Merion's size means big changes, less revenue for U.S. Open

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Merion's size means big changes, less revenue for U.S. Open

Have a house in Ardmore? If you can't rent it out -- more like, if you haven't already -- maybe you can host a corporate-sponsored tent on your lawn.

We're now six weeks away from the 2013 U.S. Open to be held at the Merion Golf Club from June 13-16. So for the next month-plus, you'll still be able to drive on Haverford Rd., Ardmore Ave. and the other surrounding thoroughfares.

And then, the week of the Open, you won't be able to get within miles of the place without a ticket or some solid documentation.

The U.S. Open hasn't been held at Merion -- or any other Philadelphia-area venue -- since 1981. The common misconception has been that the USGA was hesitant to return to Merion because the course, constructed in 1912, is too short by modern standards and lacks the room to undergo the kind of aggressive redesign other classic tracks have opted for over the last decade.

Plenty of tweaks have been made to the layout in advance of the tournament (see story), but the real issue with Merion, according to USGA executive director Mike Davis, was never actually about golf.

"It had nothing to do with the golf course in terms of how it played, in terms of a test of golf. But it had everything to do with how do you fit a modern day U.S. Open on this 111 acres," Davis said at Monday's media day.

"This would never have happened with some really out-of-the-box thinking from some key people here at Merion. … And to think that you're going to have a practice range a mile down the road at Merion's West Course, to think that there's neighbors here that would give up their lawns, their houses, to have different functions in them. Merion, the club, acquired some property.

"You've got a situation where, well, there's just so many out-of-the-box things that had to happen for this to occur that it's great."

Out of the box -- like co-opting the East Course's main putting green and turning it into the new 14th tee. Or having tour pros go through all their pre-round preparation about a mile from the course they'll actually be playing. Or starting those players on holes No. 1 and 11, rather than the traditional 1 and 10, because the 10th tee is up a hill, into the woods and butted up against a fence, separating it from someone's backyard.

Those people should have a nice view.

"If anybody out there feels that the logistics were not complex in putting on a U.S. Open," said Rick Ill, chairman of the Open at Merion, "I have found out firsthand that the word of the day is logistics. Especially in an area that is as small as Merion in regard to the golf course and the surroundings."

So while other tournaments can fit the majority of the event's constituent parts all on one piece of land, Merion and the USGA had to think "outside the box," meaning outside the property.

The players will warm up on Merion's West Course -- just down Ardmore Ave. from the East, where the tournament will be contested -- the East's putting green is out of commission for the reason previously stated, and the U.S. Open merchandise tent and media center are currently occupying the driving range.

So the players, just like the fans, will have to be shuttled onto the East's grounds. The surrounding roads will all be closed the week of tournament play.

Speaking of the fans, there will be fewer than usual. Merion, as unique as it is, is very much like a number of the other local courses built roughly a century ago -- tee boxes are right next to greens, holes run parallel to roads, and there isn't a ton of extra room.

Consequently, there won't be more than 25,500 fans on the course on any one day. During a typical Open week -- like the ones at Congressional and Olympic Club in the last two years -- the USGA typically welcomes something like 230,000 spectators. Fewer fans, of course, means fewer dollars, too.

"We don't look at this as a one-year financial exercise," championship committee chairman Tom O'Toole said. "We look over a period of years and we're perfectly comfortable that we could come back and have a less financially significant Open, but with the history here and what's gone on and what we think the experience is going to be here in 2013, we would be excited to have that opportunity again.

"Our board of directors deserves a lot of credit," Davis added. "Because for us this is taking what has become just a huge championship and saying, 'You know what? For the good of the game, we can't not come back to a place like this. It's too important from an historical standpoint, and it means too much architecturally and it's still a great test of golf.' So credit to our board of directors that they were willing to take an Open and shrink it in terms of the number of people and corporate and so on."

Some of the usual hospitality tents will remain on-site, or just slightly off it. A few of the private homes that sit beside the 14th and 15th holes will have those tents plopped on their lawns come June. Most of the other corporate hospitality areas, however, will be erected down the road at Haverford College.

There will even be something called the U.S. Open Experience staged at Independence Mall, with "interactive exhibits where fans can recreate historical moments from Merion's U.S. Open history or learn about the science behind the game at a mini‑replica of the 14th hole putting green to U.S. Open merchandise and Jumbotron viewing of live golf, Independence Mall will be the next best place to be part of all the U.S. Open action," according to Davis.

In all, it's an undertaking that requires not only the formal USGA staff and Merion's 1,200 members but also a team 5,000 volunteers all working together to bring the club it's fifth U.S. Open.

"Many questioned whether we could stage a U.S. Open at Merion, from a pure operations perspective," O'Toole said. "But all of the officers and staff here at Merion knew it could be done. We wish to thank them for getting us here, and for their role in preparing for what we expect will be a memorable 113th U.S. Open Championship."

2017 Eagles Cost Analysis, DT: What will it cost to re-sign Bennie Logan?

2017 Eagles Cost Analysis, DT: What will it cost to re-sign Bennie Logan?

Bennie Logan set new career highs for the Eagles in 2016 with 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles, although clearly the bar was low in those particular categories. But while the four-year veteran maybe made a few more big plays than in years past, he was less active overall after making the switch from the nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme to a defensive tackle in a wide-nine, 4-3 alignment.

After racking up at least 55 tackles in his first full two seasons as a starter, Logan managed only 24 in his new role. And while he doubled his quarterback hits from three over 2014-15 to six, his tackles for loss were cut almost in half, from eight, then nine, to five.

Logan did miss three games with a hip injury, which who knows how that might've affected him over the final eight games. In the four contests prior to getting hurt, he already had 2.0 sacks, a forced fumble, three quarterback hits and three tackles for loss, so there was a marked difference in impact beforehand.

Regardless, that must make it difficult for the Eagles to evaluate his performance, which is kind of a problem, because Logan is due to become a free agent. How does the front office go about determining his value in this defense?

It's not an easy question, and the first thing you have to ask is who takes Logan's place in the starting lineup? In terms of an in-house replacement, the individual numbers don't indicate a huge drop-off with Beau Allen. Allen only recorded a 0.5 sack and failed to force a fumble in '16, but finished with five more tackles, the same number of tackles for loss and one less quarterback hit than Logan in 55 fewer snaps.

The Eagles would need to address depth at the position if they went with Allen, but that path wouldn't necessarily cost as much money as retaining Logan. A proven disruptor up the middle — especially in the right scheme — can command a lot on the open market.

Take a look at the contract fellow LSU product Michael Brockers got from the Rams back in September. Brockers received a three-year extension worth over $33 million with $18 million guaranteed. Granted, a lot of that is tied to a roster bonus he doesn't seem poised to be with the club to earn in 2017, but even just his salary for last season totalled nearly $7 million.

That was coming off a season in which Brockers posted 44 tackles, 3.0 sacks, zero forced fumbles, eight tackles for loss and six quarterback hits. Those are a step up from Logan's totals in '16, but not necessarily better than some of his previous campaigns.

Again, it's difficult to determine Logan's exact value, but to the right team, he could certainly be worth upwards of $5-6 million per year. Tough to say whether the Eagles would be willing to go there, especially given their tight cap situation.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES UNDER CONTRACT

Fletcher Cox
Age: 27*
Cap Number: $9,400,000

Cox probably didn't live up to the expectations that come with a contract worth $100 million — the second-highest total for his position — but he's still one of the most dominant interior linemen in the league. The five-year veteran better get used to the fact that he's going to face constant double-teams the next few years, because the Eagles don't have a pure pass-rush specialist on the edge who can take over games. With that in mind, 6.5 sacks and 14 quarterback hits probably aren't enough from Cox, although when he's at his best, he can carry the Eagles to victory. Just look at his first three games of the season, all wins: 11 tackles, two tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, four quarterback hits and a forced fumble. Either way, $63 million in guarantees says he isn't going anywhere for awhile.

Beau Allen
Age: 26*
Cap Number: $705,562

Allen proved to a perfectly serviceable rotational player in 2016, plus added another position to his resume. He can play fullback in a pinch, which is impressive in itself for a 327-pound man. Hard to say whether Allen is starter material. According to Pro Football Focus, Logan still charted better against the run among qualifying interior linemen — although Allen was above average — but the Wisconsin product was the more productive of the two when it came to rushing the passer. If the goal here is primarily to save money, the Eagles should be able to get away with Allen and a cheaper veteran or early draft pick aside of Cox, who makes sure everybody else across the line is getting one-on-one treatment anyway.

Taylor Hart
Age: 26*
Cap Number: $690,000

Not going to lie, I was a little surprised to see Hart is still on the roster. Depth issues led to the Eagles bringing him back, although he never suited up. The former fifth-round draft pick has now been active for a grand total of 15 games in three seasons. Scouting reports suggested Hart would be better off in a 3-4 alignment, but even that is suspect at this point.

Destiny Vaeao
Age: 23*
Cap Number: $540,000

An undrafted rookie out of Washington State, Vaeao had his moments. His strip-sack against the Bears in Week 2 was a big play, and he got the quarterback again in the first meeting against the Giants. Otherwise, Vaeao was pretty quiet. He figures to be competing for his spot on the roster in 2017, although if Logan leaves, it might be difficult finding enough bodies to rendering a prospect with a full season's worth of experience expendable.

Aziz Shittu
Age: 23*

Shittu had a standout preseason, racking up six tackles, 1.5 sacks, three tackles for loss and three quarterback hits. That was enough to land the undrafted rookie out of Standford on the Eagles practice squad, though it might be telling that they liked Vaeao and even Hart more. Nonetheless, Shittu signed a futures contract at the conclusion of the season and will be an interesting name to keep an eye on come training camp.

EXPIRING CONTRACTS

Bennie Logan
Age: 28*
2016 Cap Number: $1,842,023

To be fair, Logan probably made more of an impact than the numbers indicate. The Eagles' wide-nine just doesn't feel like the ideal fit. A case could be made Logan was transforming into arguably the best nose tackle in the NFL prior to the switch. Filling a gap and building a wall at the line of scrimmage seem to be his strengths, not so much getting upfiekd and attacking quarterbacks. Again, we'll allow for the possibility Logan wasn't 100 percent all season, and he could certainly continue to develop with more experience in this role. If it were my money, it would be all about price. If we're talking the lower end of the spectrum, maybe $4.5 million, it's easy to justify bringing him back. Once that price tag soars — and it certainly may — it simply may not make much sense for the Eagles anymore.

Dario Saric hitting his stride, altering games on Sixers' second unit

Dario Saric hitting his stride, altering games on Sixers' second unit

There was skepticism as to whether or not Dario Saric would ever play for the Sixers. He spent two years overseas after the team acquired him on draft night 2014, and as each month passed, more and more uncertainty grew around his future in the NBA.

Saric told the Sixers all along that he would come to Philadelphia. He urged them, I will play for your team.

The 22-year-old rookie (and that term should be used loosely given his lengthy professional career) is proving the wait was worth it.

“They said he was never coming back,” Joel Embiid said. “But Dario’s here and he’s making big plays for us.”

Saric is averaging 9.7 points and 5.9 rebounds in 24.1 minutes this season. That includes a transitional period wherein Saric was moved in and out of the starting lineup and shifted from power forward and small forward as the Sixers experimented with different rotations. Saric looked out of sorts and frustrated with himself at times. The newness of the league, team and system took its toll on the player who is his own toughest critic. 

Saric's numbers are up since Brett Brown locked him in to the second unit. He is averaging 11.0 points and 6.7 boards during the Sixers' 7-2 stretch. 

“If Joel Embiid weren’t in the league, you’d have to talk about him in consideration for Rookie of the Year,” Brown said. “There is an appeal that he has developed, I feel, from our fans. They respect him. How can you not? He is so blue collar. I think the plays he makes, the effort-based plays, the physical plays just count for everything. ... I hope that he recognizes we appreciate his passion and we appreciate how he plays.”

Saric put on a show in the fourth quarter of the Sixers' statement win over the Raptors Wednesday. He had a pair of blocks in under a minute, including one against Jared Sullinger which sent Embiid into a frenzy on the bench (video here)

“Dario never blocks shots and he had two in a row,” Embiid said. “Especially at the rim like that, blocking Sullinger, that’s the type of play we need. The crowd obviously got into it. I’m just glad he’s here with us like he promised he was going to be after two years.”

Saric followed up the blocks with an offensive rebound and layup that pushed the Sixers' lead back up to six points. He topped off his fourth-quarter spurt with a three-pointer from T.J. McConnell to put his team up seven. 

“Every guy has their own job,” Saric said. “Sometimes you can do it better but always you need effort. You've to give 100 percent, try to fight, try to win. Give everything that you have in that moment. Your whole body, just move it. ... I had a good game. Sometimes the game gives you open shots. Sometimes it gives you a situation where you cannot do nothing. I tried to come and bring some energy. I tried to change the game in that way.”

Saric finished with eight points, nine rebounds and two blocks in 24 minutes off the bench. He hadn’t recorded two blocks since Nov. 9 against the Pacers. 

“I think Dario is the key to helping us secure that win, big-time,” Nerlens Noel said. “I think he really took that game more toward our favor.”

There were bound to be growing pains for Saric with all the massive challenges involved in playing in the new league. His basketball world has been flipped upside down in less than a year, not to mention his adjusting to life outside of Europe. It took some time but Saric is hitting his stride, and it is led by his disciplined mindset.

“Sometimes when you're doing bad and you don't have an opportunity to do something, (you have to) give the team its energy," Saric said. "I tried to bring some kind of energy and I did that good. I don't know. Maybe it's because I want to win the game. That's the easy answer."