News Column

U.S. Open Assailed by Lightning, Rain and Crowds

June 13, 2013

Chris Palmer

Play at the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club will resume at 12:10 p.m., nearly four hours after play was suspended due to a thunderstorm this morning.

The bullhorn was sounded at 8:36 a.m., forcing players and fans alike off the course to take shelter from the rain and lightning.

Seventeen groups had teed off before the storm, with Ian Poulter leading at three under par after his first three holes. Four players -- Nicolas Colsaerts, Charl Schwartzel, Tim Clark and Charley Hoffman -- were tied at second, at two under par.

Phil Mickelson had played five holes and was at even par. Several of the other big names -- including super-group Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott -- were scheduled for afternoon tee times.

All afternoon tee times will be delayed three hours and 36 minutes.

Thunderstorms were battering the entire region Thursday morning, and there was the chance of another storm this afternoon. More than six inches of rain has dumped on Merion in the past six days; Philadelphia's record rainfall total for the entire month of June is 10.03 inches, set in 1938.

USGA executive director Mike Davis said Wednesday that officials were prepared for the rough weather, even a worst-case scneario of three inches of rain or hail.

The storm sent players and fans seeking shelter; thousands of fans were scurrying under all available tents on the course around 9:45 a.m., when the rain started to intensify. One volunteer at the merchandise tent near the 16th green estimated that nearly 1,000 fans were inside.

"It's a party in there," he said.

Others found a variety of spots to pass the time: hospitality tents, concessions stands, and even under umbrellas out in the open. Two fans, Steve Kuritz, 40, and Kris Lehman, 39, used the opportunity to admire the course without crowds, though a police officer scolded them from afar for not seeking shelter more quickly.

As the rain stopped, around 10:30, fans started funneling back onto the course, hopeful that predictions of afternoon storms would prove inaccurate.

"There's 25,000 optimists walking around," said Stefan Rhodewalt, 31, from Salt Lake City, Utah, standing near the 14th green. "Everyone's trying to put a positive spin on it."

Contact Chris Palmer at 609-217-8305, cpalmer@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter, @cs_palmer.

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