The evolution of a major sports league is a tricky thing to identify and a trickier thing to judge. The word, “evolution,” is a loaded one to begin with: in the literal scientific sense (falsifiability via the scientific method); in a theoretical sense (and all the political and/or philosophical baggage it carries); and in the metaphorical sense (applied to a thing or concept to demonstrate growth or change). At first glance, when we talk about the evolution of a sports league–in this case, a global-reaching golf tour–it appears we are referring to the metaphorical application.
Likewise, evolution, in any sense of the word, is slow, methodical, deliberate–measured by eons or, in extreme examples, Ben Crane pre-shot routines. Because of this, it may be difficult at first to internalize neon-lit signs of growth and change, particularly within a sport with a stodgy reputation, such as golf.
Nonetheless, even though the current state of world affairs can make it sometimes feel like we are living in dog years, golf fans everywhere should take the time this week to slow down, breathe, and become one with the European Tour’s shining example of how bold experimentation has, thus far, paid dividends. Evolution is occurring right before our eyes, and the European Tour is–fittingly–on the forefront.
This week’s ISPS Handa World Super 6 Perth, the sixth tournament of the calendar year featuring six hole matches to determine a winner (one of the two cuts takes the initial field of 156 down to 65, which is a huge missed opportunity to stick with the theme and cut to 66 instead; more on this later), is a format variation that, while not extreme on its face, represents a pioneering shift in the way a professional golf tournament declares a champion.
The announcement of the 2017 version, a revitalization of the regular Perth, Australia co-sanctioned stop (known somewhere back in time as the Perth International–the Asian Tour and the PGA Tour Australasia also play host), took a format-driven leap forward that, arguably, at least tangentially influenced the PGA TOUR’s decision to try a format change at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans in the same year.
The entertaining and go-for-broke golf tournament that concluded with a homegrown Perth native holding the trophy (shoutout Brett Rumford) crystallized into an satisfying example of how the type of risk-reward lifestyle encouraged by this website writ-large is also regularly embraced by the Tour that is the subject of this blog. This really sums it up perfectly:
The European Tour's commitment to just doing fun things remains inspiring. https://t.co/n1QN1hfIJg
— Jay Rigdon (@jayrigdon5) February 6, 2018
The Super 6 format is as follows:
A full field of 156 players begin on Thursday. The first two rounds are standard medal-play fare. On a course that can be prone to low scores if the wind stays benign, players will likely need to target double-digits under par to see the weekend. The cut after 36 holes is low 65 players and ties. In a tournament called the Super 6, why wouldn’t you stick to the theme and cut the field to 66, instead of 65? I’ll give the European Tour a pass on this and I’m sure there is a good reason (pay-outs, probably), but that one seems like a no-brainer.
The first change to the format occurs after round 3. After 54 holes, the field cuts again Saturday evening to the low 24 players. Exactly 24 players make it to Sunday’s match play conclusion, so in the event of a tie in the 24th position, there is a sudden death shootout to ensure that only 24 players remain. The shootout occurs on a 90 yard hole special-made for the event, played from a small tee box adjacent to the 18th fairway into the 18th green. Any matches on Sunday that remain tied will also be decided on the shootout hole.
Introducing the Shootout hole. ⛳️
Any tied matches on Sunday will be settled on this 90 yard hole. 👌 pic.twitter.com/hjpNUiiDZd
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) February 6, 2018
On Sunday, the top 8 players on the leaderboard after the stroke play get a first round bye. The remaining 16 square off man to man for 6 hole matches as the play-in round. After reducing the field from 24 down to 16, the remaining competitors play a traditional 16-team bracket match play event leading to an afternoon crescendo until one player remains.
Run to the Hills
This week’s stop, Lake Karrinyup Country Club, is located just north of the city proper of Perth, Western Australia. Routed brilliantly, LKCC is a topsy-turvy adventure over some of the most suitably hilly property in the area. Originally designed by Mackenzie disciple Alex Russell in 1928, the track was restored by (NLU pod guest) Mike Clayton in 2007 and reopened in 2008 to widespread acclaim. Clayton’s work, in which he set out to recapture the width, playing angles, and strategic import of the bunkers, brilliantly delivered on those promises and then some.
While all 18 holes will be utilized in the first three rounds of stroke play (obviously), the match-play main event on Sunday will take place in the beautiful corridors of the northeast portion of the property. Holes 10, 11, 13, 14, 12, and 18 will be played in that order, expressly tailored to create match play drama. The aforementioned “shootout” hole, a 90 yard pitch-and-putt, stands waiting to settle up any matches played to a draw. Let’s take a closer look at the strategic interest of these six featured holes (all photos credited to Lake Karrinyup Country Club):
Hole 10 – Par 4 – 369 yards:
The tenth is a naughty little minx. The camber of the green, and particularly the pin location, will certainly influence the player’s chosen line for his tee shot. A deep bunker that wraps around the front edge flanks the right side of the green. At the 300 yard mark, a bunker cleverly cuts directly into the heart of the preferred line down the left side of the fairway.
Successfully navigating the fairway bunker rewards the player with an unobstructed angle to any pin, while playing to the right side of the fairway leaves an awkward half-wedge over the bunker, albeit back into the left-to-right pitch of the green.
Hole 11 – Par 5 – 553 yards:
The only par 5 in the match play sequence comes second in the batting order. A centerline bunker offers the first decision of the hole: play to the narrower and slightly higher elevated left side and acquire the best angle for the second shot, or, play to the wider, lower portion right of the bunker and resign oneself to a left to right shape against the angles of the cross bunkers. The green, one of the smallest on the course, pitches sharply from back to front, and leaves any player long of the green staring at a possible concession.
Hole 13 – Par 4 – 453 yards:
The thirteenth, as long par fours go, is an absolute dandy. The tee shot is semi-blind and encourages a right-to-left shape into a wide fairway that cambers in the same direction. Clayton re-shaped and re-oriented the green, turning it on a 45-degree angle from front left to back right that is much more receptive to a left-to-right mid-iron.
I love when a hole asks the player to work the ball both directions–a true test of a pro. The thirteenth may be the most difficult of the six featured holes, and could be the hole that sees first blood drawn in many of the matches.
Hole 14 – Par 4 – 330 yards:
Fourteen is likely to be a pivotal point in any match. This hole has everything you would want in a short par 4 from a strategic standpoint. Though playing slightly back up the hill away from Lake Karrinyup, the green will still be reachable for much of the field with a good blast from the tee.
A player protecting a 1 or 2 up lead may opt to play left, right, or short of the centerline bunkers to a comfortable yardage. The greenside bunkers, carved precisely into the sides of the putting surface, narrowly frame the approach from any angle. The wind, pin position, and match scenario will also factor into the chosen routes of play.
Hole 12 – Par 3 – 148 yards:
The penultimate hole is the short par-3 twelfth. This downhill one-shotter will be little more than a sawed-off wedge to a small, crowned green surrounded by short grass runoffs and guarded on the left side by a large, deep bunker. Clearly intended to encourage a go-for-broke dart throwing contest, we can expect accessible pins and potentially some aces–high probability, in fact, as we have seen from last year’s tournament and its predecessor, the Perth International. There will be plenty of matches in which this hole is halved with twos, I suspect.
Hole 18 – Par 4 – 444 yards:
The final hole of the match, should it be required, is the 18th. The home hole is a slight dogleg left par-4, and a true second-shot hole. After navigating the uphill and semi-blind tee shot, the approach is typically played from a hanging lie to a vigorously defended green, with bunkering on all sides and no bailout areas to be found. The green is receptive and fairly large, sloping from back to front, but two-putting (let alone one-putting) from above the hole is a daunting task. A birdie here is well-earned, and will likely be enough to win the hole, and possibly the match.
No Wasted Years for David Lipsky
The field for the Super 6 is enticing. Digging through the tee times, the group of defending champ Brett Rumford, Beef Johnston, and Lee Westwood is sure to be well-received, as will the group of Thorbjorn Olesen, Hong Kong Open winner Wade Ormsby, and the artist formerly known as Danny Willett.
But one player to watch this week who has been rounding into solid form of late is David Lipsky. The 29 year old from Las Vegas by way of SoCal is one of a handful of Americans that have elected to hone their professional skills on the European Tour, a la Brooks Koepka.
Lipsky played collegiate golf at Northwestern, and turned pro in 2011. He immediately found success on the Asian Tour, winning his third start at the 2012 HANDA/Sir Mumbles Cambodian Classic. Lipsky transitioned to the Web.com Tour in 2013, but could only muster a top finish of T-34 at the South Georgia Classic (shoutout KINDERLOUUUUUU) and ended the year 179th on the money list.
With status remaining overseas, Lipsky returned to the Asian and European tour in 2014, finding a breakthrough win at the Omega European Masters. Since winning the Omega, Lipsky has had a number of close calls, including a couple of second place finishes and several top fives, but no more wins.
Thus far in 2018, Lipsky appears to have turned the corner after a missed cut in Abu Dhabi, with a new caddie on the bag this year and overall improvement in several statistical categories over his 2017 numbers, including a scoring average of 69.67 (1.5 shots lower), driving accuracy of 61.9% (nearly 4% higher), 28.25 putts per round (1.8 fewer), and the eye popping ones: driving distance average of 301.04 (10(!) yards longer) and sand save percentage of 69.57% (13% higher).
Admittedly, the sample size for 2018 is still small, but these improvements have also shown up where it counts, as Lipsky has finished T6 and T17 in his last two starts, and appears to be rounding into form at just the right time as the season really gets going.
I like Lipsky to get into the final 24 this week, and once there, the volatile format and his ability to hit fairways and fill up the hole gives him a great chance to apply match play pressure to his opponents. He can also lean on his experience in his sixth full year as a pro (coincidence?) if he finds his way into the bracket on Sunday.
Also, full disclosure, I’m a homer for Americans playing any sport abroad and the Olympics starting this week is getting that glorious jingoism stirring from deep in my loins. Lipsky winning this event on a great golf course would be…just…
Golf Channel will be providing live coverage of the event starting at 11:00 PM Eastern Wednesday through Friday, and at 10:00 PM for the final round Saturday. Unfortunately, there will be no encore coverage during morning hours after Thursday. Because I have to work Thursday morning, and I’ll be out late Friday with friends (and because I needed to work one more Iron Maiden reference into this piece–this is, thematically, number 6 for those of you keeping track at home), I’ll be tuning in two minutes to midnight Friday evening to get a late start on some hardcore Aussie Golf consumption. My suggestion is to hop on over like our kangaroo friends that inhabit the Lake Karrinyup Country Club and join me for what is sure to be a thrilling tournament.