Ardmore, Pa. — The practice range and putting green at the 2013 U.S. Open are located at Merion's West Course, roughly a mile-and-a-half from where this year's championship will be held. Do not try to walk there.
The course at Merion is fantastic, but the logistics are an issue for both the fans and the players. Some players have commented that they will need to leave an extra 15-20 minutes between their practice session and tee time when play begins on Thursday. Others were concerned about missing their tee times altogether because of transportation issues.
What happens with the logistics of the range early in the tournament will be worth watching, but what happened on the range on Wednesday is the focus of this behind-the-ropes look at the 2013 U.S. Open.
Rory on the Range
I had the fortune of standing behind Rory McIlroy while he ran through his bag, hitting mid-irons, fairway woods and his driver while casually chatting with his coach and passersby. He seems utterly composed and ready for the biggest stage in golf, paired with Tiger Woods and Adam Scott for two days.
McIlroy's change to Nike has been a big topic of conversation this season, and he talked about the switch with reporters on Tuesday, saying, "There's always going to be a little bit of a transition period switching over. But I feel like it was—it went as smoothly as it could have. There's always going to be a little time where you have to adjust to new things and find what's right for you."
While McIlroy's iron game looked spot on and his three-wood was, frankly, perfect, he did hit a few wayward tee shots with the driver on the practice range on Wednesday. McIlroy is 106th on the PGA Tour in driving accuracy, hitting just under 59 percent of fairways over 30 competitive rounds this season.
He told reporters he plans to hit the driver off roughly seven holes this week. Those seven holes could be worth keeping an eye on through all four rounds, especially on Merion's tight fairways.
The Adam Scott Validation Tour
Adam Scott seems to be loving life as a major champion. He told the media, "It's a good feeling to come here to know that I've achieved that. I've got my first major. And my sights are definitely set on trying to win more. But it is a nice feeling."
It certainly looked like he was enjoying his time on Wednesday, sauntering through the practice tee on his way to the putting green, two police escorts in tow.
To be fair, Scott did take time after his session to sign autographs for fans, and most prominent players do have at least one police escort. Some of the top players have been seen with more than one.
If you wanted to see the power of winning a major firsthand, however, it was seeing Scott walk by with two officers, followed by Luke Donald—the former top-ranked player in the world—walking completely alone.
With a good tournament this week, Donald may be the next player needing multiple escorts.
Lee Westwood Is Huge
There really is no real note here, other than to say that Lee Westwood is an enormous man. I don't mean that in any derisive way, either.
He's not Craig Stadler enormous; he's NFL linebacker enormous. He's one of those European players who makes you wonder if he would still be a golfer had he been brought up in the American sports culture.
Jason Dufner Dipping
We've all seen the likes of Darren Clarke smoke a cigarette before (I bring it up because I happened to see that myself), but Wednesday was the first time I've actually seen a professional athlete pull out a can of chewing tobacco, smack it against his leg and sneak in a wad of dip on his way to the putting green.
Dufner probably isn't the only player doing it, but it was just so brazenly out in the open and hilarious that it was worth sharing.
Not Cool, Kuchar
Speaking of hilarious and worth sharing, Matt Kuchar had a popped collar on the practice tee after hitting a bucket of balls.
The fourth-ranked player in the world didn't strike me as the popped-collar kind of guy. After seeing it, he still doesn't strike me as the popped-collar kind of guy. (I'm still mad I didn't get a photo.)
Thankfully, by the time he spoke with reporters, Kuchar's collar was back down.
Speaking of Cool…Olazabal and McDowell
Jose Maria Olazabal was stationed on the range right next to Graeme McDowell. That was two generations of cool hitting at the same time. Sadly, only one seems to have a real shot of contending this week at Merion.
Speaking of (Trying to Be) Cool…Rickie Fowler's Coordination
Rickie Fowler had some serious hat game going on for Wednesday's session. Dressed from head to toe in all white, Fowler's hat pattern matched his belt pattern, which matched the same pattern on his shoes.
If the kid isn't the best player not to have a major, he's on the list. He's certainly lobbying to be the best-dressed player not to have a major.
Oh, and the little kids love him. There are more flat-brimmed Puma hats on the course than any other signature attire. Kids may want to play like Rory and Tiger these days, but they want to dress like Rickie.
Jaco Van Zyl Can Flat-Out Mash
Jaco Van Who? This is the beauty of the U.S. Open—any player in the world can qualify to play for our national championship. Van Zyl qualified for Merion in England and comes to America with three wins in 2013 on the South African Sunshine Tour.
Van Zyl will play with Canadians Mike Weir and David Hearn the first two rounds. I have no idea if the guy can play well enough to contend or if he might finish last in the field and miss the cut, but after watching him on the range for a quarter-hour or so, I can state that the guy can absolutely mash. Every drive was straight and bombed.
This could be the year for a relatively anonymous player to win the U.S. Open. I'm not saying it will be Van Zyl, but if it is…you heard it here first.
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