2013 U.S. Open: What happens if Thursday golf is washed away?

A grounds worker uses a squeegee to dry the 16th fairway at Merion. (Michael Bryant/Staff Photographer)

Play halted by rain at a U.S. Open? It has happened before.

As recently as 2009 at Bethpage Black in New York, the first round of the Open was cut very short on Thursday. That year, play was suspended at 10:15 a.m. before many of the players even got a chance to tee off.

More rain Saturday pushed back the third round into Sunday. The delays all added up to most of a final round played on Monday.

What about fans who have one-day passes for Thursday and don't get to see any of the dream grouping of Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Adam Scott scheduled to tee off at 1:14 p.m.?

With heavy rain, thunderstorms, and even a tornado watch likely most of Thursday — and possibly into Friday morning — for the area surrounding this year's Open at Merion Golf Club on the Main Line, the United States Golf Association is already making contingency plans for suspended play. But when asked whether 36 holes would be played on Friday, the second round would be split over Friday afternoon and Saturday morning or a Monday final round is possible, a USGA spokesman declined to give details.

"There are no scenarios that we would discuss at this point," USGA spokesman Jeff Altstadter said Wednesday.

For Thursday single-day ticketholders, the magic number is four: That's how many hours of golf would make those tickets valid. If there is less than four hours of golf played Thursday, officials said, the USGA would consider some form of reimbursement or admittance back to the course one of the following days.

"We've got a ticket policy in place now that basically as long as we complete four hours of play that it will constitute a round having been completed for spectators," USGA senior director Reg Jones said. "If we do not complete four hours of play, then we will look at either a possible refund situation or possibly accommodating those tickets on another day."

Altstadter also recommended fans monitor updates either through the USGA's digital app, "2013 U.S. Open Championship," or follow @usopengolf.

USGA executive director Mike Davis didn't give specifics at a press briefing Wednesday morning, but did mention that planning for major outdoor events like this is often in the hands of Mother Nature — and he's hoping Mother Nature lets the USGA get some of the first round in Thursday.

"It really depends on — this isn't a huge, in terms of a wide front coming our way, but — so it depends on really what hits us or how lucky or unlucky we are," he said. "But it's — let me clarify — it's going to be probably mid‑afternoon or later, too.  So I think tomorrow morning we're looking okay."

One tour professional competing this week, Matt Kuchar, said at a press conference Wednesday that he was impressed by how quickly Merion drained the roughly six inches of rain that fell last weekend into Monday.

I was amazed at hearing how much rain we got Monday to playing yesterday afternoon how dry the course seemed to be.  Really still got some run in the fairways," he said. "Greens were receptive, but still had nice speed on them for the amount of slope they have got.  The rough is thick and nasty.  If you're playing from the rough, you have no chance of scoring here."

Surprisingly, rain delays that cause a round at the U.S. Open to be suspended until the next day are a relatively new phenomenon for the tournament's 113-year history. According to an Associated Press report from 1983, the first time a round failed to be completed on the same day it started occurred that year when the tournament was at Oakmont County Club outside Pittsburgh. The second round of that year's Open was completed Saturday after rain suspended play Friday afternoon.

For fans who have tickets for Thursday's first round at Merion, look away: Two spectators from West Virginia were struck by lightning that day and rushed to a hospital, according to the AP report. Luckily, it appears, both survived.

Philly.com has complete coverage of the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club.

Contact Brian X. McCrone at 215-854-2267 or bmccrone@philly.com. Follow @brianxmccrone on Twitter.