How players should prepare for FedExCup Playoffs
August 20, 2014
By Mark Immelman, PGATOUR.COM
- East Lake Golf Club will once again serve as the final venue for the season-long race to win the FedExCup. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
The FedExCup Playoffs are upon us.
The top 125 players in the 2013-2014 PGA TOUR season have earned themselves a start at The Barclays at Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus New Jersey, the first of four events which comprise the FedExCup Playoffs. Following The Barclays, the top 100 players on the FedExCup points list will head up the road to TPC Boston for the Deutsche Bank Championship. From there the top 70 will make a cross-country jaunt to Denver and Cherry Hills Country Club for the BMW Championship. The field will get sliced after that and the top 30 players will head to Atlanta for the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola at East Lake Golf Club.
At the end of the four weeks of golf a very lucrative prize awaits the winner. Moreover, there is plenty for each and every contender to play for. Preparation will be in-depth and players will have to address every facet of the game given the fact that the four courses each pose their own set of challenges.
The tree-lined fairways and lush rough at the classic A.W. Tillinghast designed Ridgewood Country Club will most certainly place an emphasis on driving accuracy. The greens complexes on the Championship Composite course are small, firm and undulating so a premium will be placed on the short game.
TPC Boston -- an Arnold Palmer design that was remodeled by Gil Hanse and Brad Faxon -- is a long, par-71 layout that measures just over 7,200 yards, but scores are generally low. Quality iron play and good distance control to afford legitimate looks at birdie are of great importance.
Cherry Hills Country Club, a par 71 course, sits just outside of Denver and measures a beefy 7,400 odd yards, but it is about a mile above sea level so it plays significantly shorter due to the thinner air. The William Flynn masterpiece asks questions of one's short iron approaches to many of the very undulating greens.
Finally, East Lake Golf Club -- Bob Jones' home -- will pose a challenge much different than the previous three courses. Whereas the others are played on bentgrass greens and poa annua fairways, East Lake boasts mini verde bermuda greens and zoysia fairways and is very undulating from tee to green.
Driving the ball well: In recent tournaments Rory McIlroy has proved that the driver can certainly be a weapon. Not everyone in the Playoffs can drive the ball as long as McIlroy but everyone can put the ball in the fairway more often. Balls in the fairway give better opportunities into the greens – this was Colin Montgomerie’s mantra and Monty was always very good in the GIR department. Put a pro in the fairway with an iron in his hand and he will likely get himself a legitimate chance for birdie.
So I do believe, especially at Ridgewood (Barclays) and East Lake (TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola), that driving accuracy will be requisite to success. Both venues have penalizing rough and firm greens. A player who is habitually hitting approach shots from the rough will find himself in scramble-mode around the greens. Consider a few players who have had success at these venues: Vijay Singh, Sergio Garcia and Matt Kuchar at Ridgewood and Henrik Stenson, Jim Furyk, and Bill Haas at Eastlake. All are men who have a penchant for driving the ball consistently well.
Short game is key: The season statistics have shown that proficiency on and around the greens is tantamount to success. I do not see things going any differently in the Playoffs. Further, those players who manage to make a deep Playoffs run and make it to Atlanta will also have to deal with a change in grass on the greens. An awareness of grain and its influence on the spin and the roll of the ball will be important.
Distance control on approach play: As I further research the four venues I am struck at the intricacies and undulating nature of the greens complexes. Each venue offers some pretty challenging hole locations that will demand well-gauged and well-struck iron shots. In other words, properly struck irons that fly on their yardage and spin appropriately on the greens will be of this highest importance.
Playing from uneven lies: The routings of the Playoffs courses will have competitors playing from uneven lies quite often. Both Ridgewood and East Lake are especially undulating and players will be asked to hit a number of approach shots from uphill, downhill and sidehill lies. I do believe it will be beneficial for one and all to address this department of the game. Focusing on quality of contact and trajectory control should be emphasized. If these areas are on point, the stress of these highly competitive tournament rounds will be somewhat reduced.
Suffice it to say that the participants in the Playoffs competing for the FedExCup will have every department of their games tested. In other words, touch every base in preparation yet still get adequate rest as four demanding and pressure-packed weeks lie ahead.