Aloha! It’s a beautiful weekend for golf… in Hawaii. The 2020 PGA Tour kicked off in Maui on Thursday while the rest of us trudged back to our desks. At least the coffee was restocked over break.
In today’s newsletter…
- The new centerline bunker on the 5th hole at Kapalua’s Plantation Course seeks not to offend.
- Joaquín Niemann leads the Sentry Tournament of Champions after one round, but a group of favorites lurks close behind.
- We suggest some 2020 goals for our favorite PGA Tour pros.
Where hazards can’t be hazardous
The new bunker in the middle of the 5th fairway didn’t give the pros much trouble today at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. Gary Woodland was the only player to lay up, and the scoring average on the par 5 was nearly the same as it was last year (mid 4s).
As it turns out, Coore & Crenshaw intended the bunker to pose more of a challenge. According to Ron Whitten’s article about the renovation, PGA Tour officials persuaded C&C to make the bunker shallower “so players would still have a chance to escape with a five iron and reach the green.” (H/t to friend of the program Jay Rigdon.) By softening the hazard, they lessened the significance of the strategic decision players have to make on the tee. Why worry when the worst-case scenario isn’t that bad? It’s a great example of how terrified the Tour seems to be of its own players, and how the architectural opinions of pros carry more weight than those of actual, respected architects.
After the tournament, Coore & Crenshaw plan to meet with officials again to decide whether to keep the bunker.
The PGA Tour had players fill out their personal 2020 goals this week. Responses ran the gamut: some contained what appeared to be sponsored content, others were just odd. While we were happy to hear from the players themselves, we have a few additional goals for them to consider.
Jon Rahm – Keep it together, man – Rahm is 25 years old and No. 3 in the world, yet it feels as though he’s just getting started. He has three PGA Tour wins, but only the 2017 Farmers Insurance Open was truly impressive. His other two were the 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge and the 2019 Zurich Classic, a team event. (Rahm’s Euro Tour victories, including two Irish Opens and two DP World Championships, have arguably been more noteworthy.) It’s no secret that Rahm’s temper has held him back in big-time tournaments. This will be Rahm’s fourth full season as a pro, and we just want him to chill out. He’s a world-class player; it’s time he acts like one on the world stage.
Jordan Spieth – Pull it together, man – Spieth’s fall from grace has been well documented, but it still weirds us out. Twenty-two year-old superstars shouldn’t lose their superpowers so suddenly. This isn’t Space Jam. So our goal for Jordan isn’t for him to win two majors or reach No. 1 in the world again. We simply want him to get out of his own head and play steady golf. That’s easier said than done, of course.
Young guys – Stay the course – There are too many precocious 20-somethings out there to discuss one by one, but we’re talking about Sungjae Im, Joaquín Niemann, Matthew Wolff, Collin Morikawa, and Viktor Hovland. All five had great 2019 seasons, and all are primed for breakout years. Busts happen, though. Plenty of golfers have failed to live up to their potential. So while Niemann, Wolff, and Morikawa already have some security from their victories, we would like to see them stay within themselves and keep racking up consistent results.
Patrick Cantlay – Take the next step – The Presidents Cup was the first time we really saw some fire from Mr. Cantlay, and it was great. One of the best players in the game tee to green, Cantlay has the ability to win every week. Somehow, though, he has only two PGA Tour victories. The 2019 Memorial was his biggest win to date, and he notched two top 10s in majors last season, but he’s due to win at a higher clip. Like Rahm, if Cantlay finds more consistency when he’s in contention, the wins will come.
Sentry Tournament of Champions, Round 1
- Twenty-one year-old President Cupper Joaquín Niemann leads after an opening 66
- Favorites Justin Thomas (67) and Jon Rahm (69) are in the mix
- Rickie Fowler is festive and playing well (68)
- In spite of reports that Coore & Crenshaw’s work on the Plantation Course would create firmer playing surfaces, the fairways were markedly soft yesterday, no doubt in part because of recent rainfall in Hawaii.
- Conditions were calm on the opening day, but there’s wind in the forecast. Rickie expects that the elements will take at least half of the field out of contention.
The new World Handicap System sounds like it could get a bit messy.
In since-deleted tweets, luxury equipment company PXG indicated that 1) Billy Horschel has won a major, 2) the FedEx Cup is a major, and 3) it’s called the “FedEx Club Championship.” It was good Golf Twitter.
Lorne Rubinstein had a lovely essay about the sea, links golf, Royal Dornoch, and our misguided efforts to “tame” and “grow” the game.
The Latest from The Fried Egg
My Favorite 2019 Photos and the Stories Behind Them – Andy reflects on 2019 by digging up some of his favorite golf photos and detailing the stories, ideas, and feelings that they call up for him.
Shotgun Start: Is the FedEx “Club” a major? More centerline bunkergate? And 2020 predictions
The new year brings a fresh Friday episode where Brendan and Andy begin by discussing the creative categorization of majors by PXG. Is the FedEx Club a major now? Does it matter if a player was not using your clubs when they won it? These are the big questions asked as the new decade begins with some Shotgun Start red meat from PXG. Then they get to the action in Kapalua, discussing the soft conditions on a newly refreshed Plantation Course. The challenges of playing to different elevations and off uneven lies are praised before they turn to the possibility of some coming drama about another centerline bunker added at a regular PGA Tour stop. Will this be another litmus test for how much the members can be catered to in this member-run organization? Some brief 2020 predictions are made for the majors as well as potential hotspots and controversies. The episode wraps with a fun Flashback Friday on Danny Chops’ Kapalua win and the incomprehensible fact of someone winning Comeback Player of the Year in *consecutive* years. Listen on iTunes, Stitcher, and Spotify.
The Must-Sees of Public Golf Architecture in America
Pacific Grove Golf Links—Back Nine (Pacific Grove, CA)
First, let’s talk about the front nine—the inland loop designed by Chandler Egan in 1932. On the one hand, I bristle when people bash it or refuse to play it. Holes 3-7 play over some fine landforms, and the 4th green offers an underrated glimpse of Monterey Bay. On the other hand, I get it: the front nine is not a must-see. But the back nine absolutely is. The dunes and the ocean views get a lot of attention, as they should, but what really makes the nine work is Jack Neville’s ingenious routing. Each hole reveals a new vista or a new section of the property. Multiple greens and tees make use of the most dramatic family of dunes. And on the best holes—Nos. 12-16—the natural sandy areas guard the preferred sides of the fairway, posing the classic question of strategic architecture: take on a risky shot now or a difficult one later?
Insider tip: Here’s my ideal Pacific Grove day: show up at the pro shop at 6 AM and ask to play the back nine only; do brunch at Red House or Crema, and take a walk at Lovers Point; at 2 or 3 p.m., tee off again, this time from the 1st hole, and hit the back nine at golden hour. -Garrett Morrison
Read Garrett’s full profile of Pacific Grove.
Photo credit: Garrett Morrison