• US Open

Players & organisers fear new storms will wreak havoc

Alex Dimond at Merion June 12, 2013

Heavy rain - and even hail - scheduled for Thursday is expected to cause a variety of problems over the four days at this week's US Open.

Greenstaff at Merion, aided by the United States Golf Association, have worked overtime in order to get the historic golf club's East Course in impressive condition ahead of Thursday's first round, after around six inches of rain fell on the course in the week preceding the tournament.

But further rainstorms on Thursday afternoon - which could morph into hail and high winds - are expected to soak the course once again, forcing staff to repeat their recovery operations on sodden fairways and perhaps even some flooded greens.

That could force a suspension of play (players were brought off the course twice in Monday's deluge), delaying Thursday's late starters into Friday morning and, perhaps, the conclusion of the second round into the weekend.

The USGA are praying they "get lucky" with conditions, having just got the greens and fairways approaching optimum speeds in time for players' final practice rounds on Wednesday.

"Our meteorologist is saying that he doesn't have a definite," USGA executive director Mike Davis said, when asked about fears over the Thursday forecast. "He's looking at models right now, but it could be from quarter to half an inch up to two, three inches [of rain].

"It really depends on what hits us or how lucky or unlucky we are."

He added: "There could be some really high winds with us, potentially damaging winds, even some hail. So, again, that's kind of the worst case scenario. But he is fairly certain that we are going to have some type of weather.

"But it's going to be probably mid-afternoon or later, so I think [Thursday] morning we're looking okay."

Having taken two full days after Monday's downpour to get back into conditions approaching firm and fast, the preferred setup for a US Open, further rain on Thursday would likely see Merion play soft for the players for the entirety of the tournament.

That means scoring is likely to be low for much of the event, especially with dry and mostly still conditions expected over the final three days.

"If we do get enough rain that would probably keep us soft the whole way through Sunday," Davis added. "Which would mean that that element of trying to think about what a golf ball does once it lands [is less of an issue]. When you take that element away from players, and if we wouldn't have wind, that makes for ideal scoring conditions."

However, a drying course tends to throw up a lot of 'mudballs' for players, especially at Merion - where a number of drives are hit into uphill landing zones. Players are concerned about the effect those might have on competition, with some golfers more susceptible to them than others.

"The time when you get mud is usually two days after the rain, when the course starts to firm up," Stewart Cink said on Tuesday. "There really is no tried-and-true method for playing in the mud."

Mud on the ball (which tends to send shots veering in the opposite direction to where it lies; so, if mud is on the right-side of the ball, pros often expect the shot to curve left as much as 30 yards) makes it almost impossible to confidently judge approach shots, adding an unwelcome element of luck to proceedings.

On Tuesday, players lobbied the USGA to consider employing a local rule allowing 'lift, clean, and place' in the fairways if mudballs become common, to take luck out of the equation.

"I think mud balls are a problem," Graeme McDowell said. "I think they're unfair. I think golf is designed to be played from a closely mown fairway. If you hit it in that fairway you deserve a great line and a great opportunity to attack the green surface. That's the reward you get for hitting the fairway.

"When [Merion] bakes and tops a little bit, there's going to be a lot of mud balls.

"I think there's a need for [lift, clean, and place] at times. I get the fact that the USGA and the Masters Committee and the R&A, they don't like giving the golf ball in hand ... because you can use that rule to your advantage.

"[But] I hope they make the right call. If it's picking up mud then I think we need to lift, clean, and place just for a level playing field."

The USGA has traditionally been opposed to ever initiating such a temporary rule, however, and that will remain the case this week.

"It's been a long-standing philosophical point of view from the USGA to not adopt that local rule in our national championships," USGA vice-president Tom O'Toole said, when asked about lift, clean, and place. "And the current championship committee is consistent with that long-standing philosophical point of view.

"We wouldn't be adopting that rule this week. If it was so bad, then the obvious response to that or consequence would be we probably wouldn't be playing."

The 113th US Open is due to get underway at 6.45am on Thursday morning.

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Alex Dimond Close
Alex Dimond is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk