Red lollipops hog limelight!

They look like giant red lollipops on red-and-white sticks and, for first time visitors at the Merion Golf Club for this week's US Open, they stick out like sore thumbs.

They are the unusual wicker baskets which perch atop steel sticks here instead of the traditional flags, a quirk allegedly inspired by what course architect Hugh Wilson saw on a visit to Sunningdale Golf Club in Berkshire, England.

Shaped like an egg, the baskets are part of Merion's logo and most of the players competing here this week have warmly embraced the idea of firing at pins where there is no flag fluttering to give them a sense of wind direction.

"We'll never play anything like this, so it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said defending champion Webb Simpson.

"It's different. It's just part of the tradition of Merion, part of the tradition of the club. I was pretty excited about it. It's fun. It's different for us.

"I honestly think it will make us make decisions quicker. We're sitting there a lot of times and we see one flag over here blowing that way and a flag over here blowing that way and we get confused and second guess."

While Simpson believes most of his fellow players will be equally intrigued by the wickers on the iconic East Course at Merion this week, he was not so sure about the caddies.

"I don't think the caddies are happy about them," smiled the American, who clinched his first major title by one shot in last year's US Open at the brutally difficult Olympic Club outside San Francisco.

"They don't like it because they can't tell the wind (direction), so it makes their job harder. They might be a little on edge to keep their job this week."

Northern Irish World No 2 Rory McIlroy, US Open champion at Congressional in 2010, felt he and his caddy JP Fitzgerald would have no problem assessing wind direction, despite the lack of flags.

Play suspended

Play was suspended due to the threat of lightning under darkening clouds early in Thursday's first round.

The siren sounded after just under two hours of play had been possible at rain-softened Merion Golf Club where severe thunderstorms and high winds have been forecast for later in the day.

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