The calendar year on the PGA Tour gets off to a rolling start with the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Maui, Hawaii, but only tournament winners can play in that one. It’s a small, elite field by design.
The Sony Open in Honolulu follows with a field filled with some of the champions from Maui, veterans itching to get back to it and new guys looking to exercise their new Tour cards in their first tournament as an fully exempt player.
The old Bob Hope in Palm Springs has become the Humana Challenge and draws players happy for a tournament back on the mainland in a sunny clime where they can work on getting competitive again. Scaled back to just four days and stripped of most of the celebrities and ¾ of the amateurs, it’s become a more personal relationship with the ams; one per pro instead of four.
And now along comes La Jolla: on the mainland, on the bluffs over the Pacific Ocean, 156 slots and no amateurs. It is the first “real” tournament of the year. And the stars come out in droves: Woods, Mickelson, Spieth, Watney, Bubba, Westwood, Snedeker, Rickie, Baddeley and Keegan in a quick, but incomplete sampling.
They play it on the South (7,698 yards) and North (7,052 yards) courses at the Torrey Pines Golf Club in La Jolla, California, think northern suburb of San Diego.
Tiger presented the scouting report in his media session after collecting his Player of the Year trophy:
The golf course is — it’s closer to an Open than how we normally play it. The greens are — I haven’t seen them this firm I think maybe since obviously the Open. But the first year they probably did it — the first year we played with the redo.
But it’s hard to imagine watching wedges and 9-irons and some of the short irons, balls bounce up as high as the top of the flagstick but that’s what was happening out here this morning. If they keep the golf course like this it’s going to be one hell of a test as the week progresses. It’s going to get really difficult to post some good numbers, it’s going to be awful difficult to get the ball close and make birdies, and as I said, it’s closer to an Open right now than how I normally see it.
I loved Monday qualifying for the Transamerica at the Silverado Country Club in Napa, California. Their greens were always billiard-table, to-die-for masterpieces. The fairings of the green movements were subtle and pleasing. Hit your line at the right speed and it would go in without any sudden bobbles the wrong way.
Well, one year we showed up and they were like the La Jolla greens Tiger just described. Nobody could stop it on the green and because most of them were sitting on mounds, it wasn’t a cinch to run it on the front either. We all left wondering how the tournament players were going to manage.
It didn’t take long to find out. Every shot on Thursday, or so it seemed, stopped right where it landed. We all joked that they must have put a fire hose to them. That’s the measure of the difference between hard, hi-speed greens and run of the mill high quality greens soft enough to hold a shot.
Asked whether he found those conditions good or bad, he said, “I find it good.” But in expanding on his comments about the conditions, he started talking about the rough and how thick it was. But buried in there was a comment about now being able to get the ball up in his work with Sean Foley:
Yeah, I’m hitting it well. I have the option now as my swing has evolved working with Sean that I can start elevating it again, which is nice. Probably going to need it a little bit this week. We’re going to have to start setting some balls up, but it’s important to get the ball in the fairway.
You’ve got to get the ball in the fairway here. The rough is thick. It’s a little bit more lush than we’ve seen it with these green conditions. We’ve seen it like this when it’s wet but not when it’s [dry] like this. This is very similar to an Open.
I took his comment about elevating the ball again to mean that until he learned Foley’s methods for controlling the ball, fades and draws on command, he’s been “flighting” the ball in a flatter trajectory rather that the towering, majestic balls that seem to be the hallmark of most Tour players. It will be interesting to see if any of the commentators discuss that comment during the broadcast.
The subject soon, or I should say, inevitably turned to his chase of Jack’s 18 majors record. And he described how even with all the fitness work he does, his body rotation is slowing down and he just can’t go after it on each and every shot:
You know, the thing is I’m still able to generate the same amount of clubhead speed as I did when I was younger, it’s just that I can’t do it every shot anymore. You know, it’s a little bit different. I don’t have the rotational speed that I used to and that’s a fact of aging.
I am infinitely stronger than I ever used to be and more explosive in a lot of exercises that I do, but I just can’t rotate like I used to and that’s just the way it is.
But I’ve made up for it in other areas, which obviously the strength that you see, my body looks very different than it was when I first came out on Tour. And then understanding how to manage myself around a golf course, how to attack a golf course, how to pick it apart and dissect it. That’s something that has happened over time.
So you do it a different way. You’re still able to be successful, but you do it a different way. You evolve as you age and I think I’ve done that so far.
Very interesting; a mellow Tiger. While he may be mellow, he’s no less fierce in his efforts to win tournaments. And it’s hard to see that ever changing.