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."

Report: Point guard Ish Smith agrees to 3-year deal with Pistons

Report: Point guard Ish Smith agrees to 3-year deal with Pistons

It seemed like Ish Smith had more value to the Sixers than to another team, but the Detroit Pistons thought otherwise, reaching a three-year deal with the free-agent point guard early Friday morning, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Smith, 28, will be Reggie Jackson's backup with the Pistons.

Smith averaged 14.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 7.0 assists in 50 games for the Sixers last season. He shot 41 percent from the field, 34 percent from three and 67 percent from the line.

The Pistons will be the 10th NBA team in seven seasons for the well-traveled Smith.

The Sixers have an obvious need for guards. They exercised their option to keep shooting guard Hollis Thompson, but lost Smith and chose not to extend an offer to Isaiah Cannan, who became an unrestricted free agent.

Future Phillies Report: J.P. Crawford finding his groove in Triple A

Future Phillies Report: J.P. Crawford finding his groove in Triple A

Three prospects to appear on the Future Phillies Report this season have graduated to the majors: 1B Tommy Joseph on May 13, SP Zach Eflin on June 10 and RP Edubray Ramos on June 24.

All three have experienced some degree of success, with Joseph homering eight times in his first 110 plate appearances, Eflin settling in after a terrible debut, and Ramos beginning his career with three straight scoreless appearances and five strikeouts.

The Phillies have shown a willingness early in this season to promote young players who may play integral roles in their resurgence, but they haven't gone and won't go overboard. They're not going to call up Nick Williams or J.P. Crawford tomorrow and replace them in Triple A with someone like Dylan Cozens. There is a developmental track and plan for each individual prospect and GM Matt Klentak has shown he won't rush someone up just to fill a major-league spot where production has been scarce.

Still, top pitching prospect Jake Thompson acknowledged how excited he was to see Eflin get the call-up and what it might mean for him.

"For me, seeing the Phillies are actually — especially this early in the season — willing to go get a young guy that's not on the 40-man roster and give him a chance ... not that I need any more incentive to go out and work harder, but seeing that, it gives you a little extra boost," Thompson said earlier this week.

With that, let's take a look at what's going down on the farm:

SS J.P. Crawford (AAA)
You can tell Crawford has settled into the International League by looking at how many multi-hit games he's had lately. Crawford, still hitting just .229 with a .317 on-base percentage at Triple A and .246 with a .358 OBP on the season, has seven multi-hit games in his last 15. Over that span, the Phillies' top prospect has hit .311 with four extra-base hits and five walks. He's been batting second mostly, in front of Williams. 

For the first time since Crawford ended 2014 at High A Clearwater, he doesn't have more walks than strikeouts. He's walked 18 times with 25 K's with the IronPigs, giving him 208 walks and 209 strikeouts in his four-year minor-league career.

Defensively, Crawford has been strong with Lehigh Valley, committing just two errors in 330 innings and 174 defensive chances. That's been a major key to Crawford's progress through the Phils' system. They wanted more consistent defense from him this season and he's answered the call, improving his fielding percentage from .953 to .975. 

C Jorge Alfaro (AA)
While the bash brothers, Cozens and Rhys Hoskins, continue to jockey for the Eastern League lead in home runs, Alfaro keeps hitting out of the three-hole for Reading. The powerful, strong-armed catcher has a six-game hitting streak and had a five-game extra-base hit streak snapped on Wednesday night. Alfaro has three doubles, two homers, five RBIs and nine runs over his last six games.

The torrid start Alfaro got off to — 18 for 36 in his first eight games — has allowed his batting average to stay over .300 most of the season. He's at .301/.317/.502 through 231 plate appearances. 

He's still a force in the middle of the Fightin Phils' order, but since returning in early May from an oblique injury that cost him three weeks, Alfaro has hit .262 with just three walks and 44 strikeouts in 43 games. His power hasn't disappeared during that stretch — he has nine doubles, a triple and eight homers in 193 plate appearances — but that .262 batting average more closely aligns with his .266 career mark. Alfaro has not hit .300 or better since he was at Low A Spokane in the Rangers' system in 2011.

Numbers aside, the tools continue to pop out. Alfaro has thrown out 22 of 48 base stealers, a 46 percent success rate.

But that abysmal walk-to-strikeout ratio Alfaro has posted this season needs to improve, at least slightly. Jim Salisbury outlined on Wednesday how concerned the Phillies have become with the walks and strikeouts of their hitters and pitchers (see story).

OF Dylan Cozens (AA)
Reading is on an absolute tear. The Fightin Phils have scored at least seven runs in each of their last six games, totaling 56. 

Cozens contributed to that attack again on Wednesday, hitting a two-run homer after Alfaro lined a single past the shortstop in the first inning. The left-handed hitting Cozens crushed a fastball on the outside corner to the opposite field for home run No. 21 and RBIs 61 and 62. His power is legitimate and to all fields.

But as Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan noted earlier this week, there's no reason Cozens should be in triple-digits already with 101 strikeouts in 339 plate appearances. There have been just three games in Cozens' last 37 that he didn't strike out. A lot of nights, he's whiffing multiple times. And it's not like it's just lefties overpowering him — Cozens has also punched out 72 times against righties, or once every 3.6 plate appearances.

Hitting lefties would be the next step for the 6-foot-6 Cozens, who's also 14 for 15 in steals. He's hit just .197 with six extra-base hits in 77 plate appearances vs. same-handed pitching.

1B Rhys Hoskins (AA)
Hoskins is another Phillies prospect striking out a lot, but there's been enough production to offset all the whiffs. Not to be outdone by Cozens, Hoskins homered again on Wednesday, his 21st of the season, as his insane month of June continued. 

In his nine games, Hoskins is 16 for 36 (.444) with four doubles, four homers, nine RBIs and 14 runs scored. In June, he's hit .358 with 12 homers, 29 RBIs and a 1.207 OPS. He's hit righties and lefties alike, and you can't even argue that Reading's home park has been the sole reason for his surge — Hoskins has 21 extra-base hits on the road compared to 19 at home.

Hoskins and Cozens have homered in the same game nine times for Reading, which is 56-23 on the season.

OF Nick Williams (AAA)
Williams returned from his latest hustle-related benching with a two-hit, two-RBI night for Lehigh Valley Wednesday. He's hit .322 with a .907 OPS over his last 29 games as the power has returned. 

Williams is up to .288/.330/.461 on the season. He said Wednesday that he expected the production to increase as the weather heated up, and that there were times in April and early May when the conditions in central Pennsylvania made him think, "I'm a long way from home."

Williams is another player striking out too much, with K's in 25.8 percent of his plate appearances, but he doesn't seem fazed by that growing total. "I do strike out a lot but I make contact a lot, too. It's not like I just go up there and strike out all the time," Williams said. "I work the count."

In a 1-on-1 interview earlier this week, Williams also gave reasons for his recent success vs. lefties (see story).

RHP Jake Thompson (AAA)
Thompson has a 0.76 ERA in June, having allowed three earned runs in 35⅓ innings. He's lowered his season ERA from 4.23 to 2.88. Even though Thompson is striking out just 6.3 batters per nine innings, he's dominating the opposition because he's generating so much weak contact. 

His groundball rate also continues to rise. Thompson's sinker is quite a weapon. He's induced nine double plays in his last three starts.

Read more about Thompson's hot streak here.

RHP Mark Appel (AAA)
Appel's first season in the Phillies' system ended Wednesday when he underwent elbow surgery. It was not the type of scenery change Appel wanted after falling well short of expectations with the Astros. In eight starts with the IronPigs, Appel went 3-3 with a 4.46 ERA and 1.57 WHIP.

In 291⅓ minor-league innings since being drafted first overall by Houston in 2013, Appel has posted a 5.04 ERA and allowed 30 more hits than innings pitched.

And so he'll have to wait until 2017 to get his career on track. Appel turns 25 in two weeks.

C Andrew Knapp (AAA)
Knapp was named an International League All-Star Wednesday, even if his numbers don't really jump out at you. He's hit .258/.327/.402 with 18 extra-base hits in 254 plate appearances. He's also in another mini-skid, going 4 for 22 with 10 strikeouts over his last six games.

Knapp hasn't found his footing yet at Triple A. He'll need some more developmental time offensively and defensively. And the Phillies won't rush either of their young catchers to the majors with Cameron Rupp playing so well anyway.

OF Mickey Moniak (GCL)
Moniak made his rookie ball debut for the Gulf Coast League Phillies this week, going 1 for 7 with a walk, an RBI and two strikeouts in his first two games. He should get about 50 games in at rookie ball as his pro career begins.

Also with Moniak in the GCL right now are Cornelius Randolph, last year's first-round pick who is rehabbing a shoulder injury, and Jhailyn Ortiz, the 16-year-old Dominican power prospect the Phillies signed last summer. Ortiz went 2 for 4 with two doubles, four RBIs and three runs on Thursday.

SP Nick Pivetta (AA)
Pivetta left Wednesday's start after three innings with groin tightness and Reading manager Dusty Wathan told reporters he's day to day. Pivetta hopes to avoid missing a start because he's pitched so well lately, allowing just four runs in his last 28 innings.

Pivetta, the return from the Nationals in last summer's Jonathan Papelbon trade, has been a nice surprise at Double A this season, going 7-4 with a 3.31 ERA and 8.0 strikeouts per nine innings. He struggled at that level last year, posting a 7.27 ERA in 10 starts at Double A Harrisburg and Reading.

Like Thompson, Pivetta's main pitch is his sinker.

SP Ben Lively (AAA)
The man is human. Lively suffered his first loss of the season on Monday, allowing a season-high five runs in six innings. He's 3-1 with a 3.11 ERA at Triple A and 10-1 with a 2.45 ERA overall in 16 starts this season.

Lively's command has been remarkable this season, as he's held the opposition to a .177 batting average, stifling lefties and righties alike despite rarely throwing harder than 90 mph. His strike-throwing ability could get him a look with the Phillies later this summer. Spots figure to open up for guys like Thompson and Lively if/when Jeremy Hellickson is traded and if the Phils decide to go to a six-man rotation later in the year to preserve the arms of Vince Velasquez, Jerad Eickhoff and Aaron Nola.

Sixers lose several guard options during first wave of NBA free agency

Sixers lose several guard options during first wave of NBA free agency

It didn’t take long for talks of big money to swirl around the start of NBA free agency, which began at 12:01 a.m. Friday morning. Within the first hour, multi-year deals — some max — were being reported.

Several of them affected the Sixers.

• Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson agreed to return on a four-year, $50 million contract, according to The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski. Clarkson was a restricted free agent who would have made sense for the Sixers to pursue.

DeMar DeRozan will remain with the Raptors on a five-year, $139 million deal, the Vertical reports. DeRozan was viewed as the top free-agent guard.

Elsewhere, the high salaries were not a surprise. The jump was going to happen with the increase in the salary cap. The recipients in some cases, however, were less expected. Here is a look at three other situations that emerged early in free agency. Deals cannot be finalized until the moratorium period ends July 7.

Bradley Beal nearing max to remain with Wizards (according to Woj)

Terms: 5 years, $128 million, no options

Beal is one of the best shooting guards available in free agency (restricted). He is a player who could have made a major impact on a new team (think, in the Sixers’ backcourt), but it looks like he will remain in Washington to give the Wizards a one-two punch with John Wall. Beal averaged 17.4 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists last season. He shot 44.9 percent from the field and 38.7 percent from three. Beal turned just 23 years old on June 28.

How this impacts the Sixers next season: Even though the Sixers need help at the two-spot, they are rebuilding and not necessarily in the max deal game this summer. Beal's return should help get the Wizards back on track to the playoffs as they can build around their young guards.

Like the Noah move with the Knicks, this doesn't have a major effect on the Sixers next season, but could in the standings for future years as the Sixers work to become a playoff team.

Timofey Mozgov agrees with Lakers (per Woj)

Terms: 4 years, $64 million

This was the biggest “say what?” news of the night. Mozgov appeared in only 13 games and totaled 76 minutes in the Cavaliers’ entire championship run. He averaged 1.2 points and 1.6 rebounds in 5.8 minutes during the playoffs. So let’s go back a season, when his value seemed to be more aligned with what he will be earning. During the 2015-16 postseason, Mozgov posted 10.6 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 26.5 minutes over 20 games, all as a starter, for the Cavs.

The Lakers need a big man (Roy Hibbert and Robert Sacre are unrestricted free agents), and at 7-foot-1, 275 pounds, Mozgov fits the bill — one that will cost them a hefty sum each season.

How this impacts the Sixers next season: The Sixers still are waiting on that draft pick from the Lakers, which is top-three protected again in 2017. Each roster move for the Lakers could play a role in where they stand in the lottery next season.

Joakim Noah to leave Bulls for Knicks (according to Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post)

Terms: 4 years, $72 million

Noah has played his entire nine-year career on the Bulls. That chapter will be closing, but this new one will bring familiarity. Noah will be playing in the city where he was born and with former teammate Derrick Rose, who the Knicks traded for recently. The length of this deal raised some eyebrows because Noah is 31 years old and has battled injuries throughout his career. Last season, he appeared in just 29 games (two starts) and underwent shoulder surgery in January. Noah averaged 4.3 points, 8.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists in 21.9 minutes before the season-ending operation. 

How this impacts the Sixers next season: The Knicks have fallen out of playoff contention. They will look to improve in the East with a tandem of Noah, Rose, Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis. This signing doesn’t have an immediate impact on the Sixers until they begin fighting for postseason seedings.

Other moves to trickle out early Friday morning:

Hassan Whiteside will return to the Heat, he announced via the Players' Tribune

• The Pistons and Andre Drummond are nearing a five-year, $130 million max contract, according to ESPN's Marc Stein.

• The Hornets are poised to keep forward Nicolas Batum on a five-year, $120 million deal, according to Woj