The 2015-2016 season resumes with its first event of 2016, featuring winners of PGA Tour events from 2015 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 2015 (Fabian Gomez, James Hahn, JJ Henry, Matt Every, Peter Malnati…. Troy Merritt!?), and a sobering reminder that Tiger and Phil failed to qualify. Thankfully, 2015 produced the best list of winners we’ve seen at least since Obama took office, but still of course goes up against the NFL playoffs over the weekend, and still gets bypassed by the likes of Rory. In its heyday, the event was known as the Mercedes Championship, but has been appropriately downgraded to the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. This event used to be about celebrating the previous year’s winners. Now it’s about celebrating the fact that Mark Rolfing lives in Hawaii.
This year, our defending cham-…… Oh my God…. do you hear that? That music?? (You knew this was coming).
OH MY GOD!!! THAT’S PATRICK REED’S MUSIC!!!!
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.
Patrick Reed’s dethroning of Zach Johnson’s 2014 triumph can only be compared to another American expedition on a Pacific Island to overthrow evil:
General Reed jarred his approach to the par-4 16th to mount a furious comeback, and in the playoff, Jimmy Walker went so far right that Bob Estes retweeted it, and the rest is history.
You could hear the roars from Mark Rolfing’s nearby home (it’s in Hawaii).
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 this small of a field, it’s nearly impossible to find proper value. What makes this event even more difficult to handicap, is that it is tough 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:
Zach Johnson (20/1) – It’s been pointed out to me by many people that I’m overly hard on ZJ, so consider this to be an olive branch. He plays well here, and seems like the kind of guy that would care way too much about a ho hum tournament like this. Let’s be honest, if you’re going to rank PGA Tour players by the likelihood of them calling an offensive foul in a pickup basketball game, ZJ is in your top 5, isn’t he?
Justin Thomas (22/1) – First timers at this course don’t have a great history of success, but you can bank on Thomas being in this spot for the majority of 2016. To get 22/1 on him in a field of this few players seems a bit like stealing.
Jimmy Walker (28/1) – Essentially, Walker’s career is going to be defined by this new wraparound schedule. You know those guys on Deadliest Catch that go out on a boat and fish for like five months a year and then take the rest of the year off? Well Season 12 is going to be about Jimmy Walker. Yes, I may be a bit bitter about him playing his way onto the last two Ryder/Presidents Cup teams by February, coasting into Scotland and South Korea respectively, and shitting the bed/shitting the bed respectively. But this is the time of year that you can bet money on Walker.
- I recapped 2015 and previewed 2016 on a podcast with Adam Sarson this week, in case you missed it. Hoping to bring the podcast back with much more frequency this year, as soon as I get some technical issues worked out.
- Also, I burned on Justin Thomas catching flak for his honest answer when asked if he’d rather win a major or be a part of a winning Ryder Cup team in 2016 over at SB Nation.
- I may have mixed feelings about Kapalua, but doesn’t mean I’m not jacked up that golf season is back. 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). In this exact spot in the 2015 Hyundai preview (right below where I predicted Reed to win), I said that I really thought 2015 was going to be an enormous year for golf, for social media, and of course for #TourSauce. I feel the exact same way about 2016. I just don’t get the feeling that this tournament is really the kick-off.
- Normally, I would be all over Koepka this week on a course with this wide of fairways, but the first tournament with the new equipment has me a bit gun shy. In speaking with a few people, it seems that most of the concern comes with the change in the golf ball.
- 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. And if I were to put a drinking game together for this week, it would obviously include “every time a golf writer tweets something to try to make you jealous that they’re in Hawaii” but for safety reasons I’m not going to do that.
- Troy Merritt is 250/1 in a field of 32 players. That’s just special.
- I’m likely out on coverage for the most part of this week, considering the 11 hour time difference and the fact that the leaders will finish around 4:00 AM Monday morning for me. One of the few weeks being a golf fan in Europe really backfires.
- 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.