By Ann Miller, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
KAPALUA, Hawaii — Hawaii in the dead of winter has always received a warm reception from the PGA TOUR, by every definition of the word “warm.”
One of the most compelling reasons for starting the year on Maui and Oahu is the thought of folks hunkered down in frigid weather a few thousand miles away watching golfers bask under beautiful skies, in a breathtaking tropical setting.
But so far Hawaii has suffered a soggy 2013. The rain on Oahu, site of next week’s Sony Open in Hawaii, has hardly let up. Kapalua Airport, just down the road from this week’s Hyundai Tournament of Champions, was so socked in Thursday planes could not land.
Kapalua Plantation, where last year’s champions tee off Friday, is one of the most forgiving courses on TOUR. It is long (7,411 yards, par 73), but offers broad fairways, mostly helpful breezes and almost infinite roll — until now.
“This is as long as I have ever seen it play,” said defending champion Steve Stricker after Thursday’s Pro-Am.
Stricker hit approach shots into par 4s with unfamiliar clubs and used driver much more than usual. Even the massive greens had a different feel.
“A little bit of an adjustment period there where you had to learn some things today,” Stricker said. “The ball is not moving as much on the greens as you’re typically used to seeing it move.
“It’s a little bit different, a little bit challenging. It’s difficult. (Thursday) was very difficult I thought with the wind and the rain, but it’s still manageable. The course is built for bad conditions, especially wind.”
The Plantation soars along the West Maui Mountains, overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Molokai. It was made for radical weather and, apparently, that is what it will get this week.
There is a 60 percent chance of showers for Friday’s first round, with 30 mph winds that could hit 40 mph Saturday, with rain squalls. The wind and rain are expected to play through Monday’s finish.
But it is still Hawaii. Kapalua was built for the wind. The lowest temperature through this dreaded “cold spell” is expected to be a balmy 69.
That’s why they call it paradise.
Rickie Fowler, on his first visit to Maui, has been blown away, in more ways than one.
He can’t figure out why anyone would ever miss it.
“Being here at Maui,” he says, “a lot of the guys that do come, families or not, they definitely enjoy coming because it is here.”