As you’ve probably seen, Soly and Tron are deep in the Middle East scene this week. They flew over to check out the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship presented by EGA. Based on the footage they’ve sent me, they appear to be fitting in great.
I’ll be navigating you through an abbreviated preview this week since there is much #content to be made from Abu Dhabi and elsewhere.
Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship presented by EGA
The biggest reason for those two making the trip to Abu Dhabi is that the field is absolutely monstrous for Euro Tour’s first marquee event of 2018. DJ, Rory, Rose, Fleetwood, Stenson, Casey, Kuchar, Kaymer, Bryson!
Here are a few cool stats from the tournament team:
The 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA, by the numbers…#BestOfTheBest pic.twitter.com/6CkUsFc6QW
— Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship (@ADGolfChamps) January 17, 2018
Vibe: Those two will have much more throughout the week about the vibe on the ground at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, starting with yesterday’s podcast with Matt Fitzpatrick, which was an instant classic.
Maybe the most interesting thing to me about this event – besides the clubhouse (s/o Big Randy) – is the rivalry it seems to have with the Euro Tour’s Dubai stop. The field is already as good or better and it will be interesting to see what happens as the city continues to explode with development.
Course: Tron played the Pro-Am on Wednesday and offered this review: “I was pleasantly surprised. It’s far from offensive. The fairways are narrow, the rough is rather nasty/sticky for a desert course, and there’s some nuance, especially with shallow bunkers and long, broad slopes on greens. Doglegs on fleek, greens are firm and fast. Put simply it’s a good championship course on a flat piece of land and comes off a lot better in person than it does on TV (where it looks very Faz-ish). I’d compare it to Phoenix, minus 17 (no short fours here). The closing stretch of 15-18 is primo.”
The Bob Hope Humana CareerBuilder seems to me to have a bit of an identity crisis.
It’s a throwback to the old Tour pro-am, but while the Pebble Beach event seems to be picking up steam with new stars and celebs committing each year (shout out to Spieth and the McRib Pacemaker/Notorious EKG), the event in Palm Springs seems to be more low-energy (Jeb!) than ever.
After kicking George Lopez to the curb in 2009, the event leaned on Arnold Palmer for a couple years before pivoting to the Clinton Foundation to steady the ship. Over the past decade this event has seemed to flounder. Long buoyed by it’s history with Bob Hope, it’s now in desperate need of some self-awareness to stem the bleeding.
Part of the laid-backitude of the event is by design; things tend to just be a little slower in Palm Springs. But when years go by without any juice it becomes a trend, and from a fan’s perspective that’s a tough sell. Let’s go, Jags.
Field: There are bright spots, of course. Phil is making his 2018 debut at a place where Phil Mania is still at an all-time high. Jon Rahm is playing and will probably make about 65 birdies. Peter Uihlein is there and past champ Patrick Reed will be all decked out in Nike, which will be weird and fun and sartorially irresponsible as the season progresses. (Side note: remember when he shot three straight 63’s at this event? Jeeeeesus!). I’m also weirdly amped about Corey Pavin being in the field. If you like following the crop of young guys, this is always a good breakout spot for them (see: HUDson Swafford’s win last year).
However, it starts to get pretty bleak past those names. Mike Weir and John Daly are in a featured group, which feels like kind of a good metaphor.
Course(s): As one player told me this week, the courses are “uhh… in great visual condition.” The event takes place across three different courses, the TPC Stadium Course at PGA West is the main venue where the final round is contested, while the pro-am portion also utilizes PGA West’s Nicklaus Course and La Quinta CC. The courses typically play slow and lush, but the greens are pristine – the perfect combo for crazy-low scores.
It’s a good event for photography – no matter your opinion of the golf courses, it’s pretty striking to see them against the backdrop of the mountains. I also can get down with watching the amateurs try to hit out of the bunker on 16.
A post shared by PGA TOUR (@pgatour) on Jan 17, 2018 at 11:52am PST
For a primer, take some time to read Sean Martin’s piece on the design of PGA West and the snowflake Baby Boomers who made them move the tournament to a different venue after a year.
Random Takes and Reads
– One of the biggest question marks this week has to do with the ongoing strike of Golf Channel camera and technical workers. Martin Kaufman at Golfweek gives a great update of where the issue stands after talks again broke down Tuesday, including a very Death Star-sounding quote from a GC spokesperson: “Our contingency plans are fully operational.”
I’ve definitely tried to opt out of which side is right or wrong, mostly because issues like this typically just default to your personal opinions on politics, unions, etc. But purely from a golf fan’s perspective, it’s pretty wild to think about what the next two weeks could look like. I can’t think of anything more difficult from a production standpoint than televising an already boring tournament spread across three different courses. The CareerBuilder telecast could be brutal.
And if things are still not resolved next week, we could have a back-up team covering Tiger’s return to Torrey Pines. Strange times.
– Speaking of political opinions, this was a great read by Doug Ferguson about polarizing John Peterson, who is considering walking away from golf if he doesn’t fulfill his major medical this year. There’s plenty to criticize about Peterson, but I’m pretty in on a lot of the stuff he’s saying here. I’m sure his outlook will change when/if he starts playing better, but I’ll take him at his word for now.
No one can blame him for wanting to trade in the travel of grinding on Tour for time at home with his wife and young son. If I had the means, I’d very likely do the same thing. That’s why Lorena Ochoa is the GOAT.
From Ferguson’s story:
“I’ve never been in a better spot lifestyle-wise than I am right now, so that probably has a lot to do with it. My wife’s here. My boy’s here. My in-laws are here. I’ve got eight events to make $350,000. If I do, great. If I don’t, who cares? I’m just out here free-wheeling it. I’ve got 32 rounds, and we’ll see what happens.”
Cool, man. You do you.
(Tron’s note: /respectfully disagree)
– Finally, take some time to read our boys Brendan Porath and Kyle Robbins on the start of the West coast Swing. While Riviera is one of the best events of the year, I tend to lean toward the camp that thinks the West Coast Swing is just the slightest bit overrated (tbh, I think everything is probably a little overrated).
Tiger’s presence has been tricking people for 15 years into thinking Torrey Pines is exciting when it’s really a fairly boring course with great views and an average field. (Tron’s note: Torrey stinks, it’s Firestone on the Pacific Ocean; anti-strategic golf that under-utilizes a spectacular setting in near criminal fashion.) Phoenix is OK and, as mentioned above, I love the energy that’s making its way to the Pebble event (even if that energy won’t make it’s way to the telecast). But Brendan and Kyle cover the whole stretch with much more insight and humor. Dive in.