Editor’s note: Paul Goydos is one of the few players to have played Liberty National, site of this week’s The Barclays, before and after changes were made to the course following the 2009 event. Though he didn’t qualify for this year’s Playoffs and has been sidelined much of the year with a wrist injury, he was able to provide his insight on what makes it a perfect place to kick off the FedExCup Playoffs.
What I remember most about the last time The Barclays was played at Liberty National were two things. First, I was tied for the lead going into the last round. Second, a friend had taken a picture of me playing the 18th hole with the Statue of Liberty in the background. That was what was really great about it -- the location being so close to New York City.
To an extent, the location masked the quirks of the course, but you have to take everything into account when you’re looking at a venue. I don’t think, for example, there was some dramatic difference between Liberty National (as a course) and Ridgewood, where it was played the year before and the year after. To me, the proximity to New York City trumps anything else going on.
Golf courses can get better, too, and Liberty National has. They softened some things -- the greens aren’t as severe, they repositioned some things. There was too much slope in some of the hole locations before and really what you need is flexibility in a golf course and they have that now. It’s one thing to play a course as your home course, it’s another to play it as a PGA TOUR setup. What they’ve done is give more opportunity for variance in setup.
The third hole, for example, we couldn’t get the ball to stay on the green and those are things you don’t realize the first time. If the greens are a 10 on the Stimpmeter, for example, you don’t notice it. But when they are rolling at an 11 or 12 like they do in a TOUR event, the slope is a lot more pronounced and it’s a bigger deal.
People tend to think they changed it because players must not have liked it, but until you put it in that kind of condition of a FedExCup Playoffs event you don’t know until you see how it plays. The greens are 2 to 3 feet faster at a TOUR event and then there is a higher level of firmness. You can’t put a course in that condition for 36 days a year because of the stress level, but you can do it for it for a week or two. What would a 10 handicap shoot at Merion (site of this year’s U.S. Open) shoot under normal conditions? Probably 90. But during U.S. Open conditions they’re going to shoot 110. Changes don’t mean the course is bad, it means they just have to do modifications to account for those things.
The first year we played here, Tiger Woods finished second along with Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington and Steve Stricker. What happened was the guys who were playing the best got rewarded. I played well but didn’t play well on Sunday because the course got harder. And when you look at a course, when it gets firm that’s when you get separation. When you don’t it means the course is probably soft, which Liberty National was that year because we got some rain and there were seven players who finished within three shots of the lead.
Even though they widened some of the fairways -- like on the third hole, where the green was also lowered to keep shots from running off so far, and on the seventh, where the fairway was moved up because of the long carry off the tee -- there’s still a premium on keeping it in the short grass. The rough isn’t too grueling but it can make it difficult to get the ball close to the hole.
But it still comes down to New York City being one of the great cities of the world if not the best. New York fans are very passionate and it’s just a great place to hold an event. You just don’t get the same feel at some of the other venues.