By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
What if someone built a drivable par-4 tempter – and no one took the bait?
That was pretty much the case at Liberty National’s 16th hole, which got few bites when The Barclays made its last stop there in 2009. The hole saw just four eagles during the week, and most of its 110 birdies came after a layup and wedge.
Perhaps the most telling indicator, though, was that No. 16 produced just six double bogeys. Almost no one wanted to take on the risk, especially when the winds kicked up off the Hudson River.
“There’s a lot of risk there unless you drive it perfect,” Vijay Singh said at the time.
Hearing that, there was little question No.16 would get particular attention when designers Bob Cupp and Tom Kite came back to tweak the layout.
The green was rebuilt not only to be more receptive, but to soften the undulations that made lag putting an adventure. For those who choose to lay up, the bunker on the left side of the landing area has been reduced by more than half. Water flanks the entire right side.
Tees also were expanded, allowing the PGA TOUR’s setup staff more options to match with wind and weather. The hole now measures anywhere from 305 to 325 yards.
“Now they can [determine] the chance for people to go for the green and have some real excitement,” Cupp said during a tour of the course changes.
Pin position also will be a key factor in players’ decision-making, as back-right and front-left locations may be more receptive to wedges. The green also has a small hump that Cupp says “dominates everything that happens on the hole.”
“If the ball is coming in with right-to-left spin and catches that hump, it’s going to go into the grass hollow on the left side of the green,” he explained. “Conversely, if the ball’s spinning the other way, it’s more apt to go onto the green.”
By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM contributor
All things considered, it was a rather uneventful spring and summer in getting Liberty National ready to stage The Barclays this week. But you can say Greg James and his staff deserved a respite after months of cleanup from Superstorm Sandy.
Such as the 201-passenger ferry that had to be removed from the cart path by the 10th hole.
That’s where the commuter boat was deposited after Sandy’s storm surge last Oct. 29 retreated back into the Atlantic. A crew from South Florida was brought in to dig it out, jack it up onto rubber cylinders and slowly walk it back to the water.
“It took two days to get it out far enough to get it to float,” said James, Liberty National’s superintendent since before its 2006 opening. “Then they had to wait until it was a full moon and high tide.”
The work for James and his staff wasn’t nearly so dramatic. Sandy washed out nearly a dozen bunkers that had to be rebuilt, and the surge took out part of a block wall that protects the tee complex at the 14th tee that overlooks the Statue of Liberty and New York skyline.
The huge task, though, was removing the debris left behind by the surge that by the time crews finished in April had filled 70 of those massive dumpsters that hold 40 cubic yards of waste.
“Most of that [removal] had to be done by hand – all that plastic and Styrofoam that people won’t throw away by proper means,” said James.
Since then, Liberty National’s preparations have gone fairly smooth. The course endured a July heat wave that pushed temperatures into the 100s for about five days, but James said crews just eased up on the mowing schedule and “sort of babied everything through.”
James expects this week’s primary challenge will be keeping moisture uniform throughout the course. In the process of softening some of the severe undulations that drew complaints during the 2009 Barclays, several areas have more sand underneath the turf and dry out faster.
“The biggest issue we have here is the dry spots,” James said. “We’ll do a lot of hand-watering so we can control the water a lot better. Every hole has [dry] spots, especially in the bluegrass [rough] where more water is required.”
Isolated storms may interrupt the opening round, but moderate winds Thursday and Friday should have the course firm and fast for the closing rounds.
“If we get wind and things start to firm up like we want them to,” James said, “it should be a great event.”