Went out on Friday morning with Branden Grace, Martin Kaymer, and Bernd Wiesberger. The crowds were light-ish, and the farther we got from the clubhouse, the more and more remote things felt. Like, it was so quiet out there, that I’m pretty sure they were wondering what the hell I was doing following them. The vibe was contagious, and they carried on casual conversations in full earshot of the few fans that were out there with no care on whether or not they were overheard.
On the par-3 4th, Grace had the honor, but had ducked into the port-o-potty behind the tee box. As the green cleared, Wiesberger headed towards the tee and asked Grace if he could go ahead. Branden obviously didn’t care, and Bernd knocked one in pretty tight to about ten feet. Then Grace got up and stuffed one to about two feet. He turned to Wiesberger, and said (something along the lines of): “If you would have just let me go first, that would have been you.”
After they both birdied, Grace motioned at Wiesberger and asked if it was OK if he actually take his honor. Did I mention that the Euro Tour is just the best?
The stripe show went on, and through five holes on the back, the group was nine under par without breaking a sweat. Clearly inspired by the Pro-Am round with Tron, Grace ran off six birdies on that side in route to a 30, and a Friday round of 64.
Watching Fleetwood on Thursday was an absolute treat. He’s far from a short hitter, but obviously consistently behind Rory and DJ throughout the day. Playing first into almost every green, he hit all eighteen greens en route to a 66. I love the 100% commitment that you see in every single swing. There’s never any defensiveness, and he plays with an enviable amount of confidence. He’s a terrifying guy to have opposing your squad come Ryder Cup time.
On the exterior, DJ doesn’t seem to care whether he shoots 66 or 76. In an event that he was clearly paid to play in, 12 time zones away from Kapalua, you would think this is the perfect opportunity for him to mail one in. He didn’t hit it great at all on Thursday, but there was no mail in. After a poor chip, he let out several audible expressions of disappointment (surprisingly, 100% PG rated), and was noticeably peeved at giving back a shot. Hardly noteworthy, but surprising to me to see him that much on the grind on a Thursday morning in Abu Dhabi when it’s not something we ever see shine through on tv.
On Friday, I followed his group in for the last six holes. He shot 64 and I didn’t even notice. I’ve easily seen at least 100 DJ tee shots in person in my life, and I still found myself saying “GEEZ” under my breath this afternoon. Watching he and Rory go toe-to-toe off the tee from two completely different frames is fascinating. Rory is smaller in person than you would think, and DJ is even bigger. The fact that they hit it the same distance is staggering, and still hard to comprehend.
Rory played the first 36 holes without a bogey, sits at 9-under just three shots off the pace, yet still somehow seemed a hair rusty. He ran in a long eagle on the 18th to shoot 66, yet still somehow seemed to burn the edge on 15 footer after 15 footer. I swear it seems like he has 12-15 of these every single round I’ve watched him play, and when the putter gets hot, he just wins. The fact that he’s barely off the pace without stuffing a bunch of wedges, and without draining a ton of putts is encouraging. Because he’s going to have some great runs with both of those clubs, and the trophies are going to follow.
We’re going to touch a lot more on this in the wrap-up podcast, but this tournament has been very different than what we were expecting. Going in, I thought a vibe similar to Malaysia or South Korea could be expected. Small crowds, no real vibe on site, etc. The official attendance number pegged it at about 25,000 people in attendance on Friday, and there was definitely a buzz akin to some mid-tier events in the states.
There’s food trucks everywhere, ex-pats getting LIT at Friday Brunch (which is apparently a big thing here), and no shortage of fan experience zones on site (TopGolf Crush, bean bag chairs, a giant terrace outside the clubhouse, etc.). I’m not sure if that vibe translates to TV, but that’s definitely not the impression the coverage portrays.
While there are certainly some monetary benefits to be had (*cough cough*), the field strength is attributable to much more than just that, especially as the tournament only receives eight exemptions beyond the European Tour criteria, three of which are used for UAE-tied golfers. The city is an actual oasis, and there’s not that many places that have weather this spectacular in the middle of January. On top of that, the players get treated like royalty, the food is standout, and the golf course is in perfect shape.
Abu Dhabi is about 90% expats, but the natives possess incredible pride for their city. Additionally, many of the expats that live in Abu Dhabi are keenly interested to hear about our impressions of the city and the vibe. Again, we’ll expand on all of this a lot more in the podcast.
- Bryson about lost it on the 10th hole today. After a semi chubby chip, he let out quite a loud “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!” before overhanding his ball at his caddie at a speed that I would have ducked out of the way before sticking my hand out. The smack against his caddie’s palm sounded like a Verlander fastball hitting the mitt.
- For those that say they don’t believe in love at first sight, I’m going to assume you’ve never seen Kiradech in person.
- Graeme McDowell is the man. After missing the cut, he stuck around, told stories, laughed, and signed autographs for kids.
- Lot of white belts on the Euro Tour.
- Got the chance to personally thank Martin Kaymer for the spring of 2014 (Players Championship at 80/1, US Open at 40/1). When I told him that I owed him a beer, he didn’t think that would sufficiently pay off the debt.
- We got to go on the roof of the clubhouse, directly next to the falcon head. More to come on that front.