Phil, Tiger, Luke, Justin and Merion GC Produce a Surprising US Open Champ

Kathy BissellCorrespondent IJune 18, 2013

HIghlight of Mickelson's final round was a hole out from the 10th fairway.
HIghlight of Mickelson's final round was a hole out from the 10th fairway.Andrew Redington/Getty Images

The U.S. Open was like the potpourri category on Jeopardy, everything from English history to agronomy. 

It was unpredictable. It was a challenge to complete.  It was made more difficult than it needed to be.  

Phil Mickelson suffered, in his own words, another heartbreak. Tiger Woods experienced  frustration and another injury.  Luke Donald's ordinarily excellent game crumbled before our eyes.

Meanwhile, relative newcomers showed up briefly, as they are supposed to do, Billy Horschel had amazingly bad Sunday pants and Hunter Mahan looked like he dressed in the dark one day. 

Only Justin Rose was steady enough to get to the 18th without a severe hiccup.  Finishing a couple of groups ahead of the leaders may have made it somewhat easier for him. When he made his last putt at the 18th, it appeared he felt he had won the U.S. Open. 

On site, it was hard for people to get around the course.  There were numerous areas where no galleries could goonly police escorts, caddies and players.  A spectator's Debbie Downer.

The U.S. Open did have big-name challengers and a winner we already knew.  It was just not a lot of fun for anyone, except Rose.  

This time around, the USGA missed the opportunity to provide a chance at a crowning moment for one of golf's most popular champions and have the 2013 U.S. Open take its place among the U.S. Opens of yore. 

What should have happened—Mickelson winning after finishing second five times—didn't. So this will not be a Bobby Jones Grand Slam or Hogan playoff U.S. Open.  It will simply be the U.S. Open, where the USGA used all manner of trickery to make an already difficult course a gazillion times harder.  

Take nothing away from Rose.  He went out and took the course by as many body parts as he could tie down, and he won it.  He was absolutely the conquering hero, but nearly everyone's heart tugged just a little when Mickelson came up short again. 

Well, OK, maybe Woods didn't feel that way.

Because of the setup, Merion was more unrelenting than necessary. Why have a 260-yard par-three uphill and into the wind? Who's the psycho wanting that?  Almost nobody could get to the green. 

The members and superintendent at Merion Golf Club must have decided that there was no way they were going to have the score be under par, no matter what.  They were not going to be Congressional, where Rory McIlroy won with a record low score on a wet golf course. 

What can you say about Mickelson except that he lipped out enough putts to have won easily? Was it nerves, or was it the fact that the soft greens got trampled near the hole, making balls do some kind of a funny zig-zag as they approached the cup?

They looked like they were going in then suddenly curved out and back in after passing the hole. It was almost like the hole and the ball were identical fields of magnet poles repelling each other.  

Now, Mickelson can be as good a whiffer as anybody when it comes to putts, but even when he has a bad patch, he's not that bad. Nobody has greens that break outward three inches away from the hole on all sides. 

But Merion did. 

Something was wrong there.  The putting alone was enough to make one wonder if the staff setting the pins didn't actually lift up the turf where the pins were located to make all putts break away from the hole.  

I don't know if that's even possible.  It could simply have been that the ground around the holes became trampled down due to the wet conditions, and those areas remained higher than the cup.

Woods was going along fine until he winced after hitting out of the rough. Why is it not enough for the USGA to find a difficult course? The USGA seems fixated on actually having grass so deep that players can hurt themselves.  Woods said he injured himself at The Players, but we didn't see it in Ponte Vedra Beach.   If he tweaked anything, he kept it secret, which of course, he has a right to do.

Bermuda grass at TPC Sawgrass is difficult, but it is different than the shoe-covering rough at Merion.  What is the staff thinking when it  provides conditions that endanger golfers again?  See Mickelson at Oakmont. Of course, he also missed his share of putts.

It seemed the time was ripe for Luke Donald to take charge, but he melted before our eyes.  It was a complete turnaround from the golfer who stared down world No. 1  Lee Westwood in a playoff at the BMW International. 

What did Merion do to Luke?  Was he afraid of re-injuring his wrist?  Was he just not sharp on Sunday?  Was he also just too nervous about his excellent chance? 

Rose may not know it yet, but his life changed more than anyone's on Sunday. He has the kind of personality that may allow him to be unaffected by it all.   However, he will carry England on his shoulders for the rest of his career.

He will be knighted OBE, MBE or one of those titles the Queen confers on the likes of Nick Faldo and Tony Jacklin.  People will wear masks of his face at the British Open.  His life in England may become Beatle-like, but at Lake Nona in Orlando, he will be fine.  The value of his house has gone up in the last week.  A U.S. Open trophy will do that.

While Rose has not been a prolific winner in the US, he has won on good golf courses against very strong fields.  He is certainly not as unlikely a winner as Webb Simpson was last year.  The 2012 Ryder Cup taught Rose he was as good as anybody.

Beating Mickelson head-to-head in match play in Chicago no doubt gave Rose the confidence that he could beat him in stroke play at Merion.  Rose stayed out of trouble, and if he was nervous on the greens (let's assume he was), he controlled it better than anybody else and got lucky with putts at the right time.  

Finally, there was Merion Golf Club.  It's a scenic course but is also severe—maybe not quite as penal as Oakland Hills, in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., but not far from it.  It is reminiscent of Oakland Hills on a smaller scale with such pretty baubles around the holes as shaggy bunkers and comforting looking trees. It has a gentle look for a hard course. 

Oakland Hills, which is more sparse visually, plays tough because there are so many holes that play to uphill greens, some of them severely uphill.  In that regard, Merion Golf Club is not unlike it. At least 11 of Merion's holes are significantly uphill.

That is the toughest kind of golf to play because it adds hard-to-judge distance to a shot.  It's the actual length plus having to land on a target that may be obscured or adjusting yardage because the ball is going to land on a green before it reaches the end of its downward arc.  That makes it harder to judge the kind of shot required.  Add wind, and it's a recipe for bad moons rising.  

If I were a member of Merion Golf Club (and make no mistake, I'm not), I'd feel a little disappointed that the course wasn't enough for the professionals and had to be so severely doctored.  The reason I say that is one of my friends played media day at Merion, where they played every shot off mats so as not to disturb the turf. He's a scratch, and he shot in the 70s.  That is also the reason media types thought it might not be enough for the pros. 

By trickery and turf trouble and fast, fast, fast greens, along with super-narrow fairways and setups like the par-three that almost nobody on the PGA Tour could reach (some even when they hit driver), the USGA again showed that when it comes to messing with a perfectly good golf course, nobody is better than they are. 

It was perfect car-wreck golf, and that's their specialty.  But it might have been more fun to watch if there had been a few birdies here and there, something that allowed for a player to charge up the leaderboard instead of falling down it.


Kathy Bissell is a Golf Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand or from official interview materials from the USGA, PGA Tour or PGA of America.