J.J. Jakovac got to play Merion Golf Club’s East Course a couple of years ago.
There is a noticeably different look and feel this week. The fairways are narrower and the rough is super long. You can count on some fast greens and tough pin placements.
The 113th U.S. Open Championship is taking place at Merion, located in Ardmore, Pa., this week.
“It’s all tight, that really close feel, where everything is so close together and there’s not a lot of room for spectators,” said Jakovac, a Vintage High School graduate and former Chico State All-American, who caddies for PGA Tour player Ryan Moore.
“You’ve definitely got to take advantage of the shorter holes. You’ve got to try to limit your mistakes and try not to make any doubles and then try to birdie the short holes.”
The U.S. Open, golf’s second major of the year, starts today. The U.S. Golf Association has set up Merion as a par-70, 6,996-yard layout.
Merion is the shortest course for a major championship since the 2004 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills.
“It’s all about mind-set in these things — if your attitude’s good and you can be patient,” Jakovac said Wednesday. “It’s going to be a little lower scoring, because it’s soft. But I’ll tell you what, if this golf course was playing like they wanted it to, it would have been crazy hard, because they have the rough like six inches long. You can barely find your ball.
“They make it penalizing on the short holes if you miss the fairway. On the long holes if you just miss the fairway, it’s somewhat reasonable in most spots.”
There are 156 players, which includes 10 amateurs, in the field. Webb Simpson is the defending champion.
Simpson won at Olympic Club in San Francisco last year, finishing at 1-over-par for a one-stroke victory over Graeme McDowell and Michael Thompson, for his first major title.
“When I played in (2005) I instantly fell in love with this golf course,” said Simpson. “I grew up on a short golf course. Too many courses nowadays come with a standard 7,500, 7,600 yards and Merion is so different. We all know it’s short, but it’s still as hard as other courses.
“Merion is going to be fun for the viewers, the players and the fans. You go out and you play well, you shoot a good number. Whereas you go out and you don’t play well, you can shoot a really high number.”
The course, designed by Hugh Wilson and opened in 1914, has Scottish-styled bunkers. Wicker baskets painted orange and red are attached to the pins, instead of the traditional flag. It’s the first U.S. Open at Merion since 1981, but the course has hosted 18 USGA championships.
“The U.S. Open’s always a very special tournament, a tournament that all the guys look forward to,” Rory McIlroy said on asap sports. “They call it the toughest test in golf and it’s a pity that it has rained so much the last few days and might not play as tough as it usually does. But it’s still going to be a good test out there and you’re still going to have to play some good golf.”
Merion will put up a defense with its longer holes. Moore hit 3-iron and 9-iron on the par-4, 360-yard seventh hole and then hit 5-iron and wedge on the par-4, 359-yard eighth hole in practice rounds.
“It kind of forces your hand that you have to hit 3-iron and 5-iron on those holes, because there’s not really anywhere to hit a 3-wood. It’s not worth it, because of the rough,” said Jakovac.
Moore played nine holes Tuesday and nine holes Wednesday as practice rounds.
Moore is No. 47 in the World Golf Rankings and is 67th among PGA Tour FedExCup Leaders.
“He’s playing well, it should be a good tournament for him. He hits a lot of fairways generally. He’s hitting it good and playing well,” said Jakovac.
Moore is a former U.S. Amateur and U.S. Public Links champion, a four-time All-America at UNLV, and the 2005 collegiate player of the year.
As a caddie, Jakovac gets 10 percent of a first-place finish. On top of that, he gets a weekly salary.
“It’s fun. It’s definitely a great job,” he said. “I hope to stay with Ryan for a long time.”
At one time, Jakovac was pursuing his own PGA Tour card. He was a three-time NCAA Division II All-American at Chico State and twice won the NCAA Div. II individual national title. He was named the winner of the Jack Nicklaus Award as the nation’s top Division II golfer in 2004.
He played with Moore on the Palmer Cup team in college and qualified for the U.S. Amateur at Winged Foot. He won the Northern California Golf Association Public Links title.
He also played mini tour golf as a professional, ranging from Hooters Tour and Gateway to Cleveland Golden State, Pepsi and Spanos.
Jakovac has had his amateur status reinstated by the U.S. Golf Association.