The Presidents Cup can be a hectic week, especially for a 20-year-old rookie making his first start on such a big stage. Jordan Spieth was likely to have moments of confusion at Muirfield Village and one was captured on camera. Got a caption for the image above? Leave it in our comments section below and, as always, please keep it clean.
By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM contributor
Annual weather patterns suggest Muirfield Village Golf Club should present a firmer and faster track in the fall than what the PGA TOUR’s elite usually sees in early June for the Memorial Tournament.
One extremely wet day, though, has left Jack Nicklaus’ most prolific layout racing the calendar to firm up again in time for The Presidents Cup to tee off Thursday.
“We’re trending the way we need to be,” superintendent Paul Latshaw said, “just not as fast as I’d like.”
With the days getting shorter, there hasn’t been as much sunlight or warmth to dry out all the moisture left over from 2 inches of rain on Sept. 20.
A constant, soaking rain dropped 1.6 inches during the daytime, followed four-tenths from an evening storm that Latshaw said “came down really quick and washed out all the bunkers.”
Despite the sunny days that have followed, the course remains somewhat damp.
“The days are definitely shorter and the drying period not as long,” said Latshaw, adding that Muirfield Village’s sprinklers have been shut off since the rain, but morning dew is pretty heavy this time of year.
New bleachers and hospitality tents specifically for The Presidents Cup also have become a factor. “Some of the tents are blocking air movement,” Latshaw said.
All that said, Latshaw remain optimistic that the course will come close to ideal conditions by the time Thursday’s opening foursomes match tees off. However, forecasts call for a cold front to push through Thursday night, which could bring more rain.
“If we can dodge that, we should be good through Sunday,” he said. “Our firmness really will be predicated on what happens Thursday.
“There’s a lot of different models out there – some say it’s a 30 percent chance of rain and others say 60 to 70 percent. Right now we’re really hoping we miss that rain on Thursday and have it really dry going into the weekend.”
Latshaw also pointed out the rough will be lower this week than players typically see at the Memorial, allowing for more aggressive shotmaking in the match-play format. Along those same lines, at least four holes are expected to utilize forward tees to increase drama.
“It’s not going to be about numbers,” Latshaw said. “They’re thinking about excitement.”
Latshaw also heaped praise on his 45-man staff for the work they’ve done since spring – first working around a clubhouse renovation in time for the Memorial, then summer construction that added a new back tee at No. 18, followed by the buildout in preparation for The Presidents Cup. The course was left alone for just two weeks after Matt Kuchar won the Memorial.
“Most superintendents and staff are lucky to do one major tournament of [Presidents Cup] caliber in their lifetime,” he said. “And we know the Memorial is a very prestigious event.
“Some of my guys have worked 92 to 95 hours [in a week]. It shows how committed they are to putting our best product forward.”
Tiger Woods chipped in for birdie on the par-3 16th en route to winning last year. (Chris Condon/PGA TOUR)
By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM Contributor
It was only a few years back that Muirfield Village creator Jack Nicklaus described his par-3 16th hole as simply “a nice way to get from 15 green to 17 tee.”
However, there was more than a kernel of truth to that assessment.
Flanked on one end by the drivable par-4 14th and steep hazards at No.15, on the other by Muirfield Village’s tough closing holes, No.16 was the yawner in the bunch. Players were happy to take a “3” and move on; the hole rarely strayed from between seventh and 12th in difficulty.
With a new pond springing up short and left of a repositioned green, No.16 quickly has become a factor at the Memorial tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance.
Two years ago, the new design ranked as Muirfield Village’s second-toughest, trailing only the perennial chart-topper 18th. Last year, Tiger Woods’ dramatic Sunday chip-in from behind the green gave No. 16 an instant place in Memorial lore.
“I thought we could introduce some more excitement,” Nicklaus said.
Though the water is likely to first draw a player’s eye, the new green will play a far larger role in determining his success. In the prevailing westerly winds, players will have the option of holding a cut against the breeze or trying to play a draw to the back pin positions.
“You've definitely got to turn a little shot right-to-left in there,” said Justin Rose, the 2010 champion. “The green is designed in a way that if you hit the perfect shot, you do get a little bit of help with the slope into the back left-hand corner.”
Nicklaus, in fact, was rather perplexed with the choice of pin placement for last year’s final round, noting the back-left position had become something of a sucker bet when the wind switched.
“Guys kept trying to force it back there,” he said, “and they kept going to the back of the green or going in the back bunker and it was tough.”
To which Woods was moved to reply: “Oh, really?”
Nicklaus surely will hope for similar fireworks at September’s Presidents Cup, where No. 16 will get a lot of attention as matches enter the closeout stage.
“I didn’t want to see those matches finish on a weakish hole,” he said.
Muirfield Village will look more open due to the removal of nearly 500 trees. (Chris Condon/PGA TOUR)
By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM Contributor
That big clubhouse expansion towering over Muirfield Village isn’t the only new look to be found this week.
Players and fans at the Memorial Tournament will notice a more open appearance around the course itself, following the winter removal of nearly 500 trees that had become infested by an insect called the emerald ash borer.
“That was a major task,” said director of course operations Paul Latshaw, who kept a positive outlook on the project.
“There are a lot more vista views now for people to see golf. Not that we had bad areas to watch, but maybe not areas where you could see perfectly. What we have now is definitely aligned for a better vista, better views.”
As an example, Latshaw noted removal around the 13th green now allows fans to look across and catch a glimpse of the activity at No. 11. Players are likely to find minimal impact, though replacement trees were needed in one area right of the fifth fairway.
“There was nothing to penalize [an errant shot],” said Latshaw, who filled the open space with maple trees and extended watering to create more rough.
The emerald ash borer, native to Asia, has been spreading south from Michigan for more than a decade. Latshaw said Muirfield Village has treated hundreds of trees in recent years in hopes of minimizing the impact, but only with mixed success.
“It’s just one of those things,” he said. “We did make attempts to save critical trees. There are some that are doing well, and we’re going to stay with [treating] them.”
Like other PGA TOUR venues in recent weeks, turf growth got off to a late start because of this year’s cool spring. But Latshaw said enough time has passed to allow growth to catch up.
“With a spring tournament, it’s always something of a mad dash,” he said. “We were lucky in that we had a dry spring. If it had been a wet spring and we’d lost opportunities for [growing]. But it was dry and that seemed to close the gap pretty quick.”
Now, the greater concern is the possibility of the year’s first heat wave, pushing temperatures into the high 80s and low 90s during competition days.
“We’ll try to produce some good green speeds,” he said. “It’d be easier if it was 75 and 55 [for highs and lows] instead of 90/70. … That first heat wave of the year, the cool season grasses have to adjust. But we have a good staff and we should be fine.”