Course suits Simpson's sensibilities
ARDMORE, Pa. -- In Webb Simpson's last competitive round at Merion in the 2005 U.S. Amateur, he lost 4 and 2 to Anthony Kim in the second round.
The 27-year-old Raleigh, N.C., native fell in love with Merion's East course at first sight on a trip there in '04 with his father. He got to hear from an old member the story within the story behind Ben Hogan's famous 1-iron approach in 1950 to the 72nd hole, which helped get him into an 18-hole playoff that the Texan won against Lloyd Mangrum and George Fazio.
Simpson, the former Walker Cup player, is back at Merion as the defending U.S. Open champion. No player has repeated as the winner of this championship since Curtis Strange did it in 1989 at Oak Hill.
"When I played in '05 I instantly fell in love with this golf course," Simpson said. "I grew up on a short golf course and I felt like too many courses nowadays come with a standard 75, 7,600 yards, and Merion is so different.
"We all know it's short, but it's still as hard as other courses. Merion is going to be fun for the viewers, the players and the fans, because [if] you go out and you play well, you shoot a good number."
Simpson was an unlikely winner at the Olympic Club last year. He came into the event off two consecutive missed cuts. At the start of the week, he would have been grateful just to make the cut. He was upset over missing his 15-month-old son's first steps while at the tournament. Now he has a replica of the U.S. Open trophy on order.
Since Olympic, Simpson has had five top-10s, including a second at the RBC Heritage, where he was beaten in a one-hole playoff by Graeme McDowell.
Sounding a familiar refrain about Merion, Simpson says there is not one consistent theme about the Hugh Wilson-designed East course.
"You go through the first 13 holes and if you drive it appropriately you can have nine wedge [approach] shots," he said. "And the last five holes you've kind of got to hang on."
When Simpson won last year with an anchored putting stroke, the USGA was already considering a ban of the controversial method. Late last month, golf's governing bodies confirmed that the ban would begin in January 2016.
Simpson will be wielding the technique when he tees off on Thursday afternoon with U.S. Amateur champion Steven Fox and Ernie Els, who won the Open Championship at Royal Lytham and St. Annes with an anchored putter.
On Tuesday, Simpson talked about the great history of Merion, a setting in stark contrast to the new stadium venues for tournaments. The pins are adorned with baskets instead of flags, making it harder for both players and caddies to determine the wind around the greens.
"We'll never play anything like this," he said. "So it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It's just part of the tradition of Merion."
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The U.S. Open, back at Merion Golf Club for the first time since 1981, will play short. But don't expect it to be easy.