Mar
17
2011
Behind the Scenes at the Transitions Championship: Innisbrook, Late Edition
By Stephanie Wei under Behind the Scenes

*Update: I had to take down the pictures because I just discovered it’s against Tour policy to post photographs from practice rounds.

It only took 13 years, but I’ve finally returned to Innisbrook. You see, I played in a junior golf tournament when I was 14 (I think) and I had just started competing in national events. I saw my first alligator on the golf course — and got relief from one for the first time because my ball was too close to the gator, so it was deemed a “dangerous situation.” I also received relief from a flower bed on No. 9. Best of all, I broke 80 for the first time in competition. So, naturally, Innisbrook has always had a special place in my heart.

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TUESDAY

Anyway, the decor hasn’t changed in the lodges. 13 years ago, it was already outdated. Paul Casey said it best — “Don’t you feel like you’re on a Golden Girls set?”

Here now, rookie Jamie Lovemark, who won the 2010 Nationwide Tour money title, works with his swing instructor Sean Foley. Jamie has been struggling with a back injury, forcing him to withdraw from the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. He finished T28 in Puerto Rico last week. When I asked how his back was doing, he shrugged. I caught up with Foley afterward and we talked Tiger and swing philosophy.

Here’s the first hole at Innisbrook’s Copperhead course.

And here’s the 18th green.

Just a general range shot and where I spend many hours on Tuesdays and Wednesdays of a tournament week — usually I’m stalking some player, waiting for him to finish hitting balls so I can ask him questions.

Ryo Ishikawa wore green pants two days too early! Here’s Ryo leaving the range on Tuesday afternoon.

And where Ryo goes, the Japanese media follows.

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WEDNESDAY

Check out Ryan Palmer! — he’s actually posing for the camera. Ryan says this is a golf course that creates a bunched leaderboard. Usually the cutline will be around seven shots within the leader. “Don’t shoot yourself in the foot,” he said. “If you shoot four or five under on the weekend, you have a good chance of moving up the leaderboard.”

Longer hitters can take advantage of the par 5s more, but it’s not a course you need to try and to overpower. It’s a ballstrikers course because of the small greens. However, the overseed didn’t take well and the greens are a little bare, which means they’ll have to keep them soft.

The “Snake Pit,” the three-hole stretch of finishing holes, starts with a tough tee shot on No. 16, with water on the right and a small landing area. Ryan says if you hit a good tee shot, then the hole’s not that hard. “I’ll take four pars on 16 and call it a week,” he said.

Farrell Evans got a lesson from Martin Kaymer late Tuesday afternoon. Martin told him, “Farrell, you look better than I do at the top of the swing. Sometimes I can get across the line a little. But I want you to slow down your backswing and quiet your legs.”

I called BS. Farrell and I went to watch Martin at the practice range on Wednesday. I told Martin he was a liar, but he insisted it was true. Farrell was gloating all day, but word is, he got a lesson from a real swing coach later that day, who said Martin didn’t know what he was talking about.

Anyway, Martin and 17-year-old Matteo Manassero were hitting balls next to each other. Martin loves HBO’s Entourage and calls his caddie, Craig Connelley, “Turtle.”

It was pretty fun to watch the world no. 1 and The Next Big Thing hit balls next to each other. I’m a fan of Manassero after his press conference. He’s always smiling and is very personable.

There’s a pond at the end of the range (which is in play on No. 5), which is about 310 yards, and Martin decided to try and to reach it. Check out the video below.

You can’t hear, but Martin’s caddie says, “Stop hitting it like a girl.” With a smile, Martin turned and pointed at me, saying, “You know, we’ve got a girl here.”

Here’s Matteo checking out Martin’s driver.

Matteo checks out Martin hitting some shots.

Later, Martin said, “Let’s watch the Italian Wonder,” and pulled up a seat (the sign with his name on it).

On the way back to the media center, I snapped a few pictures of a Japanese TV crew filming Ryuji Imada (I think).

Yep, there’s Ryuji in the yellow shirt. On Wednesday afternoon Ryuji sat down and handwrote a note that he then photocopied and distributed in the players’ lockers. He’s donating $1,000 for every birdie he makes this week to Japan’s relief efforts and encouraged his fellow players to join him. Through 12 holes on Thursday, unfortunately, Ryuji has yet to card a birdie.

Ryo’s getting ready to tee off for his pro-am. I was working late in the media center on Wednesday evening and I thought everyone was gone when suddenly a swarm of people returned — I’d forgotten Ryo had a late starting time.

I was interviewing Pat Perez for a feature story on Dustin Johnson and John Daly was hitting behind Pat at the range. We were talking about DJ’s length and JD asked Pat, “Does he hit it longer than me?”

Pat replied, “Yeah, he’s looong.”

Daly said, “I’m old now.”

How about that Nick Watney?! He’s on fire again. Watney is six-under through 14 holes in the first round and currently leading.

Oh, and Happy St. Patrick’s Day!