Silverado North: A Star is Born

It was a pretty good first day for the Open. You move to a new venue — Silverado Country Club, North Course, in Napa, California, from CordeValle in San Martin, California — and, with all the unknowns, you wonder how it’s going to go.

There are two tied at the top at 6-under, Andres Gonzalez and Sang-Moon Bae. Martin Laird is tucked in a stroke back and there are eight guys at 4-under including: Charlie Beljan, Luke Guthrie, David Lingmerth, Brooks Koepka and Aaron Baddeley.

Having read almost all of their transcripts, two things stand out: (1.) the players talking about getting back after it with the start of the new season, and, (2.) effusive praise for the golf course. Some were straightforward in their praise, others giddy with delight. You just don’t hear this kind of praise for a new, unknown (to the Tour), golf course: 

Andres Gonzalez on whether it’s an old-school golf course: “Yeah, very much so.  It’s not overly long.  It’s not real overpowering, but there are a lot of sections of the green where if you’re not in the right spot, you’re going to have a tough up‑and‑down or a tough two‑putt, so you want to be below the hole on a lot of them.  You have to be in the right position on fairways.  You can be in the fairway and not have a clear shot, so you have to be on the right half of the fairway, or if you do miss a fairway be on the proper side.”

And whether the course, at “only” 7,200 yards, can be overpowered: “Yeah, I don’t think that you’re going to have anybody overpowering it.  With some of the doglegs and kind of  trying to play into position and takes some clubs out of your hands on certain holes.”

So he thinks it’s a good test? “I do.  It suits my eye well.  I like tree‑lined courses with big trees, and poa annua grass is what I’ve grown up on with the greens, so I feel pretty comfortable out here.  I think you have to hit every shot out here.  You have to shape shots around trees.  You can hit driver, you can hit 3‑wood, you can hit whatever you want, but I don’t know if anybody is going to be overpowering the course except for on some par‑5s. But most of the par‑5s are reachable, it just depends how short a clubs people are going to be coming in with.”

And you have to keep it in the short grass: “The fairways are playing pretty firm.  They’re definitely fun.  There’s not going to be a lot of roll in the rough.  The rough is just thick enough where if you roll through, it’s not going to roll much more once it gets into the rough, and it’s definitely thick enough, and especially in the morning, moist enough that it is going to hinder the ball coming out”

Sang-Moon Bae particularly doesn’t like the rough: “Actually I don’t like this rough.  It’s pretty thick.  So the main point is the fairway.  The fairways are pretty narrow.  I think I’m driving it pretty well today, I mean, this week.  I played a little easier than the other time, and my driver has improved, I think.  It was a pretty good round.”

But he likes the course: “Yeah, I like this course.  Pretty narrow, as I told you, and you need really, really good irons because the greens are pretty small, too.  Green speed is not really fast, and a little soft.  It’s really good for me, so I played well today.”

Martin Laird chimes in talking about the need for shotmaking: “I would say it’s definitely drive it in the fairway around here.  There’s some big old trees around here that can block your view pretty easily, and the greens are severe.  You’ve got to kind of pick your spots.  A couple holes today I was in the middle of the fairway with 9‑iron, wasn’t even really going at the flag, just trying to get it in a good spot and give myself two putts because there’s plenty of birdie holes.  Some of these greens are pretty severe, you’ve just got to make sure you don’t get on the wrong side of the hole on those ones and try and play the rest of the golf course as aggressive as you can.”

Charlie Beljan, as one of the longest players on Tour, has a different kind of problem: “No, we’re hitting a lot of irons.  You’ve just got to hit the ball in the fairway out here.  The rough is tough, and you’ve got to be on the right side of the holes to make some putts.  It’s a beautiful place being up here for the first time.  I think all the players are going to be happy; great conditions, great weather, and it’s good.”

Luke Guthrie is enjoying the change of pace the course offers: “I think it’s kind of fun.  It’s exciting, it’s new.  I really like the golf course here.  It’s kind of unique.  It’s kind of like shorter and tighter and you’ve got to think your way around.  Seems like a lot we play kind of the bombing — pull driver out and kind of wail on it.  Around here you have to think a little bit, and it’s fun.  It’s a challenge.”

Canadian, David Lingmerth, thought the course was fun, but hard: “Yeah, it’s fun to play a course like this where the holes aren’t overly long, but it’s penalizing if you don’t put it in the right spot.  What was it, 4‑under was leading for a long time, now I know Andres played really good and shot 6, but going into today, I thought a lot of guys would probably shoot 6, but the course is holding up real well.  It’s a hard course.”

Short-hitting but straight, Tim Clark, is enjoying the respite from some of the behemoths the Tour plays: “It’s a great golf course.  I mean, it’s going to reward good play, and if you struggle you’re going to see that in the scores, too.  Tough driving course.  For me I feel like there’s some really narrow holes out there.  I just think overall it’s a great golf course.”

“I’m finding it kind of narrow, so I can only imagine what the other guys are feeling.  I missed fairways today, but you’re still able to chase the ball up, and I got it around the greens when I had to do that.  Unfortunately I didn’t manage to birdie a par‑5, but they’re tough.  I don’t think they’re that reachable for the guys.  Really it is about positioning your ball out here, which is going to suit me.”

Stuart Appleby has some of the same problems Clark has, but really appreciates the course for what it is: “It’s fantastic old‑school.  You’ve got to put yourself on the right side of the tee just to miss a tree 50 or 100 yards in front of you.  That’s unusual that you’ve got to sort of line yourself up to slip it down the middle.  But good aggressive bunkering you can see plays a role; big, deep bunkers in spots.  Bunker sand varies, so you’ve got to watch which sand is okay to get in or not.  And it’s bouncy.  I hit a full lobby on the last from probably 85, 90 yards, and it kicked five yards forward on a flat green.  Once the ball starts doing that, it just becomes harder to really control what is happening with the bounces.”

And finally, the subject of yesterday’s post, Jarrod Lyle, chimes in with his appreciation of the course: “Yeah, it was good.  It’s a great golf course.  It’s nice to be able to play an old‑school golf course that you don’t need driver on every hole.  It’s sort of more of a plotter’s golf course, this one.  If you can keep it in the fairway, you’re going to give yourself a lot of chances.”

Normally, I focus on the introspective interviews in the media center because I think that gives us access to how players process the demands of playing on the grandest stage in professional golf.

While this post may seem off topic, it really isn’t. To have all of these appreciative, positive thoughts framing their day is a solid foundation from which to play.

Perhaps we can take a page from their playbook and particularly when the day isn’t going as we had hoped, approach our course with appreciation and gratitude for the worthy challenge that it places before us.

After all, Gary Player never met a golf course he didn’t love and approached each one like it was the best he’d ever played.

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