WGC-Cadillac Championship: The Course and The Wind

Day two of the WGC-Cadillac Championship was less about the golf and more about the course and the wind. On Gil Hanse’s remodeled vision of the Trump National Doral and in winds blowing 15 to 20 with gusts as high as 36, the best players in the world were presented with quite a challenge.

Welshman Jamie Donaldson had the low round of the day, an heroic 2-under 70.

Really, really tough.  I mean, you’ve got to, some of the holes, which were down [wind] or straight off the left, you’ve got to hit hooks into the wind, and you’ve really got to turn — you’ve got to hit slices in hopes to just keep it in the fairway.

So it was very difficult, every element; you’d hit a good tee shot down the middle, you’re left with a lob‑wedge and you know that’s a brutal shot and it’s only 110 yards.  So it’s tough all around. 

But you’d have to say that he was a happy customer. Just one back of the four leaders who were at 1-under — Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar and Hunter Mahan — and with the wind slated to be down “a little bit,” Donaldson was looking for more of the same:

Yeah, yeah, I like it; more of the same.

Graham McDowell, being from the Northern Ireland coastal area, had similar sentiments to Donaldson.

Yeah, you can’t really call it unfair when everyone gets a chance to play it.  It wasn’t like distance was going to make a difference.  It wasn’t like anything was really going to make a difference in regards to fair or unfair.

The ball was incredibly stable on the greens, on the putting surface, which come down my eighth or ninth hole of my second round, probably around 1:30, 2:00  I was thinking to myself, is this getting close to unplayable regarding wind strength?  Wind really got up around one, two o’clock I thought in my head they may call it, and I was feeling disappointed because I just played nine holes in it and I want the rest of the field to have to play the golf course that I’ve just played.

But as firm and as fast as these greens are, for this course to have remained playable today in this wind strength — I say playable; there weren’t balls rolling off greens.  There weren’t putts oscillating.  It wasn’t really anything silly going on.  It was just brutally difficult.

I don’t think I’ve played in conditions this difficult in the U.S. It’s an [British] Open Championship day.  It’s a real Friday afternoon at St. Andrews in 2010, you know, before they called it.  It was hard out there, really, really hard, and part of me feels ecstatic to be off the golf course right now.

Obviously I’m really happy with my 71 and I’m excited to go and watch the golf here and just see how everyone else is handling these really hard conditions.

The four leaders earned their keep with Reed shooting 3-over and the other three just 2-over. There were only 7 players among the remaining 68 players (Jason Day withdrew before the first round with a thumb injury) who were able to shoot even par or better.

Matt Kuchar spoke about the mental approach to playing in these kind of conditions:

I think that you have to kind of embrace the challenge.  I think that you have to look forward to seeing what sort of shots you can come up with.  It’s going to be hard.  There were a handful of holes today that I felt like I didn’t have the club necessary to hit the shot.

The 13th hole, the par 3, it was between a hybrid and 3-wood and I thought, 3-wood is too much, hybrid is not enough; I don’t have a club for this shot.  That happened a couple times, and then you figure, what is my best chance to get up‑and‑down.

And the next hole, 14, I had almost the same number, really just trying to hit a shot where I can get up-and-down from.  A lot of times you do that, you’re not trying to hit a shot and make birdie; it’s how can I best make a par in this situation.

That being said, he still felt like it was the challenge that made if fun:

Yeah, it’s something different.  The game of golf is challenging.  You throw in winds like this, it’s really challenging, but that’s why we all play.  I think that’s part of the reason that all of us out here play is because we enjoy the challenge.

So much of the post-round conversations were around how the players came down on Gil Hanse’s renovation. There was concern that with these sorts of conditions, the players would have soured on it. Not Hunter Mahan:

I like it a lot.  I think Gil did a great job…which I thought was amazing in the kind of time he had, to change all the greens.  But it’s longer, it’s tough, but it’s still fair.  It’s an unbelievable shape for having such a short amount of time to do what they did.  So hats off to the grounds crew and everybody here.  It’s a phenomenal course.

But that didn’t mean that it was easy:

You know, it wasn’t — you know, you couldn’t breathe out there, it felt like.  You couldn’t just take a breath and go, okay, here is a stretch where we can make some birdies and get something back.

When you had an opportunity, it was a tough pin.  And then when there was maybe an accessible pin, you’re hitting 3‑wood into a par 4 or a par 3.  So you know, any time you thought you had an opportunity, there was something challenging about the hole.

So you just avoid big numbers and you can maybe make pars, pars are all good, and make it to the weekend and give yourself a chance.

Mahan also has a mental process for working his way around the course, assiduously remaining in the present when it’s time to hit a shot:

Yeah, there’s a happy medium where I’m trying not to think that much.  I’m trying to focus on the shot, and then nothing at all.  So that process of getting in that shot is pretty grinding, it’s going to take longer than normal.

And from there, I’m just trying to talk to my caddie or whatever and not think about anything so I can kind of keep myself fresh the whole round and not stress about anything, not stress about future holes or something that happened in the past.

And then he amplifies and expands that basic idea:

So I think that you have to get into the shot well and you have to leave the shot well.  You have to really get out of it and move on to the next one.  If you hit in the water, you have to move on to the next one or find a way to get up-and-down or get into the hole.  It not going to get any easier and there are not going to be any holes where you can make up shots real quickly.

So you’ve got to be mentally strong on days like this and it’s easy to get frustrated and you can lose your composure.

Rory McIlroy liked the course, too, but had some constructive criticism:

Look, for the most part I think it’s very fair.  There’s a couple of little places where maybe fall‑offs off greens to the water are a little severe.  Some things they could soften up a little bit.  For instance, Phil hit his second shot on 8 like straight at the pin and it bounces a few yards short of the green and gets a kick left and all of a sudden it’s in the water. [A lot of that gets resolved as the players gain experience with the course.]

So sometimes, you know, a little unlucky, but a few holes where it runs off into the water and there’s nothing really to stop it.  You challenge the left side of the 18th fairway like I did yesterday and you get a [ball in the water] — if the fairway was just tilted more this way, at least it gives the guys a little bit more of a chance to stay out of the water and get rewarded.

But for the most part, the golf course is great.  It’s fair.  It’s a tough test.  It’s much tougher than it was. And you know, considering what was here last year to this year, it’s a huge improvement.

He also talked about the contrast between the links courses in his native Northern Ireland and the renovated Blue Monster:

It was very tough.  Whenever you’ve got the wind like this on a links course or whatever, you can play the ball along the ground; whereas here, you can’t really do that.  You’ve got to fly bunkers.  You’ve got to land it on greens and it just makes it that much more difficult.

He too talked about managing his emotions during the round. A lot of it has to do with taking the long view as trouble and bad breaks present themselves:

I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t anxious to get [a win], but you know, at the same time, I realize I have to stay patient to get it.  So just a matter of sort of managing your emotions and your expectations and your anxiousness and just trying to put all your energy into the round of golf that you play and know that four rounds of good golf are going to add up to maybe a win.

Definitely, you have to stay as sort of neutral as possible out here, especially in conditions like this, because you’re going to get bad breaks and you’re going to get good breaks. I got a good break on the 8th hole, for example, this morning, hit it right of the bunkers.  It was a terrible tee shot but got away with it, could get a 4‑iron up near the green and got up-and-down and made birdie.  But then you’re going to get bad breaks, like maybe the tee shot at 18 yesterday.

I think you just have to realize that and realize that some are going to go for you and some are going to go against you and at the end of the week, it should sort of all even out.  That’s why you have to stay as patient as possible.

That approach was exemplified by the way he dealt with the ups and downs of Friday’s round:

Yeah, it wasn’t the start that I wanted.  I bogeyed the first hole and I played the par 5s at 1-over par today, which you know, they are the holes that in this sort of wind, you’re trying to take advantage of and maybe scrape a couple birdies out of.

I fought back well.  I hit a couple of really, really good shots on the back nine to set up birdies.  I just hung in there and I’m proud of myself of how I hung in there all day and stayed patient.  I knew the scoring wasn’t going to be exceptional today, so I knew anything around even par was going to have a good chance going into the weekend.

And, lo and behold, he is one stroke back at even par along with Francesco Molinari and the aforementioned, Graham McDowell and Jaime Donaldson.

And the wind forecast is only for 5 to 10 mph. Should be a great day in all respects.

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