Category: Golf Courses

The Arnold Palmer Invitational

The Arnold Palmer Invitational at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge, Orlando FL
Bay Hill Club & Lodge, Orlando FL

The WGC Workday Championship Wrap-Up

Last week concluded the WGC Workday Championship. The reigning PGA Champ, Collin Morikawa, took home the prize as he finished the tournament at -18, three shots clear of runners-up Brooks Koepka, Billy Horschel, and Viktor Hovland. This was the fourth tour victory for the 24 old Morikawa, and he won in dominating fashion. The Concession Golf Club, a Nicklaus design and venue for the Workday, played like a bear as expected. Unless you were hitting it long and extremely straight off the tee, you paid a heavy price with only 21 of the 50 top ranked players in the world managing to break par. Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, and Adam Scott, all major champions, each finished at +5. Jack doesn’t want to see a putting contest, and when a championship is held on one of his courses, you can bet the winner will be at the top of the ball striking stats for the week—particularly driving. Morikawa hit an incredible 84% of the Fairways at the Concession, while averaging 286 yards off the tee. Johnson, on the other hand, averaged 306 yards off the tee, but hit only 57% of the fairways. Rose and Scott each averaged just under 300 yards, but hit only 66% and 64% of the fairways, respectively. Horschel and Hovland, who tied for second, hit 82% and 77% of the fairways. The only player at the top of the leader board not among the leaders in driving accuracy was Brooks Koepka (64%), which is a testament to his determination and grit, particularly on display in high profile championships. The way Koepka is playing this year, it seems like a lock that he will lift another major championship trophy in 2021, although Collin Morikawa may well have something to say about it.

The Arnold Palmer Invitational

This week starts The Arnold Palmer Invitational, a tournament bearing the name of one of the greatest and most loved players in the history of golf. The PGA Tour has a long history of tournament play in Orlando, Florida, dating back to 1966 and the “Florida Citrus Invitational,” played at Rio Pinar Country Club (which Palmer won in 1971). In 1970 Palmer leased the Bay Hill Club, purchased it outright in 1975, and in 1979 the PGA moved their Orlando event to Arnie’s course as “The Bay Hill Classic” and later the “Bay Hill Invitational.” In 2007 the tournament became known as the “Arnold Palmer Invitational.” Arnie’s presence always made Bay Hill a popular event among the top tour players, and his legacy continues with Bay Hill as one of the crown jewels in the PGA Tour schedule. Notable winners include Tiger Woods (a record 8 wins), Lee Trevino, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, Fred Couples, Hale Irwin, Tom Kite, and the late Payne Stewart. As a premium tour event, The Arnold Palmer Invitational awards 50 additional FedEx points to the champion.

The Field

As mentioned earlier, the Arnold Palmer Invitational features an extremely strong field. A few of the notable players competing this week include Bryson DeChambeau, Rory McIlroy, Patrick Reed, Justin Rose, Jordan Spieth, and Jason Day. Rory would appear to be the favorite, having won at Bay Hill in 2018 and a solid 2021 season thus far with 2 top-10’s and an additional 4 top-25’s. Jordan Spieth’s recent surge makes him another player to keep an eye on, and he may be particularly motivated after failing to make the field for last week’s WGC championship. It’s also a pretty good bet that Bryson DeChambeau will be among the leaders on Sunday, with all that power and a strong performance following his slow start at The Concession last week (and he came close when Rory won in ’18). Bryson has also made many references regarding his affection for Arnold Palmer and his strong desire to win at Bay Hill—so there may be a little extra on those booming drives. As always, this will be one of the special weeks on PGA Tour schedule, so be sure to tune in.

The Bay Hill Club and Lodge

The Bay Hill Club and Lodge is located in Orlando Florida and the original eighteen holes were designed by famed architect Dick Wilson in 1961 (Champion and Challenger Nines). In 1969 Bob Simmons added an additional nine holes (Charger Nine). From the moment Arnie purchased Bay Hill in 1975 he made continual updates and improvements to the layout, and in 2009 the course underwent a major renovation under his direct supervision, making Bay Hill Club and Lodge one of the finest facilities in the country. The Arnold Palmer Invitational will be played on the Champion and Challenger Nines, boasting a 76.4 course rating and a slope of 138.

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WGC-Workday Championship at The Concession

The Concession Golf Club, Bradenton FL

The Genesis Invitational Wrap-Up

Last week concluded The Genesis Invitational, and it was quite a wild ride. Max Homa fired a 66 on Sunday to tie Tony Finau, and then bested him in a playoff to claim victory. This was Homa’s second win on tour, and it vaulted him to number 10 in the FedEx Cup standings, as well as securing a spot in this week’s WGC Workday Championship. This latest defeat will likely weigh heavily on Finau, being the third playoff loss in a row in his quest to become a multiple winner on tour. When you shoot 64 at Riviera on Sunday to give yourself a chance, there is one hell of a lot to feel good about though. And the way Tony strikes the ball, it is only a matter of time—perhaps a major (or two) is in the near future. Another big story was 24-year-old Sam Burns, who led the tournament for most of the week and a good piece of Sunday, falling one shot short of the playoff with three bogeys on the back nine. Paired with Dustin Johnson in the final group on Sunday, he handled himself like a tour veteran. No doubt we’ll be seeing big things from this youngster as the season moves along.

WGC-Workday Championship

This week marks the start of the WGC-Workday Championship. Normally this would be the WGC-Mexico Championship, but due to logistical issues related to COVID-19, the venue had to be switched from Mexico City to south Florida. Prior to Mexico City, the WGC-Workday was played at a number of different venues, most notably a six year stretch at Trump National Doral in Miami from 2011 through 2016. Before moving to Doral, it was held on a rotational basis at different locations around the world including Spain (Valderrama), Ireland (Mount Juliet, a magnificent Nicklaus design), and Britain (The Grove). This year it will be held at the Concession Golf Club in Florida, another wonderful Nicklaus design. Tiger Woods has won this WGC event an astounding 7 times, a record that will stand for a very long time indeed. Outside of the majors and The Players, WGC events are the most highly prized championships on tour, and the winner is awarded 550 FedEx Cup points (50 more than what is awarded for a normal PGA Tour event).

The Field

WGC events are always great theater because the field is comprised of only the top ranked players in the world—the top 50 for the WGC-Workday. Players to keep an eye on this week include Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Tony Finau, Rory McIlroy, and Xander Schauffele. Johnson may be particularly motivated after his lack-luster finish at Riviera last week (one over 72 on Sunday). Brooks Koepka is another player to keep a close eye on, coming off his win in Phoenix a couple of weeks back, and it’s hard to imagine Tony Finau very far from the lead on Sunday after the way he was moving it in LA. Bryson DeChambeau and Justin Thomas are always dangerous, given the prodigious power they can bring to bear, particularly on a demanding Nicklaus layout where length is always at a premium. One thing is for sure, it’s going to be a great tournament.

The Concession Golf Club

The Concession Golf Club is a private club located in Bradenton, Florida. It was founded in 2006, and designed by World Golf Hall of Famers, Jack Nicklaus and Tony Jacklin. The club’s name is derived from one of the magical moments in golf history, when Jack Nicklaus conceded the final put to Tony Jacklin in the 1969 Ryder Cup, resulting in the first tie in Ryder Cup history. The Concession is considered one of the best golf courses in Florida, with countless accolades from Golf Digest, Golf Magazine, and Golfweek. The Concession also offers one of the finest Par 3 courses in the country (The Gimme) as well as a wonderful putting course (Snake Acre). The star of the show, however, is the eighteen-hole championship layout, which has a course rating of 76.7 and a slope of 155 from the tips—guaranteed to be a very stiff test for even the greatest players in the world.

The Puerto Rico Open

This week also marks the start of the Puerto Rico Open, an alternate tournament held for players not eligible for the field at the WGC event. The tournament is being played at the Grand Reserve Country Club in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico. This Championship offers an opportunity for veterans to build their FedEx point total, while giving some of the young stars a chance to shine. The winner of the Puerto Rico Open is awarded 300 FedEx Cup points along with a spot in the field at the 2021 PGA Championship. If there are any superstitious coves among you, some believe there is a curse attached to the Puerto Rico Open, because with the exception of Michael Bradley (a 2-time winner of the event), and more recently Victor Hovland (who later won the Mayakoba Classic), nobody who won here ever won another event on Tour. Keep in mind that Tony Finau, who won the Puerto Rico Open in 2016, is a lock to put an end to the curse theory forever.

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The Genesis Invitational

The Riviera Country Club, Pacific Palisades CA home of the Genesis Invitational
The Riviera Country Club, Pacific Palisades CA

Greetings golfers! It’s a new year, and that means a fresh PGA Tour season! We all know how rough the last year has been with COVID-19, but 2021 is bound to be better for sure. A lot has happened on the tour since our last blog post. Tiger Woods underwent yet another back surgery, Bryson DeChambeau won his first major, (The U.S. Open) and Dustin Johnson won his second major, (The Masters). It was fascinating to see how differently Augusta National and Winged foot played in Fall, and both delivered the great play and thrills we expect from a major championship.

Six events have been played so far this season, and we saw quite a few great finishes. Brooks Koepka’s come from behind victory at the Waste Management Phoenix Open was particularly notable after a lengthy struggle to regain his form after the injury, and certainly signals his return as a force to be reckoned with as the tour season moves forward.

AT&T Pebble Beach Wrap-Up

Last week concluded the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Although COVID prevented us from enjoying the amateur portion of the tournament, we were treated to some blistering golf by Daniel Berger, who fired a final round 65 to finish two shots ahead of runner up Maverick McNealy. This was Berger’s fourth win on Tour, and the quality shots he delivered under pressure down the stretch, on a track like Pebble Beach, will certainly elevate his confidence as he pursues his first major championship. A suddenly revitalized Jordan Spieth led the tournament for most of the week, but he faltered on Sunday with a bogey on the Par 5 14th hole. Although he fought back with birdies on 17 and 18, it wasn’t enough to catch Berger and he finished tied for 3rd. The strong showing at Pebble after a solid top 5 finish the previous week at the Waste Management Phoenix Open may be an indicator that Spieth is back, and this may be the most exciting PGA Tour season in a long time.

The Genesis Invitational

This week is the Genesis Invitational played at iconic Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, California. The Genesis is one of the longest running stops on the PGA Tour, originally called The Los Angeles Open. Over the years the tournament has been played at a number of different venues, including the El Caballero Country Club, Wilshire Country Club, Hillcrest Country Club and Griffith Park Municipal Golf Course. Riviera was one of the first courses to host the LA Open all the way back in 1929, and became the permanent host from 1973 onward with the exception of two years when the course was hosting the PGA Championship. Tiger Woods made his debut as an Amateur at the LA Open in 1992. The biggest names in golf have won here, including Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, and Fred Couples, each of whom winning the tournament multiple times. In 2019, Tiger Woods added his lofty persona as the Tournament host.

The Field

The strongest field of the year tees it up this week at Riviera, including Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Colin Morikawa, Jordan Spieth and Bubba Watson. Tyler Strafaci, the reigning U.S. Amateur Champion, will also be in the field, and it’s always great to watch youngsters with a lot of game tee it up with the pros. Notably absent from the field is the tournament’s host Tiger Woods, who is still recuperating from his back surgery in December.

The Riviera Country Club

The Riviera Country Club, founded in 1926, was originally designed by famed architects George Thomas and William P. Bell. Through the years the course has been updated by highly regarded architects including Ted Robinson, Sr., Bill Coore, and Ben Crenshaw. Most recently Tom Fazio, one of the architectural giants of last fifty years, brought his talents to maintaining Riviera as a stiff test of golf in the modern era of power golf. In addition to hosting the Genesis Invitational, Riviera has been the venue for a number of major championships, including the 1948 U.S. Open, both the 1983 and 1995 PGA Championships, and the 1998 U.S. Senior Open. Riviera is also slated to host the 2028 Olympics, which should be a joy to watch.

We should be in for a great weekend of golf—make sure you don’t miss it.

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Payne’s Valley Cup

Payne's Valley-Big Cedar Lodge, Hollister MO
Payne’s Valley-Big Cedar Lodge, Hollister MO

U.S. Open Wrap-Up

Last week concluded the 2020 U.S. Open, and Bryson DeChambeau put on a performance for the ages. With little regard for the nasty, thick rough, he challenged virtually every hole with high booming drives to fire an amazing final round 67 and finish at -6, well clear of runner-up Matthew Wolff who finished at even par. The “Professor” used the off season to add about 30 pounds of muscle, which he turned into an enormous power surge, and combining that with meticulous analysis and calculation on every shot, achieved what none of the experts thought possible. Although he hit only 41% of the fairways for the week (23 out of 56), DeChambeau was still able to reach, and hold, the firm, lightning fast Winged Foot greens even when he missed a fairway, because his huge drives often left him with only wedges and short irons. As Rory McIlroy aptly stated, “I can’t wrap my head around it”. He’s not alone. Before the tournament got under way, DeChambeau said he would play Winged Foot with a “bomb and gouge” approach, and many people (including myself), questioned whether it would be an effective strategy. Obviously, the plan worked to perfection, and Bryson deserves all the credit in the world for redefining how a U.S. Open can be played. DeChambeau is now one of only three players to win the NCAA Championship, the U.S. Amateur, and the U.S. Open–the other two being Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. The 21-year-old Matthew Wolff also challenges conventional golf wisdom, with a loopy swing and feet that fly off the ground when he strikes the ball—but incredibly his drives were often even longer than the bombs DeChambeau was hurling. And what a week Matthew had. Although he ended with a disappointing final round 75, finishing a Winged Foot U.S. Open at even par is an extremely impressive performance (and normally more than enough to win). While over the last twenty years power has become an increasing factor for success on tour, there is no doubt that a new era in golf has begun with Bryson DeChambeau and the young PGA stars who kill it off the tee. Can anybody wait to see what they have in store for us at the Masters in November?

Payne’s Valley Cup

Even before you can clear your head from the amazing display put on by Bryson DeChambeau at the U.S. Open, another event that’s sure to knock your socks off is being played today–the Payne’s Valley Cup. The 18-hole charity match will have Tiger Woods and Justin Thomas taking on Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose at Big Cedar Lodge in Missouri. The event is to mark the grand opening of the new Tiger Woods’ “Payne’s Valley” course, his first design that is open for public play, with all proceeds going to the Payne Stewart foundation, (2-time U.S. Open winner and member of the World Golf Hall of Fame who was tragically killed in a plane crash in 1999). The Payne’s Valley Cup will have three formats: 6 holes of best ball, followed by six with alternate shot, and then then 6 holes of individual stroke play. There will certainly be some questions surrounding the state of Tiger Woods’ game after missing the cut at Winged Foot, but match play is a format that always gets Tiger’s competitive juices flowing, and with this group we are sure to see aggressive play and plenty of fireworks. Thomas and McIlroy are both playing well, finishing tied for 8th place at the Open, and Justin Rose is major champion who is rarely off his game. When Tiger and Phil dueled in the “The Match: Champions for Charity” earlier this year, it provided the most unique and enjoyable golf theater I had ever seen—and I have a feeling that Payne’s Cup will be an equally wonderful day of golf. It’s airing at 3pm eastern time today on Golf Channel—you don’t want to miss it.

The Course

The match will take place on the Payne’s Valley course at Big Cedar Lodge Resort in the Ozark mountains of Hollister, Missouri. As mentioned earlier, Payne’s Valley is the first and only public golf course designed by Tiger Woods. Opening this week, the course is in meticulous condition and offers gorgeous views of the Ozark mountain landscape. With a USGA course rating of 75.6 and 132 slope from the tips, Payne’s Valley will challenge top notch golfers while multiple tee boxes offer everyday players the opportunity to test their game without needing to hit it 325 yards. Big Cedar Lodge Resort also offers two other great layouts, “Buffalo Ridge Springs” (designed by Tom Fazio) and “Ozarks National” (designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw). In addition to 3 wonderful eighteen-hole courses, Big Cedar Lodge also offers the thirteen-hole executive “Mountain Top” course (designed by Ben Crenshaw) and a nine-hole par-3 course (“Top of the Rock” designed by Jack Nicklaus). Big Cedar Lodge is ranked nationally by Golfweek as a Top 200 Resort, by Golf Digest as one of the top 10 in Missouri and is also host to the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf, an annual event on the Champions Tour. If you’re looking for a piece of golf heaven, you’ll find it at Big Cedar Lodge.

Get in-depth course details at GolfDay.

Informative ?

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2020 U.S. Open

2020 U.S. Open at the Winged Foot Golf Club, Mamaroneck NY
Winged Foot Golf Club, Mamaroneck NY

Safeway Open Wrap-Up

Last Week concluded the Safeway Open, where Stewart Cink mounted a come from behind victory to take the title. Cink shot a final round 65 (-7), and birdied three of his last four holes to defeat Harry Higgs by two strokes. This was his first tour win in over 11 years, the last victory coming at the 2009 Open Championship where he defeated golfing legend Tom Watson in a playoff (Watson was attempting to become the oldest player ever to win a major at nearly 60 years of age). With the rise of so many young guns on the PGA tour, it was nice to see a 47-year old veteran bring home the title. It was also something of a family affair for Stuart, with son Reagan on his bag and wife Lisa following them closely throughout the day. Cink later said that Lisa’s fortitude in her battle to overcome breast cancer had been a tremendous inspiration as he worked to get his game back to championship caliber.

2020 U.S. Open

This week begins the second major of the year, the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot Golf Club. The U.S. Open is known for being the toughest test in golf, with the USGA striving each year to assure that their championship is one where shooting even par is an extremely good score. And when Winged Foot is the venue, their efforts are almost always rewarded. The legendary Bobby Jones won the first U.S. Open played at Winged Foot in 1929, shooting a score of 6 over par. In 1959, Billy Casper won at Winged Foot with a score of 2 over and in 1974 Hale Irwin recorded a 7 over total to take the championship. Fuzzy Zoeller is the only player to win the U.S. Open at Winged Foot with a score under par (-4). The last U.S. Open at Winged Foot was won by Geoff Ogilvie in 2006 at 5 over par. The U.S. Open has traditionally been played in mid-June, when the rough is heaviest and most difficult. Due to COVID-19, the USGA was forced to delay the Open until September—but you can be assured that Winged Foot will still present one of the ultimate tests in golf. In addition to the deep, thick rough, Winged Foot will also challenge the players with severe and lightning fast greens, as well as very tight fairways. Regardless of whether the USGA can set up the course for maximum difficulty, this year’s Open at Winged Foot is bound to be one of the best weeks of the year—as it always is.

The Field

As you would imagine, the field for this year’s Open is phenomenal. Dustin Johnson, FedEx Cup Championship trophy in hand, headlines a star-studded group of the elite names in golf. Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Bryson DeChambeau, defending U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland, and 23-year old PGA champion Collin Morikawa will all be teeing it up. Unfortunately, 2-time Open Champ Brooks Koepka was forced to withdraw due to a lingering knee injury, so we’ll have to wait for next year to see if he can add a third trophy to his mantel. With the depth of talent on tour right now, there are a number of other players to keep an eye on as well. Winged Foot demands ball striking, and Tony Finau can hit it with anybody—so don’t be surprised if this is the week when he breaks through for his first major win. Patrick Reed is another outstanding ball striker, and he certainly has the nerve to stand up under U.S. Open pressure. And then there is Phil, coming off a win in his first Champions Tour event. Though unlikely to contend according to the experts, he has had some success at Winged Foot and if he keeps it in the fairway and his putter heats up—maybe this will be the week that he finally lands an Open after so many runner-up finishes. As for Tiger, he has not had much success on this course (missed the cut at Winged Foot in 2006), but he is still Tiger and anything is possible.

Winged Foot

Winged Foot Golf Club has two eighteen-hole major championship caliber courses, the East and the West. The West course has traditionally been chosen to host big events, and it will be again for the 2020 U.S. Open. Founded in 1923, Winged Foot is one of the most prestigious golf clubs in the world. Both courses were originally designed by A.W. Tillinghast, and the West course has been updated over the years by legendary architects including Robert Trent Jones, Sr., Dick Wilson, George Fazio, and Tom Fazio. In recent years, the architectural integrity of both courses has been maintained under the guidance of Gil Hanse, renowned for his work with classic designs. Winged Foot gained immediate notoriety for both its beauty and toughness, with narrow fairways, heavy rough, and severely undulating greens that could test the greatest golfers in the world, and was chosen by the USGA to host the 1929 U.S. Open only 6 years after opening. Since then, Winged Foot has hosted 5 additional U.S. Opens (1959, 1974, 1984, and 2006), as well as the PGA Championship (1997), 2 U.S. Amateurs (1940, 2004), 2 U.S. Women’s Opens (1957, 1972), and a U.S. Senior Open (1980). Winged Foot is also known for its iconic clubhouse, which was designed by world renowned architect, Clifford Wendehack. The West course is currently ranked 11 and the East is number 52 among the Golf Digest top 100 courses in the U.S. Listed in the 2019 edition of the National Register of Historic Places, with peerless tradition and excellence, Winged Foot Golf Club stands at the top of what American golf and the USGA represent. What a week we have in store—enjoy it.

Get detailed course information on the Winged Foot Golf Club at GolfDay.

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The Safeway Championship

Picture of the Silverado Golf Resort stands for fans at the Safeway Championship
Silverado Resort, Napa CA

Tour Championship Wrap-Up

Last week concluded the Tour Championship, and with it the 2019-20 PGA Tour Season. Dustin Johnson came away with the victory, finishing at -21, 3 strokes ahead of the runner-ups, Justin Thomas and Xander Schauffele. Johnson was also crowned the FedEx Cup Champion, as well as remaining the number 1 player in the World Golf Rankings. Due to the format change in the Tour Championship, Johnson was at the top of the Leaderboard from the start and never gave it up.  It was a dominating performance, and quite a way to capture his third win of the year in a remarkable season (keep in mind that U.S. Open and Masters are yet to come before we can totally close out the 2020, so we still have a lot of great golf to watch). It has been a difficult year for both the players and fans, but there was a lot of great golf and of thrills. The players who made the biggest impact this season were obviously Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Webb Simpson, and the PGA Champion, Collin Morikawa. It was a relatively lackluster year for Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, and Jordan Spieth—but the U.S. Open and Masters are yet to come, so there is still a chance for one of them to make his mark on the 2020 season.

The Safeway Open

This week begins the Safeway Open played on the North Course at Silverado Country Club, part of Silverado Resort and Spa in Napa Valley, California. Following the FedEx cup playoffs and the Tour Championship, the field for the Safeway has traditionally not been quite as deep as some of the other Tour venues, but there are still some very big names teeing it up. Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, Sergio Garcia, and Shane Lowery (the reigning Open Champion) will all be in attendance. Unfortunately, Cameron Champ, one of the young guns on tour, has decided not to defend his championship, opting to rest instead after competing in all three FedEx Cup playoff events. Normally played in October as part of the fall event series, the Safeway was moved up in the schedule this year due to Covid-19.

Silverado’s History

Silverado Country Club is a 36-hole public facility, part of the Silverado Resort and Spa in Napa Valley California. The North course was originally designed by Ben Harmon and John Dawson in 1955, and remodeled by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. in 1967. RTJ also designed the South course, and both courses have been modified and updated over the years by two-time U.S. Open Champion and World Golf Hall of Famer, Johnny Miller. Silverado hosted The Kaiser International Invitational from 1968 to 1980, a PGA Tour event with champions who included the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Billy Casper, Tom Watson, Ben Crenshaw, and Johnny Miller himself. Silverado offers two great tracks, wonderful accommodations, spectacular views of Napa Valley, as well as the Johnny Miller Golf Academy. When you are planning your next golf getaway, take a good look at Silverado—you will be happy you did.

Get in-depth course information about the Silverado Country Club from GolfDay.

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The Tour Championship

East Lake Golf Club, Atlanta Georgia
East Lake Golf Club, Atlanta GA

BMW Championship Wrap-Up

Last week concluded the BMW Championship, (second leg of the shortened 2020 FedEx Cup playoffs). The scoring was very high as Olympia Fields showed its teeth and only five players were able to finish under par. John Rahm and Dustin Johnson both ended the week at 4 under, and Rahm took the title with a birdie on the first playoff hole. With the victory, Rahm moved all the way up to second place in the Cup standings, just behind Johnson who maintained his over-all lead going to the Tour Championship. The course was set up much like what you would expect at a U.S. Open venue, and unlike so many regular tour events, par was a very good score. Not that I enjoyed seeing so many great players struggle to make par (OK, I kind of did), it certainly made for a ton of excitement. As of now, the standings have Johnson in the lead, followed by Rahm, Thomas, Simpson, Morikawa, and Daniel Berger.

Tour Championship

This week is the start of the Tour Championship, played at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, GA. As you would expect, the field is stacked with veteran powerhouse players like Johnson, Thomas, McIlroy, Rahm, DeChambeau, Finau and Matsuyama. But there is also a host of young phenoms including Collin Morikawa, Scottie Scheffler, Victor Hovland, Cameron Champ and Joaquin Nieman. The Tour Championship went through a format change in 2019, and now the winner of the Tournament is also the definitive winner of the FedEx Cup. From 2007 through 2018 the format allowed for two champions (a Tour Championship champion and a FedEx Cup Champion), and in four of those years the winner of the two was not the same player. Now, thankfully, it is assured that only one player will be deemed the over-all champ. The top 30 players in the FedEx Cup playoff standings will all tee it up to identify who that player will be. Under the new format, the top 25 players in the standings start the Tour Championship under par, laddering down from the leader (Dustin Johnson) who starts at -10, to number 25 (Marc Leishman) who starts at -1 (26-30 start at even par). Everybody has a chance to win, but the players who performed the best throughout the year have a pretty big edge—as they should. The Tour Championship was started back in 1987, played in November, and was hosted on different venues on a rotating basis. The first was Oak Hills Country Club, followed by Pebble Beach (88), Harbour Town Golf Links (89), Pinehurst No 2. (91-92), The Olympic Club (93-94), Southern Hills (95-96), Champions Golf Club, (90, 97, 99, 01, 03), and East Lake Golf Club (98, 00, 02, 04 to the present). When the FedEx Cup playoffs began in 2007, the Tour Championship moved to September and became the final leg of a four-tournament season finale. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, the 2020 playoffs had to be shortened from four events to three.

The Course

East Lake Golf Club was founded in 1908, originally designed by Tom Bendelow, and remodeled by Donald Ross in 1913. The course was later updated by George Cobb and most recently by Reese Jones in 1994. In addition to the Tour Championship, the home course of the legendary Bobby Jones has hosted many prestigious championships over the years, including the 1950 U.S. Women’s Amateur, the 1963 Ryder Cup and the 2001 U.S. Amateur. With a USGA course rating of 76.2 and slope rating of 144, East Lake is a fitting test to crown the FedEx Cup champion each year.

Get the in-depth course details at GolfDay.

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2020 U.S. Amateur Championship

Bandon Dunes Golf Resort was the site of the 2020 U.S. Amateur Championship
Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, OR

The 2020 U.S Amateur, one of the most memorable in history, was staged at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Bandon, Oregon. Twenty-two-year old Tyler Strafaci, a senior at Georgia Tech narrowly defeated nineteen-year-old Charles “Ollie” Osborne, a sophomore at Southern Methodist University. Although I consider myself a golf fanatic (I follow both the PGA Tour as well as the Champions Tour pretty closely), the Amateur events never really piqued my interest—until now. In fact, I had never even watched a U.S. Amateur before, other than a highlight or two on golf channel. I know what you must be thinking–how can I call this one of the most memorable U.S. Amateurs in history, if it was the first one I’ve ever seen. Well, that would be a fair point, but I’ve watched the final round of nearly every major professional golf championship, whether it be live or on tape, and the final match of this U.S. Amateur was one of the most exciting displays of quality golf I have ever seen. My dad, who has seen many U.S. Amateurs, shared the same view. With the exception of perhaps the Stenson/Mickelson duel at Troon during the 2016 Open Championship, I’d say the final match at this year’s U.S. Amateur would be hard to beat.

The Format

The U.S. Amateur begins with 36 holes of stoke play on Monday and Tuesday and then moves to match play from Wednesday through Sunday. Normally, non-professionals with a handicap index of 2.4 or better qualify for the tournament at a variety of venues around the country to fill out a field of 312 players, but this year COVID-19 forced the USGA to cancel qualifying and instead use the World Amateur Golf Rankings to determine a field of 264 players. The stroke play portion is similar to what you see every week on the PGA tour, where players tee it up and try to make the lowest score they can. Once the stroke play portion of the tournament is completed, the 64 players with lowest score are seeded based on score and advance to match play. Match play is where the excitement begins to build, with players going head to head in a format where if you lose your match, you go home. In match play, each hole stands alone and you either win it or lose it, regardless of the score you make. The first day includes 32 matches with the winners moving on to the next round on Thursday. The field is cut in half each day until two players remain to compete in the final on Sunday, a 36-hole pressure packed head to head battle of wills where grit and determination is more important than talent alone.

The Highlights

There were plenty of high points throughout the tournament, but one particular moment stands out, demonstrating the pressure of the U.S. Amateur and the heartbreak that it can include. It came during the third round between Tyler Strafaci and Segundo Oliva Pinto, in a match that was closely contested throughout. They came to the par 5 eighteenth hole with the match all square, and Pinto put his third shot into the green side bunker. Strafaci was just short of the green, looking at a lengthy birdy opportunity, so it was critical that Pinto make a good bunker shot and save his par—no easy task with many of the damp, windswept bunkers at Bandon Dunes. Caught up in the moment, and in an effort to go the extra mile for his player, Pinto’s caddie jumped down into the bunker and tested the sand with his fingers so he could give him an idea of how firm it was. Unfortunately, touching the sand is a rules infraction and the penalty is loss of hole, and in this case loss of match as well because it was the last hole of an even match.

Another memorable moment came in Tyler Strafaci’s semi-final match against Aman Gupta. Entering the field as an alternate, Gupta came into the week as a long shot–but boy did he put on a helluva show. After qualifying for the match play portion as the number 5 seed and knocking off three opponents to reach the semi-final, he found himself 4 down to Strafaci through 12 holes and it appeared the match was over. Refusing to quit, Gupta proceeded to win 4 out of the next 5 holes and clawed himself back to even going to the par 5 eighteenth hole. Bandon Dunes is a tricky, links style course, where an aggressive play and unlucky bounce can land you in a world of trouble—which is exactly what happened to Gupta when his tee shot found a fairway bunker. Strafaci was in good shape with a solid chance to reach the par 5 in two, and Gupta chose an aggressive play over the steep face of the bunker in an effort to get as close to the green as possible. Unfortunately, his week ended when the shot failed to clear the face of the bunker and ended up back at his feet (as did his next attempt). It was a tough way to lose, but he can certainly hold his head high after displaying so much grit and determination (not to mention a great many quality golf shots).

After so many great matches, I wondered if the final between Strafaci and Charles (“Ollie”) Osborne could possibly measure up, and to my amazement, it certainly did—and then some. The long-hitting, and quite imposing, Osborne took a big early lead over Strafaci at 5 up through 12 holes. And even though the final is a 36-hole match, that’s a big deficit to overcome. Strafaci fought hard though, as he did in every match throughout the week, winning 4 of the next 5 holes to get within one, and then squaring it with a win on the 20th hole. The match remained even until Stafaci took a one up lead by winning the 25th hole, and held it for the next five. Osborne squared the match with a win on the 31st hole, and the final 5 holes included some of the best golf you could ever see as each player traded shot for shot. Strafaci won the 32nd and 33rd holes to go 2 up, and then Osborne won the 34th and 35th holes to square it up again. It all came down to the par 5 final hole, where Osborne pounded his drive right down the middle and Strefaci responded with a beauty of his own. Strefaci was away, as he had been many times throughout the match, and promptly striped a laser-like 3 iron to 15 feet, putting the pressure right back on Osborne. Ollie finally cracked when he pushed his approach to the right of the green, and was unable to get up and down for birdie. Strafaci two putted for the victory, capping off a terrific final match.

Summing Up

This win was particularly emotional for Strafaci, as his family has deep ties to amateur golf. His late grandfather, Frank Strafaci, was something of a legend among serious amateur golfers, having won the 1935 U.S. Amateur Public Links championship as well as winning the North and South Amateur twice (an accomplishment that Tyler matched in 2019.) It was also fitting that Tyler’s father; Frank Jr. was on his bag to share the moment as the family legacy was carried forward. It will be interesting to see if Tyler will try his hand on the PGA tour, or maintain his amateur status and add to his accomplishments (either way, it is certain we have not seen the last of Tyler Stefaci). Ollie Osborne, at nineteen years old, looks like a shoe-in for the Tour at some point—but the field at 2021 U. S. Amateur will have to play some serious golf if anyone hopes to stop him again.

Learn more about the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort with GolfDay.

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FedEx Cup and The Northern Trust

TPC Boston, MA

It seems like just yesterday the PGA Tour returned to our television sets, and yet the first week of the FedEx Cup playoffs is suddenly here. The playoffs are the most exciting weeks on the PGA Tour, including three tournaments with the field being reduced after each event until the FedEx Cup champion is crowned. Right now, Justin Thomas is leading with 2,458 points, although top players like Collin Morikawa, Webb Simpson, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed, Rory McIlroy, and Jon Rahm are hot on his heels. I think it’s safe to say that the next few weeks will be exciting as we cap off the end of the 2019-20 season.

Wyndham Championship Wrap-Up

Last week concluded The Wyndham Championship, and it was a true nail biter. Former club-pro Jim Herman fired a final round 63 to hold off Billy Horschell by one shot. With all of the young guns on tour these days, it was nice to see a veteran underdog topple one of the big names in golf. The win was Herman’s third victory on the PGA Tour, and it landed him a spot in the FedEx Cup playoffs, rocketing from 192 to 54th in the standings. Jim’s success on the tour is a great story. Originally an assistant pro at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster New Jersey, Trump convinced Herman to give it a shot on the tour—and it has paid off for Jim in a big way. Hopefully he can have another strong showing at the Northern Trust this week, and he should be brimming with confidence after finishing the Windham with rounds of 61 and 63.

The Northern Trust

The Field

As expected, the field for the first event of the FedEx playoffs is packed with top-rated players including Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau, Rory McIlroy, and the new PGA Champion Collin Morikawa. Conspicuously absent from the field is Brooks Koepka, who withdraw due to a knee injury that has bothered him throughout the season. Since Koepka was sitting at 97 in the standings, the withdrawal means that his season is over—although he has every intention of teeing it up for the U.S. Open at Winged Foot that was re-scheduled to September (now technically part of the 2021 season after the postponement). Tiger is in the field this week, and it will be interesting to see how he rebounds after his poor showing at the PGA Championship. The Northern Trust is going to be make or break for many in the field, so we can expect some pretty aggressive play.

The Event

The Northern Trust is played at various venues on a rotating basis (Ridgewood Country Club-NJ, Liberty National-NJ, Bethpage State Park-NY) and TPC Boston was added to host the 2020 championship. TPC Boston was originally designed by Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay in 2002, and subsequently updated and enhanced by Gil Hanse and Brad Faxon. A par 71 eighteen-hole layout, the course is a stiff test of golf with a USGA course rating of 77.2 and a slope of 154.

History

The championship was originally held at Westchester Country Club in New York, and known for many years as the Westchester Classic. It was also traditionally played in June, either the week before or after the U.S. Open. In 2007 the tournament was rescheduled for August and incorporated as the first leg of the FedEx Cup playoffs. Northern Trust became the title sponsor in 2017.

Get detailed course information from GolfDay.

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PGA Championship and The Wyndham

Sedgefield Country Club, Greensboro NC (Donald Ross)
Sedgefield Country Club, Greensboro NC (Donald Ross)

PGA Championship Wrap-Up

Last week saw a riveting finish to the PGA Tour’s first major of the year. Collin Morikawa fired off a blistering final round 64 to join Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy in winning the PGA Championship at the tender age of 23. Morikawa was calm and collected throughout with a sold round tee to green, while displaying a silky-smooth putting stroke–but two magnificent shots carried the day. On the difficult 14th hole, facing a delicate uphill chip from a tight lie with little green to work with, where getting it up and down to save par under major championship pressure was no easy task—he chipped in for birdie. And then on the reachable par four sixteenth hole, where many in the field were laying back with irons or hitting 3 wood to leave a short chip, he pulled out his driver and drove the green, shaping a gorgeous fade to about eight feet—and then drilled the putt for eagle. With his two-shot victory over Paul Casey and Dustin Johnson, Morikawa moved all the way up to number 2 in the FedEx Cup standings, closing in on Justin Thomas, who retained his number 1 spot (for now). And with all of the excitement surrounding Morikawa’s huge win, John Rahm’s move to number 1 in the world rankings went almost unnoticed.  Brooks Koepka, the pre-tournament favorite and reigning PGA Champion, faded early on Sunday and finished well back with a final round 74. Koepka stirred up a bit of controversy on Saturday with a comment he made about 3rd round leader Dustin Johnson. When asked if he thought he could catch him and make it three in a row, Koepka pointed out that Johnson only had one major title under his belt, and said “I like my chances.” The comment raised more than a few eyebrows, and brought on a response from Rory McIlroy who said “…sort of hard to knock a guy that’s got 21 wins on the PGA tour, which is three times what Brooks has.” Tiger’s performance was largely uninspiring, and his trusted putter seemed to let him down on every hole, finishing well back at 1 under par (T37). With the level of talent on the PGA Tour right now, Woods will have to raise his game a couple of notches to compete as we head into the FedEx playoffs. And Morikawa wasn’t the only youngster opening eyes at the PGA either, as Scottie Scheffler (Age 24, T4 at -10), Matthew Wolff (Age 21, T4 at -10) and long hitting Cameron Champ (Age 25, T10 at -8) all made a strong run at the championship. When you add so many fresh young faces to an already star-studded field, the next few months is guaranteed to be exciting.

The Wyndham Championship

The Field

The week following a major often doesn’t include a particularly deep field, but with so much talent on the tour right now, in a truncated season, the Wyndham will include plenty of big names, with Brooks Koepka, Justin Rose, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed and PGA runner-up Paul Casey all teeing it up. It will be interesting to see how Koepka rebounds from his disappointing finish at the PGA, particularly in light of the remarks he made about Dustin Johnson. Don’t be surprised if Brooks puts the hammer down with big a week at the Wyndham; and keep in mind that Paul Casey went out of his way to say that his wonderful play on Sunday at the PGA was helped by the class Koepka displayed while struggling with his own game in that final round.

The Event

First played in 1938 as the Greater Greensboro Open, The Wyndham Championship is one of the oldest events on the PGA tour. Currently held at the venerable Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, NC, Sam Snead won the championship an astounding eight times. In addition to Snead, champions include legendary players such as Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Billy Casper, Gary Player, Raymond Floyd, Julius Boros, and Seve Ballesteros. J. T. Poston is the reigning champion, and he will be in the field this week to defend his title.

The Course

Sedgefield Country Club, founded in 1925, is an original Donald Ross design that was updated over the years by notable architects including Gene Hamm and Willard Byrd. In 2007 the course was lengthened to accommodate current equipment, and restored to the original Ross layout by Kris Spence, acclaimed for classic course restorations including Memphis Country Club (Donald Ross), Forsyth Country Club (Tillinghast/Ross), and Mimosa Hills Golf Club (Donald Ross).

Find detailed course information here.

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