There are, of course, players who believe this should be a non-issue.
“That’s golf,” said David Graham, who won the most recent Open at Merion, in 1981. “It’s just the luck of the draw.”
But it can have a real impact. At the 2009 Masters — another tournament at which organizers don’t allow lift, clean and place — Kenny Perry was in a playoff with Angel Cabrera and came to his ball at the bottom of a hill in the 10th fairway. He found mud caked to the right side of his ball. He thought that would make his approach fly left, and told his caddie so.
“It’s a tough deal,” Perry said afterward.
“You don’t know quite what it’s going to do.”
The ball, indeed, flew left, but farther than Perry figured. He missed the green, made bogey, and lost the Masters.
Trevino, for one, put it on players to adjust to the conditions.
He said if mud balls are a problem — and this usually happens in the days after the rain, when the fairways start to cake up a bit — players shouldn’t hit the ball as high.
“I went so low that it cleaned itself before it stopped rolling,” he said. “You think that’s funny, but it’s true.”
But others argued that it’s not that easy anymore. Newer balls, argued Steve Stricker, are designed to spin less so that they launch higher. But with less spin, mud adheres more easily.
“Mud takes spin off,” Stricker said, “so it doesn’t take much mud to really affect that ball.”
Think about that as the rains fall Thursday at Merion, and wonder about it when there are errant shots from the middle of the fairway over the weekend. At some level, this is nothing more than pampered pros complaining about otherwise ideal conditions. At another, it could determine the outcome of the U.S. Open.
“We’re going to have to deal with it, I think,” Stricker said. “And yeah, it could decide who the champion is here this week, unfortunately.”