Last season, Dustin Johnson claimed the title in a wind-shortened 54-hole tournament that was nothing if not bizarre. There were multiple times where the TOUR attempted to get the first round underway before canceling and wiping out the scores only to start over due to incredibly strong wind. A meteorologist I am not, but from the comfort of my living room it's easy to see that the Plantation Course sits on the side of a mountain and directly on the ocean, offering little buffer when the winds blow hard. While Trade Winds and Kona Winds will be mentioned more than once during the Golf Channel's coverage, typically they are talking about 15 or 20 mph, not 50!
The Plantation Course at Kapalua is a 7,452 par-73, featuring four par 5s, but just three par 3s. Mark me among the many that, for quite some time, thought length was the key factor for dominating the course, but I've backed off of that a bit. I realize that sounds counter intuitive with Dustin Johnson serving as the defending champion, but when you break the course down length isn't first on the list of importance.
So what matters?
- For starters, experience. There are plenty of nuances that make Kapalua tricky for first-timers. The direction of the wind could be the biggest. As mentioned earlier, the Trade Winds and Kona Winds are a factor. While the course plays the same for everyone, experience is a factor if the winds of a few practice rounds blow one way, but they shift to another for the tournament proper. Add to that, putts tend to break in relation to the nearby mountain.
- Going low. The first three par 5s are pretty much reachable, while only the final (663 yards down the mountain) is tough to reach, so birdies and eagles will happen. The winner will need to go lower than -20, and may need something more like 25-under. That means feasting on par 5s alone won't get it done. Solid wedge play on the par 4s, avoiding mistakes on the three par 3s and making some mid-range putts matter. What doesn't matter is driving accuracy. The fairways can't be much more generous, so players with above-average length and a poor record for driving accuracy are in play. Recent guys that found success fitting that bill that were a little under the radar included Robert Garrigus and Jonathan Byrd.
- Care to look at some stats? I'd prefer a guy inside the top 75 +/- in driving distance (2013), who has solid putting stats inside 12 feet and has a nice track record on par 4s. I've already mentioned that bad driving accuracy stats don't matter, but don't put too much stock in Par 3 scoring either, since there are only three. Perhaps rather than just looking at GIR, dig a little deeper and check out GIR from the fairway, since that's where they will be playing from most of the week. Some guys are much more efficient from the fairway than the rough.
- If there were ever a week to look at course history, this would be it. Form shouldn't matter much since all of the guys are coming off a break.
We will be back tomorrow to break down the contenders. Until then, happy research!