Gary Koch on the U.S. Open

The U.S. Open Championship returns to the iconic Merion Golf  Club in suburban Philadelphia this week and expect the unexpected. This an old-school golf course designed in 1910 by Hugh Wilson.

The narrow fairways and the lighting-fast greens will challenge the world’s best golfers. After all, that is exactly what a U.S. Open course is supposed to do, and we expect that Merion will not disappoint.


The famous quarry hole at Merion one of the many tough challenges that face the field at the U.S. OPEN the weekend. (Photo credit: Golf Digest.)

will have all four days of the second major of 2013 covered from the first shot Thursday through the final putt on Sunday. There will be a combined 110 hours of coverage between NBC and the Golf Channel. Radio all four days will be on Sirus XM with the broadband on Watch ESPN and NBC Sports Extra.

ESPN has live coverage Thursday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and again from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., with NBC picking up the coverage between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.

NBC takes over Saturday and Sunday with live coverage from 1 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

The pride of King High School and the University of Florida Gary Koch will take up his usual role as a key member of the NBC U.S. Open coverage team. As the rain drenched the course earlier this week we talked via conference call about the many challenges Merion presents.

JW: What makes Merion so special?

Koch: I think it’s going to be a very unique U.S. Open.  I remember from playing there in ’81; the golf course always had what I would call an intimate feel, and I think that’s because it’s on such a small piece of property.  There are so many of the holes that are almost right next to each other and right on top of each other.  I also think of the uniqueness of Merion with the wicker baskets on top of the flagsticks rather than flags is something that is unique to Merion and a hindrance to the players.  You can’t tell the wind direction at the green how the flag is blowing because there aren’t any flags on top of the flagsticks.

JW: What about the narrow fairways?

Koch: I think they will be in the 26  even 28 yard wide range as far as the width of the fairways.  I think because of the width being as tight as they are, even the guys that can hit the ball a long way you’re still going to have to hit it straight.  If you don’t hit it straight, then the length is really not going to be to your advantage at all.  This course really rewards the guys who can be consistently accurate. Being a big hitter here if you miss the fairway is of no value.

JW: What about Tiger Woods is he the favorite? Who else can win it?

Koch: I think if Tiger has that Stinger shot working off the tee as we saw at THE PLAYERS, I think he’s going to be very tough to beat.  If there’s one area of his game that I think if he doesn’t win, I think it will be his putting.  Now he’s putted great the majority of this year, especially since he got the tip from Steve Stricker at Doral.

But if you go back and look at majors that he’s played in here in the last few years when he has had a chance to win, he’s not putted and hasn’t made the putts as he did earlier on in his career when he was winning on a regular basis in the majors.  So that would be the one area that I would look for if he does not win.

Guys that I think have a chance, I like the way Graeme McDowell is playing.  He’s won a U.S. Open, finished second last year, but he’s won a couple of times here in the last month or so, once on the U.S. TOUR now and now again on the European Tour.  For me this golf course sets up well for him.  He is a strategic type player and not what we call a bomber by any means.  I would think that he should do very well here.

Another guy I like here is Steve Stricker.  Steve’s never been that close to winning a major, and you’ve got to think it may be a shorter golf course like this will suit him a little bit more.  We all know he’s known for his wedge play and his putting, and maybe if those two things are working as well as we know they’re capable of, then he can have a real good week and a chance to win.