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."

Phillies-Braves 5 things: New-look middle of the order settling in

Phillies-Braves 5 things: New-look middle of the order settling in

Phillies (47-57) at Braves (35-67)
7:35 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet

Fresh off Thursday's 7-5 win at Turner Field, the Phillies will try to get a win streak going when they battle the Braves on Friday night in the second game of a four-game set in Atlanta. Let's take a closer look at the matchup with five things to know before first pitch.

1. Power alley
When your offense is slumping this season, there's nothing like a trip to Atlanta to face the MLB-worst Braves to get your bats going again. That's just what happened to the Phils on Thursday night at Turner Field.

After scoring just five runs total during their three-game series in Miami earlier this week, the Phillies exploded for seven runs in the first five innings against the Braves on Thursday before holding on for the victory.

Sure, the Braves are terrible, to put it bluntly. But there's no way to not be encouraged by how the middle of the Phillies' order produced on Thursday. The 3-4-5 hitters - Maikel Franco, Tommy Joseph and Aaron Altherr - combined to go 6 for 14 with six RBIs. That includes a homer from each player.

Altherr is the key here. His wrist injury cost him the first 102 games of the season. Yes, just one game of his 2016 season is in the books, but he'll be locked into one spot in the middle of the order for the next little bit as the Phillies will want to see if he can produce like he did toward the end of last season when he hit five homers and drove in 22 runs in 39 games. If Altherr can produce, the Phils will have a legitimate middle of the order for the first time in what seems like forever and will allow Franco and Joseph to see more pitches as opposing pitchers won't have the option to work around them anymore.

No better way to for this new-look middle of the lineup to settle in than with four straight games against these Braves.

2. Vince on the road
Let's take a quick, bare-bones look at Vince Velasquez's numbers this season.

He's sporting an 8-2 record with a 3.34 ERA. Pretty good, right? Right.

But let's take a deeper look at his numbers, more specifically, his road numbers. Away from Citizens Bank Park this season, the 24-year-old flamethrower is 4-1 but has a 4.89 ERA. The record is great, but the ERA, well, not so much. His ERA at home this season is a razor-thin 1.50.

In his last start, Velazquez labored through six innings, giving up four runs while throwing 107 pitches in a 5-4 loss in Pittsburgh last week. It was a continuation of a road trend for Velasquez this season that sees him throw a ton of pitches in a limited amount of innings. In nine road starts this season, Velasquez is averaging 92 pitches in just over five innings per start.

He's only averaging just over two walks in his road starts, so location hasn't been too much of an issue. But teams are averaging just under seven hits a game against Velasquez on the road. An average of seven hits against in five innings a game is a lot.

Velasquez has to start putting hitters away on the road. Facing a Braves offense that's tied for second-worst in the majors (with the Phillies and Rays) with a .240 average could be a good way to get back on track.

3. Hello again, Mr. Jenkins
Friday night's matchup in Atlanta marks the second time the Phillies will see Braves starter Tyrell Jenkins this season.

Jenkins, a 24-year-old righty who was a first-round compensatory pick of St. Louis in 2010 and then was acquired by the Braves in the 2014 deal involving Jason Heyward and Shelby Miller, made his first career start when he took the hill at Citizens Bank Park on July 6. In that game, Jenkins gave up a run in 4 2/3 innings pitched. He only threw 64 pitches, but the Braves didn't want to overwork him because he had pitched out of the bullpen in his previous five appearances. The Phillies went on to win that game when Freddy Galvis hit a go-ahead homer in the bottom of the eighth inning.

He's a ground-ball pitcher known for having a fastball in the 92-95mph range. He'll be looking for his first big-league win on Friday night. Last time out, he was shelled by the Rockies when he gave up seven runs in 3 1/3 innings at Coors Field. Not many have a nice Coors Field debut.

4. Keep an eye on...
Phillies: Let's go with Cody Asche. With Andres Blanco and Peter Bourjos both now on the disabled list, Asche could be the most tradeable Phillie not named Jeremy Hellickson as we inch toward the Aug. 1 non-waiver deadline. That fact comes even more into focus as Nick Williams continues to tear the cover off the ball in Triple A while starting the majority of the last few weeks in left field (see this week's Future Phillies Report), which just happens to be where Asche plays. But Asche isn't doing his trade value any favors lately as he's hitting just .100 (4 for 40) with two RBI since the All-Star break.

Braves: There isn't much to write home about when it comes to these Braves, but Freddie Freeman continues to burn Phillies pitching. In 104 career games against the Phils, Atlanta's first baseman is batting .297 with 13 homers and 63 RBI. He went 2 for 3 with a double and an RBI on Thursday night.

5. This and that
• The Phillies have won six consecutive games against their NL East rival from Atlanta. It’s their longest win streak against the Braves since winning eight in row from July 2011 to May 2012.

• Ryan Howard has 22 career home runs at Turner Field, most of any visiting player in the ballpark’s history. It remains to be seen when the next time Howard will get a chance to extend that record.

• Cameron Rupp has batted just .101 since the All-Star break, but he’s hit .304 against the Braves this season.

Eagles position battle briefs: Rueben Randle, wide receivers

Eagles position battle briefs: Rueben Randle, wide receivers

For a player who flew under the radar in free agency, Rueben Randle is quickly showing the potential to be a major addition to the Eagles offense.

We're only a couple of days into training camp, and it should be noted Randle is one of several wide receivers seeing reps with the first-team offense. That being said, the fifth-year veteran has been very active thus far, especially during Friday's practice.

Randle made two tough catches in particular, of the variety Eagles wideouts frequently dropped last season.

First, he extended his arms away from his body and plucked a ball out of the air on a well-timed out route, then maintained possession while cornerback Leodis McKelvin swatted at the ball multiple times. A few plays later, Randle hauled in a pass that was thrown a little behind him, with impressive rookie Jalen Mills draped all over his back no less.

The Eagles desperately need reliable receivers to emerge from this camp. While it's only been two practices, Randle is already making a case for nice-sized role in this offense.

Signed to a one-year contract two weeks into free agency, Randle gained a reputation for having a poor demeanor while a member of the New York Giants. The club were unhappy enough to let the former second-round draft pick walk in free agency despite some decent production.

Randle's receptions and yards totals would've been good for second on the Eagles offense each of the past two seasons. Between 2014 and '15, he posted 128 catches for 1,735 yards and 11 touchdowns — granted while lining up opposite All-Pro Odell Beckham Jr. and with two-time Super Bowl champion Eli Manning throwing him the football.

Regardless, at 6'2", 208 pounds, Randle adds some size to the Eagles receiving corps, and at age 25, his best days could still be ahead of him. With Jordan Matthews still expected to see a lot of work in the slot, Randle appears to be battling 2015 first-round pick Nelson Agholor and third-year veteran Josh Huff for playing time on the outside.

In that mix, people are starting to like Randle's odds to be a regular player in this offense. Head coach Doug Pederson seems to be pleased with the veteran presence the offseason addition brings to the table as well.

Again, we stress that it's very early into camp, and this is no slight against the other receivers on the roster, but Randle's stock has been on the rise seemingly since the day he signed with the Eagles.

Photo: Kobe Bryant's high school point guard gets limber in Philly

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Photo: Kobe Bryant's high school point guard gets limber in Philly

Lower Merion High School alum and current writer for The700Level.com -- an adult male who goes by the name "Evster" -- stretches to avoid tearing a hammy before a pickup game of basketball at a playground in the Graduate Hospital neighborhood of Philadelphia. His team lost. (The700Level Photo)