TOUR Insider: Rookies to make debuts in tropical paradise

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January 09, 2013
Fred Albers,

HONOLULU -- Everyone remembers their first shot as a PGA TOUR member. Vivid images and recollections flood the memory banks.

Gary Woodland remembers how powerful he felt. Marc Leishman says he wasn’t sure he would be able to perform and Ricky Barnes wondered if he should even be there.

For many, it took place here at the Sony Open in Hawaii, on either the 10th or first tee.

Barnes was an accomplished amateur player but was hesitant as a north wind blew into him on the par-4 opening hole. He had not played a tournament in almost two months and suddenly was competing against the best golfers in the world. Barnes recalled guiding a bad drive but still making a par at the first.

Leishman says the two most nervous times in his PGA TOUR career were the first drive at the Masters and the first tee at the Sony. He says Sony is more difficult because the first fairway at Waialae Country Club is not as wide as the first fairway at Augusta National.

Leishman hit a good drive at Waialae but also remembers hitting a pure shank in the opening round on the 10th hole.

Woodland muscled up and hit driver on the 354-yard 10th hole to begin his PGA TOUR career.

The long-hitting Woodland did not drive the green but got it hole high and made birdie.
Jim Furyk made his TOUR debut as a full member at the 1994 Sony Open and even remembers his first trip to the driving range.

The future U.S. Open champion stood next to Lanny Wadkins and promptly “fatted” a wedge spraying the Texan with dirt. When a second swing produced a similar result, he decided to forgo the wedge warm up and move to a less divot-producing iron.

Furyk was grouped with two other rookies in the first round in ‘94. It turned out to be a pretty good group with Glen Day and Dennis Paulson. All three went on to become TOUR winners.

There are 23 rookies in this week’s field. I guarantee they will all remember their very first tee shot.

OBSERVATIONS

Wind: I seriously doubt wind will halt play this week at the Sony. The greens at Waialae Country Club are not nearly as severe as those last week in Kapalua. The wind will still play a major role in the tournament. There are several holes at Waialae that feature a crosswind. Players have to work the ball into or with the wind and that makes club selection very difficult. Wind may not halt play, but it will still be a huge factor this week.

Run-out: This may not apply to Dustin Johnson, who seemingly hits driver on every hole, but several players will be striking 3-woods this week. Several holes have “run-outs” on the doglegs in which a driver could rumble through the fairway into the rough. The smart play, for many, will be laying up short of that “run-out” distance.

Driver: Last year, TaylorMade had a huge hit with RBZ line of woods, and this year players seem married to the new R1 TaylorMade driver. It has distinctive pin striping, and players are raving about trajectory control. Johnson Wagner is playing a 9.5-degree loft and says it’s the best ball flight he’s had off any club.

Rough: It has been a wet week at Waialae and the Bermuda has blossomed. The grass has experienced quite a growth spurt and TOUR officials may consider a trim before the start of play. The rough measures 3 inches and might be clipped an inch. The grass is not thick but has long tendrils, which tend to wrap around a golf club.

Winner, winner: Keegan Bradley played well at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and brings some momentum into Sony. He also brings a solid track record with a T13 at Waialae in 2012. I watched him play at The Hyundai and he seemed ready to peak. That peak could be this week when Bradley wins Sony.

For the season: I am 1-for-1, after picking Dustin Johnson to win last week.

Fred Albers is a course reporter for SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio. For more information on SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio, click here.

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