you wore in high school. We're splitting apart at the seams here.

So enjoy cuddly, furry, wonderful Merion for this one last week. Hopefully, after this, it goes the way of Old Yeller.

Rick Reilly | email

Columnist, ESPN.com