Monday 23 October 2017

Merion Diary: Westwood weaves around wicker woes

Short Chips

LEE WESTWOOD isn't the only player to run foul of Merion Golf Club's world-famous 'wicker baskets' at the US Open, but the Worksop man moaned the loudest!

Westwood shared the tournament lead on three-under with Phil Mickelson until his approach shot to 12 cannoned off the oval basket atop the pin and back down the slope in front of the green, contributing to a double-bogey six.

He performed like a real basket-case after that. Westwood played his remaining 24-holes in eight-over as rounds of 70 and 77 left him dangling perilously close to the projected cut line on seven-over.

"Yeah, well, I did hit it," he said yesterday, adding tartly: "But Peter Dawson (R&A Chief Executive) has reassured me that for the Open Championship, we'll be going back to flags like a normal tournament."

Catty, eh?

Wicker baskets haven't been seen at a pro event in 32 years since the US Open last visited Merion in 1981. Their origin here is not exactly clear, though wicker baskets predated flags in England and Scotland in the mid-1850's.

The only documentary evidence of their use at Merion dates from 1915, when club superintendent Bill Flynn acquired a patent for the hand-made baskets.

As Westwood discovered, if a ball bounces off a wicker basket, it's just bad luck. If it becomes lodged, however, he places his ball right beside the cup.

The egg-shaped wicker baskets, which are red on the front nine and orange on the back, are the iconic symbol of this year's US Open.

Yet souvenir hole flags are still available in the merchandising tent ... presumably because it'd be difficult to get the wicker baskets autographed!

Tomorrow's champion will receive a wicker basket yet the tradition of the winning caddie squirreling-away the 18th hole 'flag' for himself may be difficult to maintain.

LOCALS WELCOME STAR HOUSE-MATES

MERION is so 'tiny' the US Open has overflowed onto neighbouring properties, with the owners of salubrious homes receiving a reported $45,000 each for allowing their buildings and gardens to be used by the tournament.

For example, the US Open Player Hospitality Centre this week actually is the kitchen, living room, dining room of the Gravinas family home, meaning they can walk in their front door and find Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy or Phil Mickelson.

This led to this amusing anecdote from Canada's former Masters champion Mike Weir: "I'm sitting there eating breakfast this morning with some guy's kid. 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 ... ' Then I realised, oh, yeah, this is his house!"

HOSEY HELPS PHELAN TO WALK THE WALK

IS it any wonder young Irishman Kevin Phelan was able to keep his mind on the job during the impressive first-round 71, best of the 10 amateurs playing in this year's US Open.

Phelan recently completed four years studying at the University of North Florida ... and he majored in psychology.

The 22-year-old still has a couple of practical tests to complete before he can graduate, though his primary ambitions right now are to make the GB&I team at September's Walker Cup then on to Tour Q-School.

Born in New York, but reared in Waterford until he was nine, Phelan still speaks with an Irish accent, as do his parents, John and Josephine.

Dad John played international squash and his former Ireland team-mate, Willie Hosey from Carlow, the reigning world Over-50s champion, travelled from his current home in Toronto to walk the fairways with Phelan this week.

FAMILY FIRST FOR ROUND-TRIP LEFTY

ANYONE who knows Phil Mickelson was not surprised in the least by his decision to make a 5,492-mile round trip from Philadelphia to San Diego and back this week to attend his daughter Amanda's graduation from eighth grade.

The American golfing icon made plain his determination always to put his family before his job 14 years ago when his wife Amy was due to give birth to Amanda as the 1999 US Open came to its climax in Pinehurst. All week, Mickelson insisted if Amy went into labour, he'd go straight home, regardless of how well he was doing in the tournament.

In fact, Lefty pushed Payne Stewart all the way to a dramatic final putt on US Open Sunday, which always falls on Father's Day, before settling for the first of his record five runner-up finishes at his national championship.

Famously, newly crowned champion Stewart, who would pass away later that year, grabbed Mickelson by the hand and consoled him with the words: "You're going to be a father!" Amy gave birth to their daughter two days later.

Mickelson's overnight flight back from Carlsbad to the US Open touched down at 4.30 in the morning, less than three hours before his tee-time, the Californian proving he got his priorities right by shooting a splendid 67 to lead by one.

Irish Independent

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