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Sony Open in Hawaii Preview

Monday, January 7, 2019

Staying in Hawaii for another week, the 2019 schedule is off and running for the PGA TOUR. 

If you recall last year, this was the spot where golfers got a scare put into them when a National Emergency Text Message was sent to everyone on the island. It turned out to be a false alarm but golfers were scrambling for a good hour before they got the good news. 

After just 34 golfers pegged it last week, the field expands to 144 this week with the typical Top 70 and Ties back in play for the cut rule. 

Let's dive into the course, weather, and golfers to watch...

The Course

Waialae Country Club has hosted this event since the inaugural 1965 edition. 

This is a classical Seth Raynor design that plays to a par 70 at right around 7,000 yards. Not long by TOUR standards. 

Not long on the scorecard but tight fairway corridors and doglegs force golfers into thinking their way around this track. 

Many of the longer hitters will be forced to frequently club down off the tee with the focus being on placement rather than distance. Of course there are a few spots where the longer hitters can take some shortcuts but overall this isn't a course you are going to overpower. 

I mentioned the tight fairways already which leads to the field averaging right around just 50 percent of fairways hit most years. A big part of that is due to the firmness of the course. Even balls that land in the fairways will often rollout until they reach the rough. In that regard the fairways-hit percentage is a bit misleading since plenty of the shots will be in very manageable lies, just off the fairway.

Golfers still find greens in regulation on roughly two-thirds of the holes. With less club off the tee, golfers don't get into as much trouble here. When you dive into the rate of big numbers recorded (Double Bogey or Worse), this is one of the easiest courses on TOUR in that regard. It's pretty straightforward golf and it's not tricked up in any way. There is water in play on just two holes. 

Even though it's a par 70, this course also ranks 4th amongst all annual TOUR stops since 2014 when it comes to rates of recorded eagles. The field averages 0.49 eagles per 72 holes here at Waialae while the TOUR average is closer to .33 eagles per 72. Last year the par-5 ninth holes yielded 39 eagles while the par-5 18th hole gave up 15 eagles to the field. 

This course is like a PB&J sandwich with the peanut butter and jelly being the most important aspect (Approach + Around-the-Green) while the pieces of bread (Off-the-Tee and Putting) are less relevant skillsets to have here. 

They are slowly tweaking this course. Last year it was the par-3 17th that got the renovation. The field managed 75 birdies and a hole-in-one at the 17th last year which is a little easier than the year prior when it yielded 58 birdies and an ace. However, the overall scoring average (3.059) was slightly higher (3.045 in 2017). Overall, it didn't make much of a difference in the scores recorded. 

Similar to last week, golfers will deal with slower-than-average bermudagrass greens. Without much wind in the forecast it is possible they speed them up a tad compared to usual but overall the stimp typically sits around just 11.15 feet here at Waialae. 

Lastly, we don't want to ignore the rust factor as many golfers arrive in Hawaii without much action over the last few months. However, 76% of the podium finishers over the last 5 years had arrived with some competitive action since the start of December. That could mean the Hero, QBE Shootout, Tourney of Champions, Euro Tour, of Australasian Tour. Something to consider if you need a tiebreaker this week.  

Course Quotes

Sifting through some past quotes over at the Fantasy Golfanac, let's try to break down the course to see how they will play...
Jordan Spieth: "I’d like to make these two weeks a regular step every year. I really enjoy this golf course. The first year I played it, you actually have to learn quite a bit of how to map yourself around this place, and the ball rolls a lot more here than it did any place else, and I tried to do a little too much. I remember hitting driver, 3 wood a lot the first year I played it and missed the cut. Then last year played pretty smart, didn’t putt very well."
Zach Johnson: "It’s always been that way. That’s Waialae. It’s no different. I mean, some of the younger guys probably haven’t seen it, but the course used to be even tighter. The 1st fairway has gotten a little bit wider, specifically on the left. 12th fairway is much wider, and maybe even one or two more. But that being said, wider here is still very, very narrow."

Justin Thomas:
 "It’s the hardest fairways to hit on TOUR I think, and the greens aren’t big, and the rough is kind of that length to where you can get some flyers or it can come out dead. The biggest thing is just getting it in play, because I can just hit a lot of 2-irons out here and then I’m having short irons in, and I felt comfortable enough with those that I could hit my numbers."

Russell Henley:
 "I guess I like that it’s firm. I like that the greens are bermuda, just like I practice on at home. I like that it’s not a super long course, but you have to be precise where you hit it. I feel like that’s not really the trend these days in making these golf courses."

Brian Stuard: "I usually hit a draw. It sets up nice. There’s a lot of tee shots where a draw seems to be the shot."

Overview: The talk of the field is generally about placement and shot-shaping off the tee. It's not really a bomb-and-gouge style of course. Especially with generally firm conditions which allow the shorter hitters to poke it out there and let it roll. Lots of golfers talk about the bermuda greens being to their liking. 

Correlated Courses

Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, and past performance, here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week: 

Innisbrook's Copperhead Course
TPC Boston
TPC Scottsdale
Plantation Course at Kapalua
Firestone CC
The Club at Nine Bridges
Sheshan International

Courses without much blowup potential show up here (Kapalua, Scottsdale, Firestone) but also form in the fall appears to be handy as THE CJ CUP and WGC-HSBC both show up on the list. Innisbrook also makes a lot of sense because it's another track where boring golf usually rises to the top and there isn't really the ability to overpower either course. 


The Weather

Thursday: Partly Cloudy with a high of 80 degrees. Winds ENE at 10 MPH without much power in the gusts (12 MPH). 

Friday: Mostly Sunny with a high of 80 degrees. Winds dead calm in the AM before reaching 10 MPH in the PM. Small chance of afternoon showers. 

Weekend: Mostly sunny with a high in the lower 80s. Winds staying calm without much chance of precipitation. 

After a windy week on Maui, this one looks relatively calm in terms of wind forecasts go. Should be plenty of birdies and eagles recorded this week. 

continue story »
Josh Culp joined Rotoworld in 2014. The DFS enthusiast from Iowa State can be found on Twitter @futureoffantasy.
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