ARDMORE — A former Mountain Top resident is playing a major role in this week’s U.S. Open golf tournament.
Mike Kachurak, a graduate of Crestwood High School and Delaware Valley College, is the assistant course superintendent at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, site of the 113th U.S. Open.
“The course is in great shape and we didn’t get as much rain as was predicted,” said Kachurak. “But we’ve been getting ready for this event for more than three years.”
Kachurak said less than a half inch of rain had fallen Thursday as the first round began. But because heavy rains followed, forcing two delays, the first round won’t be completed until this morning.
Kachurak, 23, is the son of Dave and Susan Kachurak of Mountain Top. His brother, Matt, is enrolled in the PGA apprentice program, studying to be a golf professional.
“Obviously, we’re very proud of Mike and all the hard work he’s done to get where he is,” Dave Kachurak said.
Mike Kachurak said he served two internships at Merion while in college and was hired right after graduation. He hopes to someday become superintendent at Merion, he said.
When the club received word that it would host the 2013 Open some three years ago, preparations began immediately to get the course ready for championship play. The U.S. Open is one of professional golf’s four major tournaments, the others being The Masters, British Open and PGA Championship.
“We’ve been preparing for this week for three years,” he said. “We’ve built new tee boxes, shifted fairways (to allow for different angles to the greens) and added bunkers. We’ve basically been maintaining the championship condition of the course for the past year.”
The Open is being played on Merion’s East Course. The club also has a West Course.
Kachurak said all of the preparations for the Open were done under the watchful eye of the U.S. Golf Association.
“We’ve definitely made the course more challenging,” he said.
The golfers always like to comment about conditions at Open courses, but Kachurak said he and the staff at Merion don’t take those comments to heart. “We like to talk to the pros during practice week and we ask them how the course is playing,” he said. “We pass those comments on to Matt Shaffer, our director of golf course operations, at our meetings.”
Kachurak said when he was in high school he decided he wanted to pursue a career in which he could get free golf. He worked on the grounds crew at Blue Ridge Golf Course near his home under the direction of Duane Schell, superintendent.
“The more I worked there, the more I got into it and I knew it was what I wanted to do when I got out of college,” he said.
Kachurak said he’s played a lot of golf at Valley Country Club in Conyngham and at Wyoming Valley Country Club in Hanover Township. “Those two courses are where I developed into a pretty good player,” he said.
The job demands long hours. Kachurak said during the week of the Open, he arrives at work at 3 a.m. and gets on the course by 4:30 a.m. He said he doesn’t leave the club until 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. His normal summer hours are 4:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
So how much of that free golf does he enjoy? Kachurak said he’s only played Merion about six times in his four years there. He said he usually cards around 80 from the members’ tees.
“Actually, I only get to play golf about 10 times a year,” he said.
Kachurak said he will be on duty through the weekend. He and the staff are charged with maintaining the best possible conditions for the tournament. “We’ll be hanging around the maintenance building all day,” he said.
Members at Marion sometimes get antsy when their course gets championship treatment that make it even more difficult to play, Kachurak said. “But they understand what we’re doing and they want this tournament at their course,” he said.
Most golf course have flag sticks on the greens with flags that help golfers determine wind direction and velocity. At Merion, wicker baskets adorn the top of the flag sticks.
“There was quite a bit of discussion when the pros found out we weren’t going to use flags and we were staying with the wicker baskets,” Kachurak said. “But they got over it, though. The baskets are part of the history of Merion dating back to early 1900s.”
On the Merion Golf Club website, it states the wicker baskets’ origin is a mystery to this day.
As far as his prediction for the Open, Kachurak said he thinks the course sets up well for Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland, who won the 2010 Open at Pebble Beach.