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Sony Open: Hawaiian Briefing

We’ve reached the midway point of the Hawaiian swing. Let’s dig in.

(edited take #11 to include follow-up on January 14th, 2018)

Takes

1) DJ is back. I truly believe the best is yet to come. He’s only scratching the surface. Already the greatest player of all time.

2) I’m pleading with Jon Rahm to stop marking his ball with a poker chip. I’ll bear with him on the visor look, provided he grows the hair out and workshops some sort of aggressive facial hair.

3 ) If Sony hadn’t re-upped recently with the Tour through 2022 I’d be sitting here wondering what the future of the Hawaii events is. With the state of Sony’s overall business, the decline in Hawaiian tourism over the past decade and the anything- but-electric Tournament of Champions last week, things just feel flat. With a number of markets on the mainland losing tournaments or struggling to keep sponsors (Colonial, BigCat National) and large swaths of the country completely unrepresented (Upper Midwest & Pacific Northwest in particular) it seems odd to have two events in a row 3,000 miles away, with one being sparsely attended on Maui.

However, with this one locked in (or seemingly so…see: Dean & Deluca), and Sentry locked in as a TOC sponsor the Hawaii events seem to be a foregone conclusion for the net few years. The greens this year notwithstanding, Kapalua’s developed a nice rapport with the TOC and Sony is now one of the longest-running sponsors on tour. I think it would be cooler to have the TOC rotate around to different resorts and islands – go to Lanai or Kauai or the big island too. I’ve read about three articles this week lamenting the “low energy Jeb(!)” TOC and offering solutions, but at the end of the day I don’t think it’s a much of a big deal. The Tour’s devoted a ton of energy cultivating a stable of signature events over the last decade (FEC Playoffs and Players spring to mind) to the point that it’s not a big deal if the TOC isn’t a big deal.

4) Sentry – the newish sponsor of the TOC – is in DEEP with the Jones Family. They commissioned RTJ Jr. to do a course called SentryWorld at their HQ in Stevens Point, WI. Maybe we should count our blessings on Kapalua and not let perfect get in the way of good.

5) Shoutout to Brian Harman – the new MegaCorp sponsorship is solid. Not sure what they do. But apparently they want to be regarded as a large company, and no better way to do that than to associate your #brand with one of the biggest guys on tour. Also good to see him back with Titleist – it never sat right with me that he was with TM. I remember him rolling out on the range at Georgia high school events using Titleist equipment I didn’t even know existed.

6) I’ll be tracking all sponsor exemptions this year and keeping an eye out for trends – how they perform in the tournament, which tournaments most effectively use them, which players get an unreasonable number of them due to backroom agent dealings (see: Ruffels, Ryan).

Sony’s performance on this front is a disgrace and an affront to the PGA Tour. They picked exclusively Japanese players with the exception of a couple Champions Tour past-champs who are using this as a warm-up to their season opener at Hualalai next week, and an up-and-coming Hawaiian player. This reminds me of a dad who picks his kids for an all-star team. If getting Japanese players more recognition is the priority, then open up the pocket book and bring a WGC or another big event to Japan. Look at how Korea is doing work with the CJ Cup. It might even be acceptable for a silly-season event. But this is the first full-field event of the year, and one with a rich history that should celebrate Hawaiian golf. The two guys responsible for the most distinctive moments in the last ten years of the event (Tadd Fujikawa & Zac Blair) were left on the outside so the following guys could claim a spot:

  • Daisuke Kataoka
  • Satoshi Kodaira
  • Yusaku Miyazato
  • Tyler Ota (the one Hawaiian player they gave an exemption to)
  • Shugo Imahira
  • Hyung-Sung Kim
  • Tatsuya Kodak

7) I’d be remiss if I missed a good opportunity to complain about Omar Uresti getting six exemptions a year for his win* in the PGA Club Professional Championship. No issue with this being the case for anyone else who wins the Club Pro title, it’s just scummy that he’s even allowed to play in that event after notching over 350 starts on Tour. Also, according to Wikipedia, Omar says his greatest accomplishment in golf was making eight consecutive birdies in a Nationwide Tour event. We’ll leave that there.

8) Keep an eye out for our man Barry (@sacoomba), a Scottish ex-pat who lives in Hawaii. Barry’s produced many of the designs on our t-shirts over the last few years and managed to make the telecast A LOT last year. #fuqs

9) Web starts on Saturday in the Bahamas. This was the best tournament of the year on any tour last year. ABSOLUTE CARNAGE.

10) Latinoamerica Qualifying school starts at Mission Inn on Tuesday. Solid venue. Much more to come on that front this year.

11) I’m not done ranting about the Sony field. Once again, the event only cleared about 40 of the 50 guys from the 2017 Web Tour graduate list. Ridiculous. (Fake news, the Sony actually cleared all Web graduates this year and digging deeper, things have improved this year for several reasons, namely the additional Asian event, more multiple event winners on tour the past few years and the reach-around season. Tron regrets the error, but larger point still stands – too many cards out there, need to trim the fat!) If you have your card, you should have your card, period. I get the priority list, but this is the first event of the year and everybody should be ready to roll. Cut the 125 list on tour to 100, have less guys graduate from the web tour, whatever, but if you have your card you should be able to play a majority of the events in the fall and in January/February before the first reshuffle.

12) Patrick Reed signing with Nike is great stuff. Can’t wait to see the choker necklace/blade collar combo and some of the other stuff they trot him out in this year. Congrats to Patrick on the Alabama National Championship, by the way.

13) Are you hurt or are you injured? There is some serious chatter out there about guys maximizing their major medical exemptions. Example: a guy comes back, plays like shit and then says, “Yeah I’m just gonna hang it up for the rest of the season and say I’m hurt and work on my game. I’ll come back when my game is tight and in the meantime, I’ll collect a $20K check from the Tour every month while I’m out.”

This isn’t a new issue, and there are certainly a number of legitimate injuries out there. But there’s a revolving cast of guys who seem to be on major medical for years, long after they’re healed from their original injury. I plan on doing some capital “J” journalism to study this issue. Stay tuned.

Vibe

DJ: “Honolulu feels like a town – like all the best towns – that you have to experience with a local. I’ve never been able to do this and, thus, have hated my trips there. Traffic, soulless shopping, etc. I imagine that having someone to pull you out of all the tourist areas would be a completely different experience that I’m dying to check out. The vibe on-site at the event is much better. The crowds are laid back, but knowledgable and excited. You see a lot of mainlanders who dropped out and moved to Hawaii bringing some mega-chill energy. The walk is spectacular – probably one of the best spectator walks on tour. It’s flat, great sight lines, interesting shots, great views, especially on the closing stretch.”

“The best time I’ve ever had in Honolulu, though, was getting out of Honolulu. Hiking up Diamond Head to see the city from above is incredibly worthwhile, especially at sunrise. One of my favorite days though was a travel day when I had a late flight. I had time to just take a drive up and around the North Shore. All the bustle of Honolulu disappears and you’re left with quite possibly one of the most zen atmospheres I’ve ever seen.”

Tron: “Agree completely with DJ’s sentiments – Honolulu is a city of distinct neighborhoods. I’ve seen it from the perspective of hanging with my aunt and uncle at Fort Shafter, the army base in the hills above Honolulu. We went to some divey spots in Koko Head and down in the port that we never would’ve found if not for local knowledge. As for the the tournament, I’m pumped to see what the Doakito did with the course.

Course

Waialae CC was one of the last designs of Seth Raynor (shout out to Zac “The Raynor Man” Blair – “alps alps alps”). The original design was changed dramatically to accommodate the Kahala Hotel. Andy Johnson sums up the changes and the ethos of the course far better than we could and I’d urge you to check out his overview here, which has some dope historical photos and before-and-after sliders.

Andy also sat down with Tom Doak for a podcast all about Waialae’s history and future.

Enduring Memories

DJ: “My lasting personal memory of this event is being on the same beach on the same night where Bob Allenby was ‘abducted.’ I remember feeling some serious unease the next day about the whole thing. Obviously that slowly went away as more of the story came out. /would return”

Neil: “I’m not familiar with the Sony Open. Sounds cool though, Japan sent Playstations.”

Soly: “Zac’s three-wood into 18 in 2016. I didn’t even know who the guy was.”

Big Randy: “Obviously Fujikawa fist pumping the putt to make the cut stands out. His whole persona was such a departure from standard fare Tour pro that I couldn’t help but be rapt by his whole aura. I suspected that’d be about what we ever heard of him, so it’s with great interest and fascination I’ve come to learn about his more recent trials and tribulations. I’ve gained a ton of respect and appreciation for him and his journey and hope to see him back at the Sony again.

“The second memory isn’t really a memory per se but an association. And it involves John Huston and his record-breaking 260 and his 7-shot win in 1998. As an impressionable 14-year-old starting to become conscious of not only the wide world of sport, but also golf, Huston’s performance that week would forever cement him in my mind as the golfer most synonymous with going freaking LOW. Again, I’m not sure I even watched much of the tournament, but as a SportsCenter junkie I certainly would’ve heard about it and seen the highlights. To this day, when I think of heaters in golf, it’s John Huston at the forefront of my mind.”

Tron: “Interestingly enough it’s a tie between the aforementioned Fujikawa triumph of the human spirit and the year Mark Wilson went HAM on everyone and outlasted Steve Marino and Tim Clark, and then won the next month in Phoenix (dude’s won five times!!!)

 

 

About the Author

Tron Carter - NLU's resident curmudgeon, wannabe media critic, fashion crusader, and arbiter of all things "pop." Passionate proponent of taking driver off the deck. Native of Atlanta, now residing in Jacksonville Beach after two quick, but beneficial years in Boston. Other interests include history, infrastructure, wine, and Michael Bay's seminal masterpiece The Rock. Also doing business as "Todd Schuster." [email protected]

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