Previews are back and here to stay for the ’17 season. Last year was super hectic from the jump: newly married, new city, new real-life job, all of which forced the previews to the back burner for most of the season. While some material will carry over from year to year I pledge to always provide a fresh spin.
One area that was lacking in previous years’ previews was the course section, and while I’ve ventured deep down the golf course architecture wormhole over the past year, I’m still just scratching the surface. Thus I’ve asked advisor and confidante Andy Johnson (@the_fried_egg) to contribute his thoughts each week. Holler on Twitter, via email or in the comments below with suggestions or feedback. Look forward to live tweeting this event all weekend – coverage is 7-10:30 on Thursday and Friday, which is absolutely ideal.
This will be the 52nd iteration of the Sony Open, all of ’em at Waialae. It’s a pretty stalwart event on tour at this point as the real beginning of the season despite all the wraparound nonsense. I do wonder how much longer Sony has interest in being the title sponsor. I remember 15 years ago Sony was doing everything and at the top of the game. These days they’re basically just sending playstations, laying people off, and getting hacked by Lil Kimmy up in North Korea.
It’s always interesting to see who plays in this tournament and who takes a few weeks off before the West Coast Swing kicks into gear. This is one of the stronger fields in recent memory, with Spieth using this tourney to break up his trip to Japan next week release his new shoe (he keeps saying that they’re dialing back on travel this season?). He’s appeared just once before, an MC his rookie year. The course should suit his game to a tee. JS is playing in a featured group with JT and DBstraitvibin. That’s must-watch. Some notes on other featured pairings and the field:
- Defending champ Fabian Gomez (he’s won an event two seasons in a row, that blows my mind), Jimmy Walker, and Justin Rose. ///unsubscribe
- Matsuyama, DubP, Zach Johnson. Not sure what three are gonna talk about.
- Haas, Snedeker, Dufner. Chill.
- Beyond the guys listed above, Ryan Palmer, Russell Knox, William McGirt, HV3, CH3 (crazy consistent here), and Kevin Kisner are all ballstrikers who should show well.
- Also like Leishman a lot. I’m also keen to see Steve Marino, Luke List and Spencer Levin start the year. Will be keeping a close eye on them.
- Fred Funk in the field – that guy #megafuqs. Hero of mine.
- Can’t wait to see Harris English in Nike gear – that’s a rough adjustment from Peter Millar to Nike. If Nike makes him wear the really aggressive stuff he’s going to look like a clown. At least give him a collar!
- Interesting to see Bob Estes in the field – I guess I’ll have to find another source for neo-conservative twitter takes this week.
- Zac Blair grabbed his cojones on this shot LY and caught my eye. The Top five shot of 2016 for me, no doubt. “Oh my gosh that is sooooo good!” I was so amped after he hit that shot.
Waialae Country Club
We shift gears this week from Kapalua’s modern Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw design to an old classic, Waialae Country Club, designed by one of the greatest golden age architects, Seth Raynor, in 1927. While Kapalua features a 7,500+ yard setup with heavily sloped topography and massive fairways, Waialae Country Club sits on a flattish piece of land east of the hubbub of Waikiki and is one of the shortest courses on Tour. Playing to a par 70 at 7,044 yards, and requiring precise play, shotmaking and strategy in order to score well.
So what type of player plays well at Raynor’s Waialae? Much to Tron’s chagrin, Waialae is somewhat susceptible to producing an #LPCP leaderboard, but that also suggests that virtually anyone in the field can win (a more endearing quality than ever on a tour slate that favors indiscriminate pop). Owing to the short layout and paucity of par 5’s (just two) #LPCP luminaries such as Zach Johnson, Mark Wilson and Johnson Wagner have triumphed here.
To sate the architecture geeks, here are a few tidbits about the club. Founded and commissioned by the Territorial Hotel Company to bring more luxury travel to Hawaii, the development of WCC brought the illustrious Seth Raynor and his partner, Charles Banks, each at the height of his career, to Honolulu in 1925 (they also designed the nine-hole Mid Pacific Golf Club on the same trip). Raynor (like his mentor, C.B. Macdonald) employed template holes at each of his designs. The template holes were renditions of holes that Macdonald believed to be the best of the British Isles. At Waialae, some notable template holes you will see are The Biarritz 4th hole modeled after the Chasm hole at Biarritz Golf Club and the Short par-3 16th modeled after the 4th hole at Royal West Norfolk Golf Club.
Here’s a look at the course from the eyes of PGA Tour player and golf course architecture nut Zac Blair (given his predilection for classic design it’s not surprising that ZB finished 3rd last year):
It’s funny I always hear people say Waialae has no Raynor left in it and I always laugh. The course has most of the bones left, just needs a minor tweak on a few holes. Much of the original routing is intact, it’s missing some bunkers and the hotel changed a few holes but it still is very much a Raynor design.” (the club offloaded three oceanfront holes to build the still well-regarded Kahala Hotel back in the sixties)
- Little known fact: The 1998 United Airlines Hawaiian Open was won by John Huston. Dude went 28 deep, causing uproar among environmentalists and local homeowners to the point where PETA came to protest the mass slaughter of birds. The negative publicity caused United to pull out and Sony signed on, but with a caveat: the membership redesigned the course during the off-season, bringing in Robert Trent Jones Jr. to continue his family’s long legacy of stripping the soul out of classic golf courses. The next year Jeff Sluman emerged as champion with a heavily toned-down winning score of -9 and collected paychex. And a word on John Huston – that guy #fuqd. Took it so deep so often, such an underrated career. And did it while playing FAST.
- There’s a distinct lineage of nebbish dudes who have won this event: the aforementioned Sluman, Paul Goydos, Mark Wilson, Corey Pavin, Brad Faxon, David Toms, and Russell Henley among others. I’m surprised that Mike Weir hasn’t been in the sponsor’s ear about an exemption.
- I wrote the following in 2014 and it is more true than ever: “Finally, and really most importantly, shame on the organizers for refusing to extend a sponsor’s exemption to Tadd Fujikawa. What the hell is that about? If you’re not going to give this guy a spot then don’t have exemptions. I thought it was written into the by-laws that he gets a spot. In ’12 he even rose above mascot status and nabbed a top-20.” This has since been memorialized in t-shirt form. While Tadd deserves a lifetime exemption to the event, we are graced with his presence again this year. He will be the center of attention during the Friday broadcast window. On a serious note, I respect Tadd for staying out there and grinding. He can’t be more than 5’1″ and yet he’s out there on the Canadian Tour and trying to Monday into PGA Tour Events. I’m told he’s about as nice a guy as you’ll meet and that his mom loops for him at most events and brings her dog on course in a little carrier. Picture evidence:
- Receiving a lot of questions regarding #LPCP lately, including some misconceptions. For the uninitiated, #LPCP stands for “Lacks Pop, Can’t Play” and you can listen to Episode 5 of NLU’s Trap Draw Podcast to learn the backstory. The quintessential #LPCP prototype is someone like Matt Kuchar. Big, athletic frame who just babies the ball around the course and manages his ball, disappears in majors and on weekends when the chips are down. A bad example of #LPCP is not someone like Jon Curran, Fred Funk, Zac Blair, all of whom are relatively small and don’t beat on the ball. They don’t necessarily lack pop, they were simply blessed with varying degrees of pop due to their smaller frame. Pop is relative.
- What happened to Carlos Ortiz? That dude was playing a consistently high level for awhile and then just lost it. Any intel floating around out there?
- Hole 9 this week is a perfect example of par being irrelevant. It is a 500 yard stock hole, that says 5 on the card. If you make par you’re losing a shot to the field. 18 is a great finishing hole and the sight of ZB’s big time second shot in there last year.
- Fantastic ProTracer compilation video from last year.:
- With regard to the broadcast I am looking forward to seeing GC and NBC’s coverage this week. They seemed to show more shots in rapid succession last week, and did it without being cluttered or choppy. Look for Rolfing to shift from his whales/surfers schtick to more of a volcano/windsurfing vibe.
- Tom Doak offered the following on WCC in his Confidential Guide: “It’s hard to see some f the Raynor templates on TV through the monotony of the bermudagrass, and the club did sell out three oceanfront holes on the front nine in the 1960’s to make room for housing and the Kahala Hotel. But the bones of a good course are there, and I’m consulting with the club to remove the buildup of dust so its charm can shine through.” He then proceeded to give it a 5 on the Doak Scale, which is a mix of pretty good and “meh. Interesting that he didn’t skewer RTJ by name.
- Little bit of trivia here – there are currently 11 guys from Japan and South Korea in the OWGR Top 100, 3 of whom I’ve never heard of, and 1 of whom I forgot about. Only guessed 7 of 11. Kind of amazing that there are guys in the top 100 that are virtually unknown even to people who follow golf very closely.
- WCC is enveloped by the posh Kahala neighborhood, basically Honolulu’s version of Beverly Hills, except closer to the beach. Why do I bring this up? My favorite book I read in 2016, William Finnegan’s Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life is partially set in the fringes of Kahala in the 1960’s. The whole thing was enchanting, no part more than the early days set in Kahala. Enchanting book, probably even more so during the winter months. Highly recommend.
- Last, Honolulu’s an interesting place if you can get out of the Waikiki bubble. I was lucky to spend a week visiting my aunt and uncle, Tom and Kathleen, while they were stationed at Fort Shafter. Having only spent time on Maui and the Big Island prior, I didn’t have a sense of Oahu when I arrived. That quickly changed as we vibed on the North Shore, tied one on at La Mariana Sailing Club, ate poke tuna nonstop, and experienced first-hand the insane traffic that Honolulu has and the staggering number of homeless. Which is a natural segue into playinga bunch of golf on the military courses on the island, which are spectacular. We played Mamala Bay, which is on the backside of the airport. Course was fantastic but the planes-potting was the real show on the runways basically surrounding the course on three sides with both commercial and military jets taking off, the harbor on another and then mountains in the background. Then we played Kaneohe Klipper Golf Course, which is the Marine Corps. course on the Northeast side of the island and features some of the gnarliest, narrowest ocean front holes I’ve ever played. Believe Obama’s played this course a lot, and I can’t imagine he fared too well. Firm and fast too. Highly recommend both if you are military or have an in. Sure beat the resort spots on Oahu, and the guys we played with were true heroes. There’s some military golf courses out there with good bones, just need some TLC and/or some creative touch. This would be a very worthwhile project for someone like Tiger to spearhead, just an idea.