Every year in late May or early June, the game’s best arrive in Dublin, Ohio for perhaps the greatest non-major event on the PGA Tour schedule. The Memorial Tournament gets circled on the calendar every single year for any player of consequence (unless your name is Rory) in what is highly regarded as the best regular stop on tour outside of Augusta National. Always played exactly two weeks before the U.S. Open, on a big boy golf course, unprecedented hospitality, and hosted by the most prestigious champion to ever play the game means you get an absolutely world-class event as the final significant tune up for our national championship.
Muirfield was the site of Jack Nicklaus’ first career Open Championship, and became the name of his pride and joy in Dublin, Ohio, a small suburb of Columbus. Muirfield Village Golf Club was built in 1976 and designed by the Columbus native, and has played host to this event since then. My family set up shop in Muirfield Village in 1992, and my parents still live there to this day.
Growing up in Dublin, Memorial Tournament week was a testament to how cool your parents were, as you spent most of the week begging for a note to get out of school to go seek autographs and golf balls from guys most of us had never heard of. Up until this year, I used it as a get-out-of work excuse and made the eastward trek “home” from Chicago for a week of playing golf, drinking beers with old friends, and watching the world’s elite in the Masters of the Midwest (moving abroad has unfortunately caused me to miss the event for the first time in ages). To say that this tournament hits home to me would be understatement. The Memorial Tournament is the defining event for my hometown, and has been a memory maker for me for two decades.
Muirfield Village Golf Club
It may be blasphemous to say, but Muirfield Village may be the closest thing on the tour to Augusta National. Nicklaus admits that Augusta was a huge influence on the design, and to this day, the tournament is run in a similar fashion to the Masters. Like Augusta, the course is known as a second shot golf course, is defined by its tall trees, elegant water hazards, and underrated elevation changes that just can’t be appreciated until you see them in person. The similarities on the back nine get a little bit creepy to the point where it almost feels as if Jack used Muirfield Village as an excuse to remind you of his six Masters titles.
Here are the 12th holes at Muirfield and Augusta, respectively:And the 16th holes at Muirfield and Augusta, respectively (it should be noted that the 16th at Muirfield was reconfigured a few years ago and featured one of the deepest bunkers on tour in the place of where the pond currently sits – Jack moved a massive amount of earth to create the semblance below):
Those two examples are the easiest to illustrate visually, but that is not where they end. At both courses, the first hole is a long, difficult, dogleg right par 4 that is protected by fairway bunkers to the right. The third holes are each short par-4’s that don’t require a driver. The fourth holes are long par-3’s that serve as one of the most non-descript holes at both courses. The 17th is a long, straight away par-4 on both courses, and the 18th is a long, dogleg right par-4 that chutes straight up the hill toward the clubhouse. The par-5’s are all reachable, and the course is ALWAYS being tinkered with, be it lengthening to keep up with the technology pace, adding/moving bunkers, or resurfacing the greens. Muirfield is Jack’s lego set.
A new tee went in on 18 in the summer of 2013 after the Memorial that was used for the Presidents Cup in October of that year, and went into play for the Memorial in 2014. Initial reviews from players are mixed at best. Jack grew tired of seeing guys hit 2-iron down the fairway from 440 yards, then a 9-iron into the green, so he stretched it to 480 yards to a spot I wasn’t sure it was possible to put a tee box. The problem isn’t the added length necessarily. It’s that it now brings the tree that guards the right side of the fairway squarely into play for a well struck tee shot, as seen here:
Here's your angle to 18 green after a 285 yd drive in fw. Pin is behind the trunk. Not sure I agree w new tee box pic.twitter.com/iwBDlPkqcC
— Mark Urbanek (@UrbanekMark) May 26, 2014
The 18th usually plays downwind, but if the wind shifts this week, you could see some ugly numbers on this beast.
When the course was built in the 1970’s, Dublin was nothing but corn fields, and was home to less than 3,000 people. Today, over 40,000 people call Dublin home. The city sits to the north of downtown Columbus, and is less than 20 minutes from the Horseshoe where Ohio State fans have gathered for a century. Columbus prides itself on being a huge sports town, and anyone who has come in contact with Ohio State fans over the last decade-plus can likely attest to that (be prepared to hear some “O-H” chants, followed by “I-O” on the broadcast).
When Columbus finally got its first professional franchise in 2000 with the expansion Blue Jackets, the passion the Buckeye community had for their city was evident from day one. A Jackets game at Nationwide Arena was rated as the number 2 experience in all of sports by ESPN the magazine. Every game was seemingly sold out, and that area rocked every night despite the team’s lack of success.
What does that have to do with the Memorial Tournament? Well, for nearly a quarter of a century, the Memorial was the only professional event in town, and this week still remains as the second biggest sports week of the year in Dublin, outside of the OSU/Michigan game. The natives come out in droves to watch Tiger dominate this course year after year, and it stands as the place to see and be seen in Dublin. The weather has traditionally been awful (and it looks questionable again early in the week), but the people will trudge through with their umbrellas and golf shoes to watch the world’s best.
And an equal-opportunity bit from our resident SEC-homer, Tron Carter:
I’d imagine that the galleries at this event are a great sideshow for the majority of pros on a tour so predominated by SEC and Big-12 alums as it is. Hot, homegrown, wholesome midwestern women roam the premises, and in tow are bros of all-ages pimping Buck Tech shirts and lids, with some outdated Abercombie gear sprinkled in (corporate hq just east of here). Surely they’ll ramble on into eternity about how overrated the SEC is as they congregate on the 12th and (especially) 14th holes, causing headaches for the marshals patrolling those holes. Overall, it’s a hell of an entertaining scene and one that I appreciate more and more now that I’ve moved back to Georgia after my four-plus years at Miami of Ohio with Soly and Fil (and yes, I know, there are a legion of stereotypes in play there). This is my favorite course on tour outside of the majors, and the scene is there to match.
After the tournament, the fun moves over to the Bogey Inn, a local gin-joint turned once-a-year speakeasy/temporary John Daly bus-side merch-tent/beach-volleyball haven. Basically, imagine an off-site version of the Bird’s Nest. And while I’ll probably get a bit of flack for my anti-OSU diatribe above, I can take solace in the fact that my friends and relatives who reside in Columbus know that it’s one of my favorite cities in the country – a veritable golf mecca, a surprisingly progressive cultural oasis in the middle of Ohio, and home to a bunch of salt of the earth people prone to some good-natured ribbing.
The scene at the Bogey Inn:
Matsuyama held off Kevin Na’s furious charge on Sunday, but the biggest story was Bubba hitting a ball so far right on 15 on Sunday that it ended up in someone’s backyard. True story: Tron, Fil and I snuck into a party in the backyard of that exact house in 2006, only to be kicked out when our story of who we knew at the party didn’t hold up (full story in Part II).
Rickie Fowler (25/1) – Runner up here in 2010, with mixed results since then. Obviously his recent form is fantastic.
Kevin Na (35/1) – Considering his recent form, and the fact that he lost in a playoff here last year, I can’t believe he’s not more of a favorite. I’m all over him at this price.
Charl Schwartzel (95/1) – Top 10’s in each of his last two starts here, and really could have won this thing in 2013. He’s had a quiet year, but he also played well (if I remember right) in the Presidents Cup here.
Honorable Mentions & Fantasy Fodder
Spieth (love him on the course, just can’t advise a play at 8/1 as he could very well be exhausted), Justin Rose (horse for course), Fowler, Haas, Horschel, and Koepka are all advised this week. I also may or may not have that Tiger guy in my lineup, and afraid to admit it.
- It’s disappointing (yet understandable) to not have Rory in the field this week. I feel like this course suits him really well, despite a less than stellar history of results. He can murder the par 5’s, hit driver almost anywhere that he pleases (considering the wide landing areas), and can get some more U.S. reps after his disastrous European vacation.
- On that note, why is Bubba not in the field this week? The guy almost ruined my season last year by parading up and down the wide Muirfield fairways with that stupid grin on his face until he hit a ball so far right on 15 that he would have been better off yelling “BENGHAZI” at it rather than “FORE”. For the same reasons I noted above, Bubba can bring this course to his knees, and should be using this as a final U.S. Open tune-up, because he might be able to do the same to Chambers Bay (*shudders*).
- Muirfield Village is well known among the players for their world class milkshakes. Get ready for a lot of tweets this week from players on how many milkshakes they’ve had. It’s going to be riveting.
- The practice facility at Muirfield is widely known as the best on tour. The range spans 180 degrees so that players can practically simulate any wind environment they’d like. It’s relatively flat, there’s a ton of greens to hit, too. It makes Augusta’s facility look small.
- Check out this preview of the Memorial as well, courtesy of Don Delco.
- Shout out to Tron Carter, who will be wedding a beautiful Swede in Atlanta this weekend. I’m sorry I can’t be there with the rest of the NLU gang, but I’ll be there in spirit. Knowing Tron, he’s still going to fire off some takes on Matt Kuchar lacking pop right after he says his vows. Congrats bro!
- Stay tuned for Part II, where I’ll share some mostly uninteresting stories from my years attending the Memorial.