Welcome to the first full-field event of 2016 with the Sony Open at Waialae Country Club. This tournament used to mark the unofficial “first day of school” on the PGA Tour when it kicked off the new season, but with the advent of the wraparound schedule, it’s just a new year. However, it was a bit more exciting to meet the rookies after Q-school and the veterans who had to deal with the harrowing experience to get their cards back. (Weird to think that there have been two sort of major changes since I started covering the Tour regularly in 2011.)
21 of the 32 players who played in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions are in the field this week. It used to be that once you were all the way over here in Hawaii you would stay for the Sony Open, because, why not? Well, now that so many of the top players travel internationally and via private jets, it’s much easier to skip the second week because the course doesn’t fit their game and bottomline is that it’s kind of a pain after such a relaxing week in Maui.
It’s certainly a different atmosphere at the Sony compared to Kapalua. The latter is much more low key with more headliners (especially this year!) and the limited field aspect is nice and chill, especially when they’re fighting daylight to get 144 players to finish 18 holes here at the former. I could go on all day about the pros and cons and the differences between the two weeks in the Hawaii swing on Tour, but I’ll spare you. One thing’s for sure, though — it’s always a crowded and busy practice area with lots of players to chat with and it’s still a pretty relaxed atmosphere compared to when things really ramp up over the next few months.
This is the view outside the Sony Open media center. I know, right? It’s pretty sick, but it’s actually quite torturous because I’d rather be hanging on the beach than working. (Don’t tell anyone, but I might sneak away and walk a few hundred yards down the beach for an afternoon break — it’ll probably be the last time my stomach sees the sun for a looooooong time.
The most important keys to scoring at this narrow, old-school track are driving accuracy, scoring within 100 yards, and last but definitely not least, strokes gained putting. En route to his nine-shot rout last year, Jimmy Walker ranked first in that last stat. He also ranked second in putting from 20-25 feet, and rolled in a total of 418′ 6″ of putts made, where he led the field, as well.
Since 2012, Waialae CC has been the toughest driving course on Tour. Only 49% of all drives at the Sony Open have found the fairways. The rough is sticky and it’s easy to catch fliers out of there, so it’s obviously important to find the short grass off the tee. On about half the holes, the area around the greens are shaved an extra 3-4 feet, so it’ll likely be easier when it comes to chipping this week than in previous years.
I spotted several players working on hitting really high shots with their drivers on the range. Morgan Hoffmann was one of them. When I noticed how much loft he was getting, I rhetorically asked if that was his usual ball flight. He said he was practicing his drive for the very reachable, dog-leg left par-5 18th, where you have to carry it over some tall palm trees to cut the corner for the ideal second shot. The final hole is also ranked the toughest driving hole on Tour since 2012.
Waialae is ranked tied for second as the Tour stop with the shortest proximity to the hole inside 100 yards (from the fairway). Last season it was ranked third under courses with the shortest proximity to the hole from the fairway — only behind Glen Abbey GC (RBC Canadian Open) and TPC Southwind (FedEx St Jude Classic).
Jimmy Walker didn’t have the best finish at Kapalua last week due to mostly a poor final round — he finished T10. However, his wedge game was solid for the week as he led the field in proximity to the hole from 50-125 yards. Look out for him to three-peat at the Sony this week.
BTW: I was also told by a player that Waialae had something like 50 trees removed in the past year, as it was a cost cut since it takes quite a bit of dough to maintain each one. So, that should theoretically make scoring even easier this year.
The Sony Open is also the place where you spot some new or renewed relationships — that is, between players and caddies. In case you didn’t know, the biggest “name” to start the 2015-16 season with a new face on the bag was Matt Kuchar, who split with longtime caddie Lance Bennett and hired Hunter Mahan’s longtime looper John Wood. Kuchar and Wood debuted together at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba. Meanwhile, Mahan is going through a lot of changes, personally and professionally. With Wood going to Kuchar, Mahan has hired Jon Yarbrough, who has worked for Gary Woodland and Scott Stallings.
Adam Scott has David Clark, who finished last season with Paul Casey, on the bag this week. Scott estimated at the end of last season that the semi-retired Stevie Williams will work for him for about 10 tournaments this year, and in between, Clark will manage the rest.
A bunch of other new (or renewed — so many people get back together after some time off, I’ve found) player-caddie relationships, but the aforementioned are probably the only ones you really care about. I’m trying to think of any other notables that I saw, but nothing stands out.
Early last week in the caddie lounge, a bunch of guys brought up the time in 2002 at Kapalua when Tiger Woods and at his swing coach at the time Butch Harmon bet $100 that Woods’ then-caddie Steve Williams that he couldn’t run the hilly back nine in under 30 minutes. Williams, who has been described as the “fittest caddie on tour,” ran from the 10th tee to the 18th green (which, trust me, ain’t no easy feat) in 19:28 and won the cash.
Well, Mark Urbanek, who loops for James Hahn, was part of that conversation and as an avid runner, he declared that he could beat WIlliams’ time. They weren’t sure if Williams started at the clubhouse or the 10th tee, so Urbanek kicked off his run at the former, to be safe. Jimmy Walker bet on Urbanek, while Walker’s swing coach Harmon and caddie Andy Sanders took the other side. Well, Urbanek completed the run in 20 minutes, 15 seconds, but had he started on the 10th tee as Williams did, his time was 19 minutes.
Urbanek got into running a few years ago, and in his debut at the NYC Marathon in 2014, he finished in 3 hours and 29 minutes. Not too shabby.
The most interesting thing I probably saw all day was one of the first faces I spotted upon my arrival. Graham DeLaet has been growing out a beard for 5-6 months for no particular reason, he said, except he felt like it. He has no timeline for when he’ll shave, but it sure looks like it would be warm to sport that in the Hawaii heat. Here’s his look…
Not long after, I saw Boo Weekley sporting a similar look.
Weekley started growing his beard at the Sanderson Farms Championship the first week of November. He says he’s trimmed it twice since then, and he doesn’t have any firm plans to get rid of it yet.
I guess it’s the new trend on Tour!
ALLENBY’S ALLEGED ASSAULT/ABDUCTION/WHATEVER IT WAS
Robert Allenby made the *valiant* trip back to Honolulu, the city where he was allegedly beaten and robbed early Saturday morning after a Friday night out went wrong. Allenby originally claimed he had been kidnapped after supposedly being tossed out of the back of a car trunk, but upon an investigation by the police, onlookers said that wasn’t the case. One homeless man said he saw Allenby fall and hit his head on a rock.
Allenby believes he was drugged at Amuse Wine Bar, where he was enjoying a few drinks with his then caddie Mick Middlemo and another friend.
The 44-year-old Australian has only missed the Sony Open three times in his 17 years on tour and told the Associated Press on Sunday that he wasn’t going to let one bad night sully all the fond memories and he thought returning might give him closure after the torturous experience, which ruined the rest of his year.
“My life itself probably hasn’t changed, but maybe my reputation has changed,” Allenby said after a practice round on Tuesday at Waialae. “It’s been tarnished through false reporting. As I said, and I still say it today, I told you what I was told, and I told you what I knew.”
One mainstream outlet cited unidentified sources and misreported that Allenby had spent $3,400 at a strip club.
Allenby feels like just showing up to this tournament was a massive hurdle.
“I think just being here right now is already overcoming a lot,” Allenby said. “I had a lot of thoughts going through my head flying over here. I had about nine hours to think about it, from Houston to Honolulu. And when I got off the plane, I was like, ‘All right, this is great. I’m glad I’m here.’ ”
Someone get him a gold star?
The start of 2016 marked the end of anchoring the putter, according to the Rules of Golf. However, it doesn’t mean that long or belly putters are banned, per se. Players just can’t touch your chest or stomach. However, the method that guys like Matt Kuchar has used for a long time — where he arm-locks the putter against his forearm, basically — seems to be a popular method that others have picked up.
The majority of guys didn’t wait until 2016 to make the switch. Most notably, major winners Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson, who both opted to change to a conventional-length putter before the deadline hit. Adam Scott went back and forth between the broomstick and a regular putter in 2015, but finally made the permanent switch at the Presidents Cup.
But, several guys, such as Carl Pettersson and Tim Clark, were more stubborn and stuck to their former long putters until they were forced to do otherwise. Clark used the same putting method for nearly the past 20 years, where he anchored the grip against his chest. He has a rare condition where he can’t supinate his wrists. Clark has opted to use BioMech’s AccuLock Ace, which has an interesting look.
Well, it mostly looks strange because I wasn’t holding it correctly, but common sense quickly kicked in and according to Clark’s caddie, Mike Kerr, I basically got it right the second time around.
It felt comfortable and steady, like it was nicely “locked” against my arm so it wouldn’t make me get “wristy,” etc. I’m not a huge fan of the shape of the head, but I liked the feel once I figured out how to grip it. I wish I had known that this was legal back in the day, but I’d used this method as a drill taught by my swing coach (who probably would have quit teaching before he encouraged using it in competition).
I’m helping out Golf Magazine with anonymous surveys for their Masters preview issue. My favorite response to the multiple choice answer survey was naturally one that wasn’t an option. One player replied that the bridge across 12 would be the best place to (theoretically) scatter one’s ashes and then added that was the spot he would relieve himself whenever he’s played. I assume he was joking, but this is anonymous for a reason!
That’s all for now. Hope I remembered everything. I’ll be back with more tomorrow (Wednesday)!