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."

Worst loss of the year for excuse-less Sixers against Magic

Worst loss of the year for excuse-less Sixers against Magic

Another new feeling for the rebuilding Sixers: The bad loss with no excuse. For at least one and possibly multiple seasons, there was no real such thing as an inexcusable L, because they were so never the favorite going into any game that their excuse could almost always be "the other team was better." But four wins and one transcendent player into this season, the Ballers actually do need an excuse for dropping a home game against a subpar team by double digits. And if they had one last night in their 105-88 loss to the Orlando Magic, they weren't telling the rest of us.

Really, this game couldn't have been teed up much better for Philly: We were home, well-rested after Wednesday's weird-ass cancellation, against a 7-12 team we nearly beat early in the season, who were on the second night of a back-to-back after ceding a tough one to the Grizzlies -- and we had Joel Embiid for up to 28 minutes. If this one was to be a laugher by early in the fourth quarter, you'd almost have to assume that it'd been the Sixers who put it to bed early. 

Instead, the Sixers slumped horribly from the field in the first quarter, missing bunny after bunny and plenty of open jumpers, as they dug themselves a hole they were never quite able to climb out of. Philly kept it manageable and D.J. Augustin and Nik Vucevic caught fire for Orlando in the third quarter, and the game was suddenly in Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot territory before we could even process what was happening. 

Of course, you can't blame Embiid for this one. Though JoJo was a little out of sorts defensively on this one -- and personally, I really wish he'd stop trapping five feet outside the arc, it may cause panic in the Magic's ball-handlers but it really seems to compromise our own half-court D -- he still finished with a resounding 25-10-4 with three triples, and for the first time in his young career, 0 turnovers. (I coulda swore I saw at least one, but so says the box score, anyway.) Just another game for the Process, though the Sixers (for some reason) needed him to be immaculate last night, and he was merely phenomenal. 

Less phenomenal were the rest of the Sixers' shooters. Our bench in particular was absolutely putrid, going a combined 0-12 from three, with Nik Stauskas's streak of consecutive games with a three snapped at 15 after his scoreless, 0-6 performance. (Five assists for Sauce, at least.) Jahlil posted a dominant stat line of 16 and 13 (on 8-10 shooting) but was again hapless on defense, ending a team-worst -19 for the night. And Dario Saric's slumping continued with a 1-5 shooting outing with no rebounds or assists, likely his worst game of the season. 

It was a surprisingly listless effort from a team that should have looked much sharper, and the most positive non-Joel-related thing to be said about it is that it's (sort of) nice to finally have expectations high enough to have them let down. It'll be a lot harder for Philly to let down tonight against the Celtics, without JoJo, against a pretty good and mostly healthy Boston team. But that's five losses in a row already for the improving Sixers, and it'd be nice to cut off that streak soon, before it starts threatening double digits -- we could certainly do with being done with those for the forseeable future.

No longer feeling like a rookie, Wendell Smallwood more comfortable as lead back

No longer feeling like a rookie, Wendell Smallwood more comfortable as lead back

As the Eagles prepared to face the Green Bay Packers last week, rookie Wendell Smallwood readied himself for a big role.
 
Then he got just nine carries. 
 
It wasn’t that those carries went elsewhere, it was that the Eagles got away from the run game early in the 27-13 loss to the Packers despite being down one score for most of the game. Ultimately, he had half of the team’s carries. 
 
On Friday, head coach Doug Pederson said the disparity in play-calling didn’t have anything to do with having Smallwood as the lead back instead of Ryan Mathews. 
 
“Not really,” Pederson said. “Again, that's something – when I go back ask evaluate after the game – it's something I have to consider more of: Did I run the ball enough or throw the ball enough or not enough or did I do it too much, one way or the other. 
But no, that did not dispel anything, run or pass.”
 
For the second straight week, Mathews is out with an MCL sprain, which means Smallwood is preparing for a bigger role in the offense again. That could also mean his second career start in as many weeks. 
 
Having gone through this process last week has made this week even easier. 
 
“I think I'm very comfortable, more than I was last week,” Smallwood said. “I kind of knew I was going to have a lead role, kind of thinking about a lot, how to play better and take on the load that I was probably going to get. So this week, I think it was kind of natural for me, not really worrying about it.”
 
Smallwood, who was a fifth-round pick out of West Virginia, has 66 carries for 290 yards and one touchdown this season. Smallwood's average of 4.4 yards per attempt is sixth in the league among rookie with at least 60 carries this season. He also has the most rushing yards of any Eagles rookie since Bryce Brown in 2012. 
 
While the Eagles would probably have preferred to use Mathews more this season, the veteran has played just 53 more snaps than Smallwood. 
 
Does Smallwood even feel like a rookie anymore? 
 
“Nah, definitely not, definitely not,” he said with a smile. “Probably after Week 3 I stopped feeling like a rookie. And guys tell me all the time, 'we need you to play, we don't need you to be a rookie right now.' So kind of forced not to be a rookie.”