Wednesday, January 8, 2020

What To Look For: 2020 Sony Open

The Tour returns to Waialae Country Club for the 2020 Sony Open:

This is one of my favorite times of the year for the Tour as the ‘offseason’ is officially over and you can only dream of what it would be like to be a Tour player that gets to play Kapalua, Waialae and then Palm Springs in January. Then they are off to Torrey Pines, followed by the hoopla and ballyhoo of stadium golf in Scottsdale. It’s also a time of the season and with the course designs where unknowns and journeymen that get rejuvenated tend to flourish or a top player can establish their dominance for the rest of season. And given that this is a Ryder Cup year, it all becomes even more important.

Waialae Country Club is located in the south eastern part of Honolulu. It’s a Seth Raynor design playing to a par-72 and roughly 7,125 yards. It routinely has one of the lowest hit fairway percentages for the field as the average will hover around 50%. This is due to narrow fairways (roughly 26 yards wide) and the wind. Since it’s a Raynor design, there is quite a few tee shots that force the golfer to lay-up off the tee.

Despite the low hit fairway percentage, the average hit GIR % is around 70%. The greens are fairly receptive and if the golfer can find the fairway, the approaches are not overly difficult.

There is a polarizing opinion on Tour about Waialae. Many players love, others hate it. From the vibe I’ve received about the course is that those that don’t like it feels like it favors the shorter hitters too much and there’s too much luck involved due to the wind and narrow fairways. Those that love the course seem to really love the old-school design flavor to it The other factor in all of this is the expense and experience of Hawaii. It’s a pricey trip to make to Hawaii, but others will embrace it and bring their families over.

Waialae is mostly about the versatility of approach shots in terms of being able to precisely hit wedge shots as well as mid-length approach shots. Driving is also important here, but good luck in projecting who will drive well here given the wind and narrow fairways.

The last critical hole on the course is the par-5 18th hole.

Last year the hole played to 4.51 strokes on average. This was despite the field only finding the fairway 29.8% of the time. The big key is for the player to hit it at least the distance that is between the right fairway bunker and the 2nd left fairway bunker. That is roughly about 285 yards. Players that the ball to that distance, even if they found the fairway bunker, saw their projected scores drop dramatically.

Using The 65/50 Rule as described in 2019 Pro Golf Synopsis (purchase here 2019 PRO GOLF SYNOPSIS), the target off the tee for the average Tour player should be just left of the tree that is highlighted by the yellow box. With rollout, it’s easy to see why the fairway is often missed on this hole.

Projected Winning Score: -22


Justin Thomas +500
Collin Morikawa +1,600
Hideki Matsuyama +1,600
Joaquin Niemann +2,500


Abraham Ancer +4,000
Corey Conners +4,000
Kevin Kisner +4,000
Chez Reavie +5,000
Brian Stuard +6,600
Emiliano Grillo +8,000


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