Some players opting out of Hawaii back-to-back
KAPALUA, Hawaii – At first glance, it would seem to be an easy call. Back-to-back tournaments in Hawaii? Why not? If you’ve qualified for the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and traveled all the way to Maui, island-hopping over to Oahu for the Sony Open appears to be a breeze.
Makes sense, yes?
Maybe yes, but in many cases no. After all, of the 30 who have teed it up at the Plantation Course, a dozen have opted out of playing next week at Waialae Country Club. Reasons vary, but in each case, a thought process has been applied.
“I’m just not very good at it,” said Jonas Blixt, who has missed the cut and finished T-54 in his two tries at Waialae CC. “It just doesn’t fit me. I just don’t hit enough fairways to compete there.”
One of the coziest and curviest courses on the PGA Tour schedule, Waialae CC has a list of former champions that is a tribute to its quality – from Hale Irwin and Lanny Wadkins, to Corey Pavin and John Cook, to Jim Furyk and Ernie Els, to Vijay Singh and David Toms. Zach Johnson? He wouldn’t miss it. But Dustin Johnson? He’s one of the 12 who won’t hope from Maui to Oahu this year.
"It doesn’t set up well for me,” said Martin Laird, another of those at the Plantation Course who will sit out the Sony. “If you don’t hit right-to-left you’re at a disadvantage. My high fade is not the ideal shot there.”
Besides Dustin Johnson, Blixt, and Laird, there are nine others who have chosen to play the Hyundai, but not the Sony – Brandt Snedeker, Bill Haas, Webb Simpson, Gary Woodland, Ryan Moore, John Merrick, Kevin Streelman, Patrick Reed, and Billy Horschel. For some, the decision was made begrudgingly, based not so much on an anti-Sony sentiment as it is a pro-West Coast swing bias.
“I just really love the West Coast events,” said Merrick, last year’s winner of the Northern Trust Open at Riviera. “I’ll play Humana (the week after the Sony), San Diego, Phoenix, Pebble Beach, and LA. You just have to pick your spots.”
If you like to play the Humana – or as purists still refer to it, “The Hope” – then teeing it up at the Sony presents a challenge. If you make the cut, you don’t get out of Honolulu till the Sunday red-eye, which pretty much does a number on your Monday, and you then have just Tuesday and Wednesday to prep for a tournament that involves three courses.
To a guy like Bill Haas, whose first PGA Tour win came “in the desert” and whose father was heralded for his success there, skipping Sony makes sense in several aspects. He’ll use that week to spend time with his swing coach, Billy Harmon, in Palm Springs, then be ready for the Humana-Farmers Insurance Open-Waste Management Phoenix Open stretch, one that has always treated him well.
Likewise, Moore sees Sony as a tough miss, but one that allows him to re-charge the batteries for a stretch of golf at venues he enjoys. “For me, it’s 100 percent a scheduling matter,” said Moore, explaining his bypass of Sony.
Horschel has played the Sony twice and promises to be back again – but not this year. That choice was more or less made for him by a corporate deal he has with CVS. “Six months ago we gave them some days for an outing at TPC Sawgrass for a military event,” said Horschel, “and we came up with next Friday.”
So instead of flying from Maui to Oahu, Horschel will travel back to Florida and be on hand for the charity event on behalf of CVS. Like others, Horschel will use the week off to prep for the Palm Springs-Torrey Pines-Phoenix run that he enjoys very much.
Reed offered much the same sentiment, with an addendum. He could use the rest after a week at the Plantation Course.
“I feel like we’ve walked over (Mount) Everest this week,” he said with a smile after opening with a 3-under 70 at the massive elevation changes of this Ben Crenshaw/Bill Coore layout. “It’s just very hilly.
“Besides, the Humana (and Palm Springs) area is one of our favorite places, I’ve had success at Torrey and I want to be well-rested going into those.”
All of which is not to say that the easy trip from Maui to Oahu is being turned down by everyone. A healthy list of marquee names – Adam Scott, Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson, Jason Dufner, and Jordan Spieth among them – are signed up for the back-to-back Hawaiian excursion.
Many suggested they’d be aboard too, except for a truism that is part of the PGA Tour life.
“Honestly, we want to play,” said Blixt. “If I could play every tournament, I would, but you just can’t play them all.”