The Old Man of the Main Line undoubtedly heard the talk. The pros were coming back and, like kids who return to a playground from their youth, they were supposed to find the place a lot smaller than anyone remembered.
It would be too small for their souped-up equipment and their Cybex-tuned bodies, and heaven help the place if it rained and the pros didn't have to worry about their shots bouncing off a runway-hard surface.
The Old Man laughed quietly. There's more to the game of golf - and to the game of life, thank goodness - than mere yardage. There's more than one way to befuddle the best players in the sport. There are some tricks they rarely have to solve. So, come on out and let's see what happens. Old Man Merion was ready to teach a new generation some ancient lessons.
On Thursday, the education began, and while it wasn't always pretty, the Merion Golf Club East Course layout held its own during the soggy and unfinished first round of the U.S. Open. The course has been pelted by rain for much of the last week, including Thursday morning and again in the early evening. While that may have solved one problem for the pros, it also created some others.
The experts who predicted that someone would come out and shoot a 62 or 63 during a round of the Open, or that the winner would easily be double digits under par for the tournament, seem to have left their predictions buried in the deep rough.
"Anyone who says that, I'd like to see them play this course and see what they'd shoot," said Nick Watney, who carded a 3-over 73 on Thursday and didn't think he played all that badly. "It'll take a hell of an effort [to win]. I read a lot of stuff about this course being easy. If you just look at the yardage, you might perceive it to be easy, but this is still a very difficult golf course."
Of the 78 players who completed their rounds on Thursday, only two - Phil Mickelson (-3) and Nicolas Colsaerts (-1) - finished better than par. Some of those scheduled to complete the first round on Friday will undoubtedly go a stroke or two under as well, but the anticipated bloodbath of red numbers on the scoreboard isn't taking place.
"I don't think it's going to play any easier than it did today," said Englishman John Parry, who shot a 76. "It's going to dry out and it will be harder to keep in the fairways. Everyone is going to have a day when they're 3-over, so I think level [even par] or 1-under could win."
That's a far cry from the thought that this year's Open could be a reflection of the 2011 event, when Rory McIlroy shot 16-under on a soggy Congressional course. Combine that with Merion's somewhat creaky reputation and the undeniable fact that its 6,996-yard layout is the shortest for a major in almost a decade, and the fears were understandable.
Even Merion's Open history painted the same picture. Olin Dutra won in 1934 at 13-over. Ben Hogan won in a 1950 playoff after shooting 7-over for the first four rounds. Lee Trevino was even-par to win the 1971 Open, and David Graham took that down to 7-under in 1981. Could anyone doubt that trend might continue and there would be some humiliation in Merion's future?
Well, the stewards who got the Old Man primped and ready for the 2013 event might have doubted it. Ten of the 18 holes were altered in anticipation of this Open. Five of the holes were given new back tees to lengthen things a bit. Three of the holes got new bunkers to make the shot decisions a little tougher. The other two holes had their fairways shifted to make the landing areas more difficult to hit. There was also some rebuilding of a green here and there to add slope or enable tougher pin placement. Put it all together and the reports of Merion's demise were a figment of the yardage book.
"I think it's holding up just fine," Steve Stricker said. "Look at the conditions: It's soft, there's not a lot of wind and what's leading? Three under par."
"Anybody in that commentary box has never given this golf course enough respect," said Ian Poulter. "They were joking around and laughing [about] 63s and 62s, and just look at the board. They need to respect this golf course. It's brutal."
The brutality is hidden, but it is there. It is hidden in the awful rough that snags errant shots, in the quirky undulations of the greens, and in the very thing that would seem to make the course vulnerable. The course isn't easy because it allows the golfers to hit shorter clubs. It is difficult because it requires them to do so.
"Even though it's short, it plays long because you have to hit shorter clubs off the tee to stay safe," Bubba Watson said. "It's a beast. A couple of guys are going to be under par by the end of the week, but Merion's probably going to win."
The Old Man will like that, because the children should have known better. The playground doesn't have to be big to be dangerous.