Welcome to The Eurozone—No Laying Up’s new series in which we explore, analyze, and opine on all things European Tour. Along with Tron Carter, we’re going to dig into some of the history, personalities, and courses that make the European Tour worth the oft-necessary 4 A.M. wake-up call. Hopefully, these stories will pique your interest in what is an exceptionally entertaining (and…ahem…ever-improving) product, and maybe even convince you to join us for some early Saturday and Sunday morning appointment viewing…and not just because it can be admittedly lonely tweeting into the morning internet abyss about our new “Winter Killhouse” on Fleetwood Island. We’re putting in a pool! It’s gonna be dope!
With the introductions complete, we are going to ease into this series with a straightforward look at the course for this week’s event, the Maybank Championship in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Fabrizio Zanotti, the defending champion.
I will not make a bad Febreze pun…I will not make a bad Febreze pun….
Zanotti, the affable and smooth-swinging 34 year old from Asunción, Paraguay, mounted a Sunday charge in the 2017 Maybank, riding a blazing hot putter to a nine under par round of 63, (-19 total) and a one shot victory over David Lipsky. After going out in 32, Zanotti came home one shot better in 31, including four straight 3s capped off with an eagle at the par-five closer.
It was Zanotti’s second win on the European Tour, with his previous victory coming at the 2014 BMW International Open in a four-man playoff with Rafa Cabrera-Bello (menace), Grégory Havret (abysmally French), and Henrik Stenson (the 3W guy). Zanotti, not much of a household name even among serious golf fans (admit it, you thought he was Italian before I told you he’s from Paraguay), has been a late-bloomer in his career. He lost his tour card after a middling 2013, but recaptured it through qualifying school to maintain his status before his breakthrough year in 2014, where, along with his win in Germany, he collected three other top-5 finishes.
Despite taking some time to find his bearings as a professional, by all accounts, Zanotti was born to play golf. He learned the game from his father, beginning at age 2, whacking a ball with a stick as he tagged along at the local course (didn’t we all?). He went on to become the top-ranked amateur in Paraguay for six consecutive years before turning pro in 2003. (Sidenote: being “top-ranked” at anything is a cool achievement, but I’m wondering how many seriously competitive amateurs can there be in in the golfing hot-bed of Paraguay? 12?)
After slogging through the #NarcosTour early in his career, Zanotti glided through the 2007 Challenge Tour season after winning his second start, the co-sanctioned Abierto Mexicano Corona. Fortunately for the field, Club Pro Guy had to WD after overindulging at the title sponsor’s kickoff event, leaving the door wide open for Zanotti.
Zanotti started his 2018 season on a solid note, finishing T9 in Abu Dhabi, but he missed the cut the following week in Dubai. He will look to channel the good vibes from last year into a strong title defense that could cement his place in the top 100 of the OWGR and set him on the right track for the Race to Dubai, as well as some additional opportunities in the United States, where Zanotti has appeared infrequently.
Palm oil, cobras, and dingy rock walls abound
The test for Zanotti and the rest of the field this week is the Palm Course at Saujana Golf and Country Club. Designed by Ronald Fream in 1986, what the Palm Course lacks in length (by “championship” standards at only 7,135 yards), it tends to make up in tight(!) windows of play, abundant water hazards, fairly dramatic elevation changes, and heavily undulating greens. It’s not the worst course on tour, but nothing about it is overly inspirational, either—it’s a bottom-halfer in my book. The Palm Course has many of the hallmarks of 1980s architecture that were especially uniform during that era’s mini-boom of course construction in Southeast Asia, noticeable in the obscurely-shaped-yet-rounded-edge bunkering, distinctly jungle-looking flora, and boldly contrasting mow lines. No, these are not compliments.
The Palm Course (nicknamed the “The Cobra”) is—I guess?—aptly named in both regards, as the property was built on the site of a former oil palm plantation, in which cobras were introduced as a method of pest-control to keep the crop-destroying rats at bay.
Read that sentence again.
FUCKING COBRAS. COBRAS WERE ALLEGEDLY THE “GOOD GUYS” IN THIS SCENARIO.
I have so many questions . . .
1) Did farmers ever actually harvest the palm oil? Who is getting in a goddamn cobra pit to do that job?
2) Whose idea was this? How did that meeting go? Were conventional rat traps too expensive? Couldn’t they have just used some sort of rat poison that was not otherwise derived from cobra venom?
3) What happened when the cobras ran out of rats to eat? Did they just meander out of the plantation and start terrorizing the residents of Kuala Lumpur, looking for more rats?
4) Do the folks at Cobra Golf know about this sick sponsorship opportunity? Got to think it would be good for the #brand.
5) How did they eradicate the cobras to build the golf course? What apex-predator would get in there that is somehow less terrifying than cobras? Also, are we sure there are no more cobra stragglers? Are we?
If anyone actually has answers to these questions, please @ me. Seriously.
The other prominent feature of this course that seems to be, if not unique to Southeast Asian courses, certainly prevalent, is the use of off-white, rock retention walls in desperate need of a scrub down. I’m not opposed to rock walls per se, and if used tastefully to somewhat blend in with the landscape, I can tolerate them (see, e.g., 13th at Augusta or the 18th at Colonial). But at the Cobra, they have all the sex appeal of their 1980s sibling, the acid washed jeans. I mean, come on:
And, if you’re gonna say “eff it” and rock the white walls like you’re trying to bring them back in style, at least get a pressure washer out there once in a while to shine ‘em up. Is that too much to ask?
From a strategy standpoint, there are at least a couple of holes that merit brief discussion. The par 4 fourth is a shorty, with tees that will be set up ranging from 320-370 for the tournament. The hole plays slightly downhill and will be reachable if the tees are up, but the water hazard running along the entire left side and to the left and back of the green (framed by, you guessed it, shitty looking white rock walls!) acts as a deterrent. There is some room in front of the green to run it up, and the carry over the water will be all of 300 yards. For those electing to lay up, there are two options: carry the brook that perpendicularly bisects the fairway, or lay back short of it. The shorter tee shot leaves a longer second, but depending on the pin location (say, if it is in the front-right), provides a better angle. If the pin is in the back left, those choosing not to try to drive the green will likely elect to carry the brook with a long iron or fairway metal to set up a pitch into the depth of the green.
The 569-yard, uphill par-5 eighteenth is a worthwhile closer that also gives players some options. The tee shot, depending on the tournament scenario, calls for the player to either opt to carry the right fairway bunkers if there is any chance of reaching in two, or lay back/left to make the hole a relatively straight forward three-shotter. From there, lay-up interest is provided by a few bunkers that pinch the landing area approximately 80-100 yards out, with plenty of room behind them if the player is fine with having a potentially awkward yardage for his third. The last task for securing a birdie is getting the approach on the correct level of the three-tiered green, which is fronted by two bunkers. Not a majestic hole by any stretch, but a final puzzle to solve for those on the first page of the leaderboard on Sunday afternoon.
The trophy for this tournament is a badass three-dimensional tiger head on a stick, resembling the corporate logo for the title sponsor, Maybank. Who wouldn’t want this baby on the mantle?
While only in its third year of this iteration, the Maybank Championship has seemed to find a solid foothold in the early part of the schedule. The field and purse are both decent, and the players seem to like coming to Malaysia to play. Before it became the Maybank, the former Malaysian Open boasted a roster of winners not lacking in name recognition, including Louis Oosthuizen, Matteo Manassero, Seung-yul Noh, Lee Westwood (twice), and Tron’s beloved Kiradech Aphibarnrat. (Somehow, the #barnrat found a way not to get cobra’d.)
Malaysia’s time zone means there will be some live golf in prime time on the east coast, with coverage starting each night in the States on Golf Channel at 10:30 PM EST. So put the kids to bed, put on those fuzzy house slippers, grab a beer, and watch some #golfatnite this week.
Tron and I look forward to getting deep in the (Euro)process as we embark on this new adventure together. This series is going to be freewheeling and a little bit all over the place. We’ve got some great story ideas that we are kicking around, but if there are things you want to read about more or less, feel free to shoot me an email or tweet me your take.