The Sony Open is the first event in 2015 to feature a full field, which kinda gives the feel of this week being Caddie Day at the Bushwood Country Club pool following the posh exclusivity of the Hyundai. Even so, there are still several top names playing this week, as well as some NLU favorites.
Kapalua’s wide fairways, severe elevation changes, and relatively modern design are nowhere to be found on Waialae’s classic Seth Raynor layout, which plays to a modest (at least by Tour standards) 7,088 yards. A refreshing change from the “bomb & gouge” tracks so prevalent throughout the year, the premium is instead on accuracy and being able to flight the ball through the trade winds. By all accounts, tour players seem to enjoy this course and the consensus suggests it’s an underrated track (although that could be skewed with the players sampled being, by and large, those who enjoy and/or are well-suited to this type of test; surely the bomber contingent has a different view and thus quite a few stay away).
At NLU, our first glance at any scorecard is to answer two questions: 1) How gettable are the par-5’s? and 2) Are there any even remotely reachable par-4’s? Judging by this standard, Waialae disappoints as it features just two par-5’s and only one par-4 that is close to the realm of being gettable (#10 plays downwind 350 yards but the green is well-guarded). This disappointment is quickly washed away by the fact it’s unlikely ANYONE in the field will be forced to lay up on either par-5 – they’re the easiest set of par-5’s on Tour (#9 is 510 yards – that’s a long par-4). Interestingly, #1 and #13 were formerly par-5’s until John Huston waged war on the bird sanctuary here back in ’98 (causing them to Huston-proof the course – more on that later).
These days, the first hole is one of the most bossy opening holes on Tour, a 488 yard par-4 incorporating elements of the road hole at St. Andrews – it’s a STRONG start. May we suggest PGATour.com put a live feed of this hole for the week and and dub it, “The Snuff Film?” Overall, not a typical No Laying Up style track, but there is fun to be had. It just all comes down to how hard the wind blows.
Think standard, nondescript early 1990’s event – pretty much a bunch of retired white men milling about, relatively sparsely attended (under 50,000). Bottom-line: the Tommy Bahama clique will be out in full force, with the Golf Channel schwaldo’s following suit. Golf Channel will play up the Hawaiian vibe with music, surfer backgrounds and Waikiki Beach jokes. Even if you don’t like golf, just tune in for a televised respite from the shitty weather that’s making you SAD right now. Overall, there’s some good stuff going on here but it’s too basic to be overly hilarious.
- Little known fact: The 1998 United Airlines Hawaiian Open was won by John Huston. Dude went 28 deep, causing uproar among environmentalists and local homeowners over the sheer number of birds slaughtered during that year’s event. The negative publicity caused United to pull out and Sony signed on, but with a caveat: the membership redesigned the course during the off-season (the next year Jeff Sluman emerged as champion with a heavily toned-down winning score of -9. Coincidence? You be the judge). The Oahu avian population rebounded nicely post 1998 atrocities, for those who are wondering.
- This event is essentially the PGA Tour’s spin-off of the popular TLC show “Little People, Big World,” with the illustrious lineage of little ass dudes who have won this event: the aforementioned Sluman, Paul Goydos, Mark Wilson, Corey Pavin (Back-to-back winner, Tom Emansky style! Shortly thereafter he tried to rename it the Rat Family Open), Brad Faxon, David Toms, and Russell Henley among others. It would seem that Tim Clark and Mike Weir are PRIMED to win this thing. How did Ian Woosnam not get an invite?
- Finally, and really most importantly, shame on the organizers for refusing to extend a sponsor’s exemption to Tadd Fujikawa. What the hell is that about? If you’re not going to give this guy a spot then don’t have exemptions. I thought it was written into the by-laws that he gets a spot. Hell, in ’12 he rose above mascot status and nabbed a top-20!
In general, I’m going with shorter hitters this week, as distance is not a pre-req at all at Waialae. I’m also going with guys that I think have a ton of upside, so I’m planning on betting them frequently throughout the year.
Chucky Triple Sticks: (20/1). His finishes the last 10 years are as follows (most recent listed first): T8, T3, T2, T68, T5, 4, T69, T2, T53, T3. Enough said. A true horse for course.
Russell Henley (25/1): Former champ, coming off a hot week. Not overthinking this one.
Sang Moon Bae (33/1): When bae is this hot, you just gotta ride it out. Top 6’s in 3 of his 4 starts this season, and playing on a track that should reward his ball striking prowess.
Robert Streb (50/1): Fil was pumping this guy on NLU before it was cool (Fil’s now sporting a beard, wearing flannel, and no longer has a wifi connection in an attempt to go full hipster).
Brian Harman (66/1): He’s riding that wave of emotion from recently following NLU on twitter, and the strong NLU Atlanta contingent has had us on Harman’s jock for some time now.
Scott Langley (80/1): Team NLU. Will win in 2015.
Morgan Hoffmann (125/1): These odds just seem incredibly high for a guy that blazed his way through the playoffs the way he did. Yes, that was four months ago, but
Andrew Svoboda (150/1): Expect to continue to see Svoboda listed here. We fell in love with him back at the AT&T last February, and he’s coming off two top 20 finishes in the fall. He’s going to win a smaller event this year, so I’m going to be betting him when I see the odds this high.
For fantasy purposes, you can’t look past the top guns: J-Day, J-Walker, ZJ, MatsuYOTTO, etc. Their odds are just too low for a full field event.
(Debuting this section this week. I’m going to try to do an email exchange with Adam Sarson each week discussing the event. Expect it to be more extensive in the future.)
Adam: So, after watching Patrick Reed steal a victory away from Jimmy Walker at Kapalua, we have a loaded field going to Waialae. Reed’s not there, as he’s opting to take the week off and hopefully get some sun on that forehead, but we’ve got season debuts for Rory, Rickie, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson and Martin Kaymer…wait, that’s actually the Euro Tour event in Abu Dhabi. Maybe we should preview that tournament instead.
Jason Day’s the headliner this week at the Sony, with Walker, Hideki Matsuyama, Matt Kuchar and Chris Kirk rounding out the consensus favourites. It sucks that Reed isn’t here though, it would have been great to see him go for the Hawaiian double, which I’m sure is a metaphor for something that Mark Rolfing would love to tell us all about. Outside of Matsuyama, who I always have me eyes on, I’m really interested in a few players this week:
- Luke Donald, who played better at the end of 2014 after going back to Pat Goss and has decent course form.
- Graham DeLaet, a great ball striker who might as well start putting with his eyes closed.
- Tony Finau, who could lead the PGA Tour in distance this season.
Anyone you have your eyes on? Please don’t say John Daly.
Soly: The field this year is as loaded as the European Tour is…. well European. Seriously, they play events on more continents on that circuit than I’ll set foot on in my lifetime. You know they’re just loving this global warming idea as they prepare for the inaugural Antarctic Open in 2018. Since moving here, everyone has joked that I’m going to become a Euro Tour expert, but they’re going to play on three different continents before they go to the Madeira Islands in March, and they don’t hit continental Europe until the Spanish Open in May. I know it’s not warm here yet, but its playable.
I’m equally disappointed that we won’t see Reed win again this week, then take the flag out of the hole on 18, drive it through the center of the green, and claim the Hawaiian islands ownership from Mark Rolfing. Did I mention I’m all in on Reed? Pretty sure I did.
I like the Donald look, but can’t say I understand the Finau one. I agree that he’s a guy to keep our eye on this year, but this track is going to limit his top gear. His game screams Torrey Pines to me.
- With a Japanese title sponsor and a well-known rep as a Japanese tourist destination, this tourney holds some allure in the Far-Eastern golf sphere. Seeing only two Asians (Aoki & Choi), therefore, among a relatively impressive list of past champions is somewhat surprising. However, that may change in the coming years as it looks like this event is carving out an increasingly outsized niche in an area of the world where golf is coming on strong. If I’m the tournament organizer, I’m playing this angle up as much as possible (Finchy should be helping) and marketing this as a premier early season Pan-Pacific ball-striking fiesta and cultural celebration.
- FYI on our previews: A lot of the stuff that applies to multiple years (course, vibe, etc.), you’re going to see some stuff that we’ve just rolled forward from last year’s preview (mostly Tron Carter’s work). Is this poor journalism? Absolutely. That’s why we aren’t actually journalists. Of course the picks section, and recent events will always be updated, but previews are hard to do, and there is no point in trying to recreate some of the stuff that we’ve already covered.
- Who else played the Waialae video game back in the day? We’ll leave you with some images below from my childhood:
The Original ProTracer!
Asian Stan Van Gundy as your caddie
Check in with the NLU Gang all week on twitter whilst we do our usual hood-rat act: @NoLayingUp.