The revamped Asian Swing continues this week as the PGA TOUR heads to Japan for the inaugural ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP.
Before we dive into the event, let's talk a little bit about the sponsor which is a very interesting one. The company was started by Yusaku Maezawa who just resigned as CEO last month. Maezawa is famous for a few reasons. First, of course, for growing this clothing company to what it is now. Zozotown is Japan's largest online fashion retailer. Second, he signed on with Elon Musk and SpaceX to be the first commercial passenger to the moon. Third, he also got eyeballs from his infamous tweet that promised to give away $920K to his followers that Retweeted it. That tweet became the most retweeted on the internet at the time.
Now, back to the event. Just like last week, it's a limited field of 78 golfers with all of them guaranteed to play all four rounds, barring a WD.
The field is comprised of 60 golfers from last year's FedExCup standings, 10 from the Japan Golf Tour, and 8 sponsor's invites.
The host venue is Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club's Championship Course. Not to be confused with the cherries of Croatian origin. Yes, Maraschino cherries are originally from Croatia. I stumbled upon that fact last week, unrelated to any Narsahino CC research.
The course is a par 70 that plays to 7,041 yards on the scorecard. That is relatively short by PGA TOUR standards. It's not a traditional par 70, though, as the card is made up of three par 5s and five par 3s.
While short, this course is not a pushover in the right conditions. The fairways are tight and heavily tree-lined. If the course were playing firm and fast then it'd be a lot of irons off the tee but that's not the case right now. As we saw in yesterday's Skins match, the course is a bit soft still and the fairways aren't getting much roll. That should let golfers pull the driver a bit more than they otherwise would but it still looks to be a course that is not easily overpowered and golfers won't be at a major disadvantage if they opt for a conservative strategy on the tee boxes.
On approach, golfers will have to deal with water on three holes (water in play off the tee on three holes, five total). Most of the holes are open as long as you avoid spraying it but a few approach shots will be hindered by overhanging trees. A unique feature of the course is that each hole has two greens available to use. That is customary for Japan courses but not something most are familiar with. The par-4 fourth hole will alternate greens this week while it sounds like the other holes with stick with just one of the greens for the week. If golfers do land on the wrong green, they will be given a free drop.
For turf, the golfers will see zoysia fairways and zoysia rough with bentgrass putting surfaces. The greens were prepped at 11 feet on the stimp for the Skins match and I'd expect similar speeds for tournament competition.
Sifting through some past quotes, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.
Jason Day: "I've never played rough like this. The blade of grass is so huge."
Rory McIlroy: "This is the complete opposite of last week (Nine Bridges). Tight and Tree-Lined."
Rory McIlroy: "Especially with the way the course was set up, we could fire at some pins. Yeah, no, it's good fun. I mean, there's probably a few holes out there where during the tournament this week we probably won't hit driver, but it was nice to get driver in our hands and have a hit and have a bit of fun."
Overview: Not a lot of quotes since this is the inaugural edition but we did pick up some nuggets during yesterday's competition. Day gave some insight on the rought being unique. Rory talked about how the course setup and skins format led to them hitting a few more driver than we should expect to see during tournament play.
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:
Chapultepec (WGC Mexico)
Sheshan International (WGC HSBC)
East Lake (TOUR Championship)
Firestone (previously WGC Bridgestone)
Innisbrook's Copperhead Course (Valspar)
Harbour Town (RBC Heritage)
The main theme is tight and tree-lined this week. East Lake also has the zoysia factor although East Lake's zoysia is just on the fairways while it's also Zoysia rough this week in Japan.
Thursday: Mostly cloudy with a high of 70 degrees. Winds at 10 to 20 MPH.
Friday: Cloudy with periods of rain (80%) and a high of 67 degrees. Winds at 10 to 20 MPH.
Golfers will see windy conditions on Thursday and Friday before things calm down over the weekend.