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."

Zach Ertz, Rodney McLeod respond to criticism, defend effort after loss to Bengals

Zach Ertz, Rodney McLeod respond to criticism, defend effort after loss to Bengals

During a game after which Eagles head coach Doug Pederson eventually admitted “not everybody” played hard, two individual plays have been scrutinized more than any others this week. 
 
More than anything, two plays from the first quarter have stood out the most from the 32-14 loss to the Bengals in Cincinnati on Sunday. 
 
First, there was Zach Ertz’s non-block on Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, then there was Jeremy Hill’s short touchdown run where it looks like Rodney McLeod simply let him score.

“I understand all the criticism and stuff,” Ertz said by his locker on Wednesday. “I’m not going to get into the details of every thought I had on that play. I’m focused on giving this city everything I have on each and every play. I promise going forward, I will do that. I think I have done that in the past. 

"I understand how it looks on the film, but I’m not going to get into the minute details of what I saw on the play and what I didn’t see on the play and how it impacted the play and vice versa. I’m focused on getting better. I know I’m far from a finished product as a tight end. I’m looking forward to this week against the Redskins.”
 
On the play, Carson Wentz scrambled for a gain of 10 yards and with Burfict sprinting toward the play, Ertz side-stepped to let him through. Head coach Doug Pederson and Wentz have both said a block from Ertz wouldn’t have been a factor on the play because Wentz was going out of bounds. 
 
But it certainly didn’t look good and fans aren’t happy about the perceived lack of effort, which Ertz said he understands. 
 
So does Ertz think he did anything wrong on the play? 
 
“I think I could have maybe got in his way, impeded his progress a little more to ensure that he didn’t get near Carson by any means,” he said. “But like I said, there were a thousand things going through my mind on that play and there’s a million reasons why I do stuff on each and every play and I’m focused on getting better.”
 
While offensive coordinator Frank Reich suggested on Tuesday that he was OK with the non-block from Ertz because it will keep his best tight end healthy for the last quarter of the season, Ertz said the coaching staff hasn’t told him to pick his spots to be physical and claimed his past injuries aren’t affecting the way he’s been playing. 
 
And aside from that one play on Sunday, Ertz thinks he showed his toughness and effort throughout the afternoon. 
 
“If you look at that game, I did give my all,” he said. “That one play has come under a lot of scrutiny, obviously, but if you watch that game for all four quarter, I mean, I’m cramping up, I’m still going out there and battling each and ever play. All I care is what my teammates and my coaches think about me. That’s all I’m focused on.”
 
This isn’t the first time Ertz’s effort and toughness have been questioned this season. The lack of yards after the catch and after contact has become a major talking point among fans this season. 
 
But for Rodney McLeod, having his effort questioned is an entirely new experience. McLeod wasn’t a second-round pick like Ertz; McLeod entered the league as an undrafted rookie in 2012. He worked his way to becoming a starter and eventually earning a free agent deal with the Eagles this offseason. 
 
Hard work and effort are what got him here. 
 
“It definitely hurts,” McLeod said about the criticism. “I know what type of player I am. I’m going to take pride in that. I feel like effort, hard work are the things that got me where I am today. That’s what my game is built on. So when somebody questions or has doubt in that, it does hurt. But nothing I can do. Just continue to put good stuff on tape, which I feel like I have done and continue to ride for my teammates and others.”
 
McLeod’s explanation for what happened on the first-quarter touchdown run echoed what his defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said on Tuesday. Basically, he thought the play was going somewhere else and by the time he was able to react, he was flat-footed. 
 
He then said he didn’t hit Hill because he thought the running back had already crossed the plane of the goal line and he didn’t want to get flagged. 
 
When fans watch the play, they might see a player who didn’t give it his all on that play. Not McLeod. 
 
“I really don’t see it,” he said. “If you look at any play before then, any game, any practice film, I’m probably one of the guys that’s giving it his all out there for this team and for my teammates. Like I said, I’m a prideful guy. I take pride in effort, hard work, all those things, I think, describe who I am as a player. Looking at that play, I thought it would hit somewhere else. It kind of came through leaky, guy was low, felt like by the time I got over there, it could possibly be a late hit. It’s a tough situation for me to be in.”

Brett Brown wants Sixers to focus on turnovers, transition defense in next 10 games

Brett Brown wants Sixers to focus on turnovers, transition defense in next 10 games

NEW ORLEANS — The Sixers take a pause after each set of 10 games over the course of the 82-game season to identify areas they want to improve in the next increment.
 
They are now 22 games into the season and two into the current grouping. Brett Brown has targeted two aspects, one on each end of the floor, to hone in on: turnovers and transition defense.
 
“Our turnovers continue to haunt us and we can’t let it go,” Brown said earlier this week. 
 
Turnover problems are nothing new to the Sixers. As a young team, they struggled heavily last season and ranked 29th with 16.4 per game. This season the number is higher. The Sixers currently are at the bottom of the NBA with 17.3 turnovers per game.*
 
They are running into problems late in games. The Sixers average 3.6 turnovers in the first quarter (tied for 22nd with the Clippers) compared to 5.0 in the fourth (also 30th in the NBA for that quarter). 
 
Brown frequently highlights points allowed off turnovers when assessing a loss. The Sixers are tied with the Timberwolves for 25th with 18.2 points in that category.

Rather than just looking at turnovers as a whole, Brown is delving into the who’s and why’s of the problem. Joel Embiid leads the team with 3.7 turnovers per game. The Sixers look to him as the focal point of the offense. As a rookie, he is adjusting to NBA defenses, especially double teams, while being the go-to at the basket. 

Sergio Rodriguez is behind Embiid with 2.7, not counting Jerryd Bayless (3.0) who only has played three games. Rodriguez has said he “takes risks” at the point but is trying to be more secure with the ball in his hand (see story)

“We’ve got repetitive examples of people either too much in a crowd,” Brown said. “Examples of people not handling pick and rolls when they come out and hedge. Post players dribbling too much and not reacting to double teams and to pass outs.”
 
On the opposite end of the court, the Sixers are last in the league with 18.5 fast break points scored by opponents. Their defense fluctuates when Embiid is on the sideline, based on his 28-minute restriction. However Brown does not want the rest of the team to lapse without their big man. Brown has been emphasizing the need for pace and has been stressing all season the importance of career-best fitness to get up and down the floor.

“We still don’t get back the way I want to in transition defense,” Brown said. “We do see differences in our defense dramatically when Joel is in the game or not. But it still doesn’t camouflage the fact that we have to get back on defense.”

The Sixers will have to tackle these issues in a 10-game period in which they are shorthanded with a slew of injuries and illnesses. 

"The good thing is, we’ve selected two things that have hurt us and we need to claim them again," Brown said. 

*All stats according to NBA.com