I was a Pseudo-Member at Merion for a Day, Here's What I Saw

I was a Pseudo-Member at Merion for a Day, Here's What I Saw

The face of a bunker mostly.

I stand about 6-foot-1 and found myself in three traps on Monday afternoon I couldn't see out of. I looked straight forward, and saw a wall of sand.

Welcome to Merion Golf Club, site of the 2013 U.S. Open (June 13-16), where there's a decent chance the caddies make more than you do.

Because I'm insanely lucky and practically begged my editor, I had the good fortune to attend Open media day on Monday and play the famed East Course.

Don't know anything about Merion? It's located in Ardmore, Pa., was built in 1912, has already hosted four U.S. Opens, 17 USGA events in total, and can put out a fierce lunch spread.

There are private golf clubs, like the one around the corner from your house that you can likely sneak onto on Monday afternoons (give it a try), and then there's Merion (don't give it a try).

So rather than have you get charged with trespassing, Enrico suggested I just walk you through my day.

Free stuff is nice
When Merion puts out coffee, there aren't paper cups. You get a mug. And if you want to put your soda in some kind of plastic receptacle, you can bet the club's logo is stamped right on there.

Lunch included hand-carved turkey and roast beef (which could or could not be used on a sandwich), some sort of soup I regretfully did not sample, Caesar salad, tuna salad, chicken salad, shrimp salad, and some assorted dessert options.


Not-free stuff is still nice (and expensive)
Forget golf shirts -- which, should you attempt to purchase one in a merchandise tent during the week of tournament, will likely run you $75 to $125 dollars -- two ball markers and a yardage book set me back $46 bucks.

The course
This is what most of you are likely looking for. Merion, as unique as it is, is also a lot like any number of the GAP clubs built about a century ago. Tee boxes are just paces off greens and public roads run just yards off fairways.

Take the second and 15th holes. Ardmore Ave. runs the length of the second hole and is plainly in play off the tee (two of my playing partners put a ball on the road, and one of them just missed somebody's windshield).

And then there's the 15th, where the out-of-bounds markers are just one yard off the left side of the fairway. Apparently, 2010 U.S. Open Graeme McDowell and I have something in common: we've both sniped one right over the fence.


But what makes it unique? The thick rough (I hit any number of 8-iron gouges), the severely undulated greens, and the natural landscape. Holes 16-18 run back and forth across an old quarry that forces the player into some pretty demanding shots. It's hard to appreciate it without seeing it, so here's a view from the bottom (17 tee is up on top of the hill).


Finally, there's the history. Like the plaque in the middle of the 18th fairway, commemorating the spot from which Ben Hogan hit his famed 1-iron to make par on the 72nd hole and force a three-way playoff (which he later won), and the plaque beside the 11th tee, honoring the hole on which Bobby Jones became the first man in golf history to win the Grand Slam.


If you want more, click on the links below to read and watch how the course is prepping for the Open:

Merion's size means big changes, less revenue for U.S. Open | VIDEO: What to expect from the Open at Merion

Fell apart down the stretch (although that's pretty common on the group of holes defending-champion Webb Simpson called "maybe the toughest we've ever faced in a U.S. Open"):


Elements will play factor for both Flyers, Penguins in outdoor game

Elements will play factor for both Flyers, Penguins in outdoor game

PITTSBURGH – The ice on Friday afternoon at Heinz Field was watery and slushy.
 
That’s because the city set a historic record at 78 degrees for Feb. 24.
 
So what were the ice conditions?
 
“They were pretty good,” said Sidney Crosby. “It was pretty bright there. Started off the practice and the sun was beating down pretty good.
 
“I’ve played in a few of these and the ice was pretty good considering how warm it was. It’s supposed to cool down and I’m sure it will get better.”
 
The Penguins will host the Flyers on Saturday night in a Stadium Series outdoor game.
 
Pittsburgh took the ice Friday at 4 p.m. The Flyers got on the ice a little more than an hour later and things started to cool down.
 
“We had a pretty good practice given the circumstances,” Jakub Voracek said. “This is a little better setup than Philly. The fans are closer.”
 
It was much hotter when Pittsburgh took the ice, but the temperature was still warm after the sun went down.
 
Shayne Gostisbehere said, “It was hot for sure. … It was fun, but it was pretty hot.”
 
Defenseman Radko Gudas said the ice surface was, “playable, but a little rough.”
 
On Saturday, rain is expected, with temperatures falling to 42 degrees by 5 p.m.
 
During the game, which begins at 8 p.m., the temperature is projected to continue to drop and there will be wind gusts up to 31 mph. By the end of the night, the forecast says temps will be in the 20s. 

Players are more concerned about the wind than the ice at this point. Crosby, who has played in three previous NHL outdoor games, said wind is a huge factor. It happened to the Penguins at the 2014 Stadium Series game in Chicago.
 
“It can definitely be a factor,” Crosby said. “I want to say in Chicago that was something we kind of had to look at. We felt it a little more there compared to the other two [outdoor games]. If it going to get windy like that, it’s something to be aware of.”
 
It remains to be seen how the NHL will handle which team goes into the wind first.
 
“Yeah, the wind,” Penguins assistant coach Rick Tocchet of what element will be a big factor. “I hope you don’t have to backcheck. Who gets the advantage? They change in the third period. But who picks what end? There is a wind factor.”
 
Tocchet rated the ice Friday as “a little slushy.”
 
“It was good early and then it got tough because it was hot outside,” Tocchet said. “But we got a half-decent practice out of it.
 
“The one thing, the puck didn’t bounce, which was good. Players can adapt a lot better when the puck doesn’t bounce. When things bounce, it’s a tough night.”

Brett Brown understands Nerlens Noel trade, caught off guard by Ben Simmons news

Brett Brown understands Nerlens Noel trade, caught off guard by Ben Simmons news

Nerlens Noel was essentially the beginning of The Process.

Acquired in a draft day trade with the New Orleans Pelicans in 2013, he was the last player remaining from when Brett Brown took over as head coach of the Sixers. Drafted No. 6 overall out of Kentucky, Noel missed the entire 2013-14 season recovering from a torn ACL.

That gave Brown the opportunity to work closely with Noel, most notably on his shot.

"Personally, I spent a lot of time with him," Brown said pregame Friday. "To have a whole year where you could help grow his shot. And talk about a total rebuild."

Noel on Thursday was traded to the Dallas Mavericks for a top-18 protected first-round pick, Justin Anderson and Andrew Bogut. The return doesn't seem great, but there are larger factors at play. Noel is slated to become a restricted free agent this summer.

With the emergence of Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor on the roster, the center position was (and still is, frankly) crowded. The chances of the Sixers retaining Noel weren't great. Especially if a team had signed him to an exorbitant offer sheet.

Brown was naturally close to Noel, but understands the business side of the decision.

"I'm happy for him in my heart of hearts," Brown said. "[The Mavericks] have brought him in to grow him to try to be a starting center. That does equal a commensurate paycheck. He will be rewarded if that's the way it plays out.

"That wasn't gonna happen here. It wasn't gonna happen here. And so when you really study salary caps, really study design of teams and really study how to grow a program so you're not caught positionally, it was gonna be hard to allocate that amount of money to a five spot."

Brown got some more tough news when he learned No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons won't play this season. A scan taken Thursday revealed that Simmons' Jones fracture, suffered in early October on the last day of training camp, has not fully healed (see story).

Brown, being the consummate optimist, brought up his experience with Noel in is his rookie season of how a player can still develop despite not getting on the court.

"I'm disappointed for lots of reasons that he isn't going to be able to play," Brown said. "I played text tag with him as he was going to the scan. I felt like when your wife is having a baby, pacing around, wondering, 'What's gonna happen? What's the result of the scan? What's it gonna be? What's it gonna be?' I don't mean to get too dramatic, but there's a level of anxiety that you wonder, 'What is the result gonna say?' And when it came back with the result, it caught me off guard. It really wasn't something personally I was expecting."

Sixers president of basketball operation Bryan Colangelo addressed the media Friday to disclose the news on Simmons. He also explained his thinking behind the Noel trade, which mostly hinged on Noel's impending restricted free-agent status (see story).

Brown was sad to see one of his original developmental projects go, but understood the business side of the decision.                     

"I thought he did a really good job," Brown said of Colangelo's press conference. "That is the truth. So it's connected with emotion and reality that we say goodbye to Nerlens."