The 2014-2015 resumes with its first event of 2015, featuring winners of PGA Tour events from 2014 at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. Confused yet? Think of it this way. This tournament is the annual reminder of the names that you can’t believe won tournaments in 2014 (Steven Bowditch, Geoff Ogilvy, Tim Clark, Matt Every… Scott Stallings!?), and a sobering reminder that Tiger, Phil, Rickie, and Spieth all failed to qualify. The field this year is hilarious, and it includes only 1 of the top 10 players in the world (Gerry), and of course goes up against the NFL playoffs over the weekend. In its heyday, the event was known as the Mercedes Championship. The downgrade in field coincides perfectly with the sponsor downgrade to HYUNDAI (Hope You Understand Nothing’s Driveable And Inexpensive). Ladies and gentlemen, the 2015 season has officially begun!
The Plantation Course at Kapalua is perhaps the most unique golf course that is played on the PGA Tour circuit. While that may sound like praise, it is also one of the least popular courses amongst the tour players. In fact, in the tour players voted it as their 10th least favorite course on the tour.
Let’s face it: mountain golf sucks. A golf course was simply not meant to be built on this piece of land. The greens are some of the slowest on tour because the slope of them is so severe. The routing is enormous, and it contains dramatic views of the ocean, drastic elevation changes, and the widest fairways you will ever see. It plays over 7,400 yards, and oddly to a par 73. You’ll see some 400 yard drives, and some 130 yard 6 irons if the winds cooperate. Some of the distances between holes are so large that the players must ride in cars to get from green to tee box. While it is aesthetically pleasing, the bottom line is, the course just isn’t a great test of talent.
This event used to be something we looked forward to for months, as it was the true kickoff of the PGA Tour season. Now, it doesn’t stick out quite as much due to the fall series, but it still has its significance. You’re getting home from work, it’s dark, shitty outside, and you haven’t touched your sticks in a month and half. You flip on the tube and it’s golf porn from Hawaii. It’s shock value. It works. To a large extent, this is what the entire West Coast Swing is about – it’s like an antidepressant for Seasonal Affective Disorder. You flip it on and it warms your soul. For as poor of a test of golf as this course actually is, it plays fantastically on TV for the viewers.
The prime time television airing is great for the fans (except those of us that live in Europe), and you really do get the feeling that several of the players are just there to grab an easy paycheck and escape their families the winter back home. There’s something about seeing that solo patron around the fifth green that makes you question every decision you’ve made in life, as you just shoveled your driveway for the third time this week, and this guy with the button down short sleeve Hawaiian shirt is free on a Thursday to attend a PGA Tour event on a remote island in the Pacific with zero of his closest friends. But hey, at least you don’t have Island Fever.
Zach Johnson outlasted Spieth, and pulled it off with an excellent “Family Move” #TourSauce move (courtesy of Adam Sarson).
The five years or so after the tournament moved from SoCal to Maui were the golden years. With Mercedes bankrolling the event, it was one of the premier stops on tour and had a certain aura about it. You didn’t hear quite as much bitching about the layout, the resort hadn’t gone through bankruptcy proceedings yet (Lehman Bros. went HAM on renovations in ’07), and year after year the winners were straight-up thoroughbreds: Duval, Big Cat, Furyk, Sergio, and Els those first five years in Hawaii. It was all downhill after that: Stu Appleby won three years in a row (’04-’06), Tiger stopped making the trip in ’05, and then the bottom fell out in ’08 when Daniel Chopra won and singlehandedly prompted Mercedes to drop their title sponsorship (just kidding, but that had to be a factor, right?).
Below is a fun video from the ’97 Mercedes Championship. First reaction… Mike Tirico! Second, check out the #TourSauce from Tiger right off the bat.
With 34 guys in the field, it’s impossible to find proper value. What makes this event even more difficult to handicap, is that it is difficult to evaluate who is bringing their family out there with them on their golf trip so that their wives let them play golf, and who is there to grind and stack that paper. That being said, here are three guys that are familiar names around here:
Hideki MatsuYOTTO (12/1) – Get ready for a huge year from “The Drone.” In a field that lacks a lot of emerging talent, Matsuyama’s name sticks out when you look at the odds sheet. Do people realize he’s the 16th ranked player in the world?
Billy Horschel (20/1) – He’s been shredding some fresh pow-pow out in Colorado, so I can understand if his form isn’t at its peak (pun intended.) But his odds should be shorter in a 33 person field, especially when I can confidently cross off 10-ish names that do not have a chance to win this week. Plus, if he wins 3 starts in a row and I didn’t have him picked, I would be this guy:
Patrick Reed (20/1) – Yes, I’m still overreacting from his three hot days of golf from over three months ago! I just think he’s going to bust out and win two more times this year, so why not take him at these odds in a small and weak field (and yes, I’m still an advocate for him for The Masters at 100/1.) He’s got that swagger back that I think he lost after he played poorly following the top-5 comments, and he’s gonna have some big weeks.
- This overly pessimistic piece doesn’t mean I’m not jacked up that golf season is here. I’m in support of the fall series and the reacharound schedule, but I just don’t like the way the season seems to have three different start dates (the fall series, the Hyundai, and the day Big Cat shows up). I really think 2015 is going to be an enormous year for golf, for social media, and of course for #TourSauce. I just don’t get the feeling that this is really the kick-off.
- Be prepared to hear a lot of Hawaiian music, shots of the Pacific Ocean, and cutaways to para gliders, beach goers, and jet skiers. Remember that the Golf Channel doesn’t have a whole lot of shots to show you, so there will be a plethora of less than stellar shots, a long with a lot of air time to fill. Whenever the first announcer “apologizes” for the weather you’re experiencing back east, finish your drink.
- How many writers really need to be on site for a 33 person field? There was an excessive amount of pre-tournament flight complaints on twitter this week. Can someone please explain to me? I don’t bother telling my closest friends about a delayed flight. It happens to LITERALLY everyone that flies. Why the hell would one single one of your followers ever care about an update from your flight? How do we end this?
- If you have any ideas of stuff you want to see in previews, send them our way. The previews are actually a lot harder to do than they seem, and can get boring, so we’re up for more ideas on what you guys wanna see.
Check in with the NLU Gang all week on twitter whilst we do our usual hood-rat act: @NoLayingUp.