One’s aptitude with altitude will play a crucial role in this week’s WGC-Mexico Championship.
As the PGA Tour heads south to Mexico City – and skyward to the Club de Golf Chapultepec, which rests some 7,800 feet above sea level – golf IQs and math skills will be put to a severe test as players develop a strategy to counter the impact of playing so high above the sea.
“It took me until Sunday to get used to it,” reigning Players champion Webb Simpson said of his showing in last year’s event. After rounds of 72-70-73, Simpson came home in 68 to tie for 37th. “I feel like I have a good understanding now of what I need to do this year.”
Other players agree, as experience is the 15th club in the bag. The tight, tree-lined Club de Golf Chapultepec is an 18-hole riddle that demands constant evaluation as players figure out how far the golf ball will carry at altitude.
There are so many questions – and calculations – in the city known as CDMX.
Is the difference 15 percent, 10 percent, 5 percent? How long will a wedge stay in the air compared to a 5-iron? How far will the ball go downwind and into the wind? How much of a change is there when the temperatures are cooler in the morning compared to the heat in the afternoon? Is there a difference between a draw and a fade?
“It is perplexing,” Simpson said.
He’s not alone in that assessment. Some of the numbers the players dialed up the past two years baffled them. Bubba Watson, for instance, carried a 6-iron 252 yards in a practice round last year. Jordan Spieth hit a few 5-irons 235 yards last year; usually, his 5-iron maxes out at 195 yards at sea level.
Two years ago when the tournament made its debut south of the border, Dustin Johnson’s season-long driving distance increased when he hit mostly 2-irons through the 72 holes.
Thus, practice rounds and work on the range will prove pivotal. The keys to unlocking the befuddling Club de Golf Chapultepec conundrum hopefully will be discovered in a technological masterpiece named Trackman, a launch monitor that examines each shot’s characteristics including ball speed, spin rate and distance.
The devices will be working overtime Monday through Sunday.
“Every shot is different. We adjusted throughout the tournament,” Simpson said. “That’s tricky, especially on short approach shots where you have to be precise into those greens, because the greens are the defense of the course. It’s so hard to trust that a 7-iron that normally goes 180 is going to go 195, 200. And you have to curve it there, and last year the ball wasn’t curving as much.”
Thus, Simpson will play a ball that allows for more spin. He’s also considering putting in a driver with more loft.
Last year, no one solved the puzzle better than Phil Mickelson, who defeated Justin Thomas in a playoff. Those two are among the headliners in a stacked field that includes 47 of the top 50 players in the world. Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar, Xander Schauffele, Bryson DeChambeau, Tommy Fleetwood, Jon Rahm and Patrick Reed are in the field.
And there’s Tiger Woods, who will tee up in just his second WGC start since the beginning of 2015. Woods has won 18 WGC events – no one else has won more than five.
Woods said he spent the two weeks prior to returning to the PGA Tour for last week’s Genesis Open working on hitting the ball high. But Spieth, before his first venture to Mexico City, said Lee Trevino told him to take a different approach.
“He said when you play in Mexico City, keep the ball really low so you can maintain control,” Spieth said.
And then there is this. While all the math may leave players with headaches, elevation at this level also can do tricky things to the body. Players said playing nine holes at high altitude feels like going 18.
“It is physically quite a bit different for us,” Spieth said. “It’s draining. You have to be looking to maintain your strength and endurance throughout the entire four days of competition. It’s just a taxing week.” Gwk