Nine things to know: TPC Boston
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Written by Jim McCabe @PGATOUR
What started with a Joaquin Niemann victory in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, 11 months ago morphed into a 2019-20 PGA TOUR season unlike any other. Tiger Woods’ record-tying 82nd career victory provided a jolt of electricity in late October, but when the pandemic struck in March it led to a shocking blackout.
For three months the PGA TOUR went to the sidelines along with every other professional sports league and it was anyone’s guess how, when and whether the 2019-20 season would be completed.
Yet here we are, two months into the TOUR’s return, on the precipice of the 14th edition of the FedExCup Playoffs. We’ve completed 33 tournaments in the abbreviated regular season, and now 125 players have qualified for THE NORTHERN TRUST at TPC Boston, week one of a frenzied three-week run.
When you consider the lineup of courses in this year’s Playoffs – Olympia Fields, 35 miles south of Chicago, will host next week’s BMW Championship, and East Lake GC in Atlanta will again be the stage for the TOUR Championship in two weeks – TPC Boston is a proverbial young ’un.
Having opened in 2002, TPC Boston cannot match East Lake (est. 1904) or Olympia Fields (1915) for rich history. But it doesn’t have to shy away, either, because TPC Boston has hosted 16 tournaments, 12 of them FEC playoffs, and the flavor runs deep.
Here are nine things about THE NORTHERN TRUST and TPC Boston:
1. The defending champ is either Reed or DeChambeau: Patrick Reed shot 67-69 on the weekend to hold off Abraham Ancer (68-69) by one at THE NORTHERN TRUST last August.
Ah, but hold on. That tournament was held at Liberty National in Jersey City, New Jersey.
So does that make the defending champion Bryson DeChambeau, who won the last time a FedExCup Playoffs event was held at TPC Boston, back in 2018? Though he was lighter and not as long off the tee, DeChambeau was plenty explosive to capture the final Dell Technologies Championship.
Seven back through two rounds, he made 13 birdies over the final 36 holes to finish 16 under and beat Justin Rose by two. It was DeChambeau’s fourth career win, and his second straight Playoffs triumph because the week before he had captured – are you ready? – THE NORTHERN TRUST at Ridgewood C.C. in Paramus, New Jersey. (From 2007-2018 there were four playoff tournaments, but these days THE NORTHERN TRUST rotates between Boston and the New York area.)
2. They know how to put together a guest list: When the TOUR added TPC Boston to its schedule in 2003, the powers that be, including Jay Monahan (then the Championship Director, now PGA TOUR Commissioner) had a keen eye for talent. That first year they reached out to a couple of 23-year-olds – Adam Scott and Justin Rose. Scott had played in 33 PGA TOUR tournaments since turning 20 in 2000 but did not have his card here. Rose had played in just 15 PGA TOUR tournaments since 1999.
After the first round (Rose shot 63, Scott 69) they hung around the TPC Boston short-game area for nearly two hours, just playing “chippy-putty.” It was a wild and crazy Friday night. When Scott shot a second-round 62, then added 67-66, he earned his first TOUR win and a cool $900,000. Rose finished solo third and earned $340,000. It was the week they became PGA TOUR members.
Two years later, sponsor invite Olin Browne, who at 46 was more than 25 years removed from days when he used to practice at The Country Club in Brookline and work at New Seabury CC on Cape Cod, came to TPC Boston as the world’s 214th-ranked player. Then he stared down the likes of Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh and Fred Couples, closing with a 67 to capture the last of his three TOUR wins.
These days the guest list at TPC Boston is merely 125 of the best players in the world.
3. The cream rises: While it’s not a prerequisite to be rated in the upper echelon of the Official World Golf Ranking to get the biggest check here, it has been a common denominator with the 16 tournaments held at TPC Boston. The top-ranked player in the world has won here twice (Tiger Woods, 2006; Rory McIlroy, 2012), while on 11 occasions the winner was ranked inside the top 15.
Only twice (No. 214 Olin Browne in 2005; No. 132 Charley Hoffman in 2010) has a winner at TPC Boston been ranked outside the top 100.
4. Hanse’s team made it great: When John Mineck was putting together a project that would morph into one of the country’s coolest golf courses, Boston Golf Club, he was asked who his designer going to be.
“Gil Hanse,” he said.
“Haven’t heard of him,” a friend replied.
Mineck nodded. “You will,” he said.
Boston Golf Club in Hingham, Massachusetts, was introduced in 2005 to critical acclaim and PGA TOUR officials took note. As Mineck had envisioned, offers came Hanse’s way, among them the request to tweak and improve TPC Boston, which had opened in 2002. Hanse and Jim Wagner took on the assignment, got input from eight-time TOUR winner Brad Faxon, and when the FedExCup Playoffs were introduced in 2007, players were greeted by a more aesthetically pleasing TPC Boston.
Hanse and Wagner worked wonders. They grew fescue, provided a rustic New England look to many of the holes, and added great flavor to the bunkers at the 7,261-yard, par 71. It was transformed into a picturesque course that required a stricter attention to course-management skills.
The field average was slightly over par in the first four years of the tournament, but has been under par in each of the 12 years it has staged a FEC playoff since 2007. An advocate of layouts that provide players with different options but require them to think their way around, Hanse succeeded beautifully.
5. Spieth had a moment there: Jordan Spieth is going through a rough stretch under an intense microscope, so it’s worth remembering the 9-under 62 he shot at TPC Boston on Sept. 2, 2013.
His rookie season had already been quite special. Just five tournaments earlier, the 20-year-old Spieth had broken through for a victory at the John Deere Classic and earned his PGA TOUR card.
Though he started the fourth round at TPC Boston in a tie for 29th, 11 strokes off the lead, Spieth loved the fact that he was paired with Phil Mickelson and that he was starting early, ahead of the thunderstorms. He played well, but a good day turned into an exceptional one when Spieth finished birdie, birdie, birdie, eagle for a 9-under 62. He was never going to win – he finished T-4, five behind the victor, Henrik Stenson – but now he had the attention of his distinguished peers.
Mickelson, then 43 and only weeks removed from his stunning win at The Open Championship, signed his scorecard and promptly grabbed his phone to call U.S. Presidents Cup Captain Fred Couples.
“Fred,” said Mickelson, “pick the kid.”
6. Woods thrives: In his first five starts at TPC Boston (2003-2007), tournament host Woods had a victory, two ties for second, and a share of seventh. Though his foundation eventually shifted its affiliation to other tournaments, Woods has teed it up at TPC Boston 10 times with the sort of consistency that has defined his career. In 40 rounds, his scoring average is 68.30 and he’s a whopping 108-under.
7. It produces great winners: The 16 tournaments at TPC Boston have produced 14 different winners (Vijay Singh and Rory McIlroy each won twice), nine of whom will be in attendance this week.
Justin Thomas, who won here in 2017, is No. 1 in the FedExCup standings, Webb Simpson (2011) is third, Bryson DeChambeau (2018) is fourth, while McIlroy (2012, 2016) is eighth. The other past winners here who’ll be in this week’s field: No. 36 Adam Scott (2003), No. 49 Woods (2006), No. 67 Phil Mickelson (2007), No. 88 Rickie Fowler (2015), and No. 111 Charley Hoffman (2010).
8. You’d better go low: In 16 PGA TOUR tournaments at the par-71 TPC Boston, the average winning score has been 266.6 – or 17.4 under par. The low score is 262, by three different winners: Henrik Stenson in 2013, Charley Hoffman in 2010, and the second of Vijay Singh’s wins in 2008.
Only once has a winner failed to record at least one score of 65 or better – Rickie Fowler in 2015. (His 67-67-67-68 was stout, though.) Two winners, Scott and Hoffman, have recorded 62s, while on seven other occasions the winner has notched a 63. Winners have averaged 65.8 in the final round.
9. It’s not technically Boston: For what it’s worth, TPC Boston is closer to Providence, R.I. (20 miles south) than Boston (35 miles north). The course is tucked into the tiny town (pop.: 19,031) of Norton, right off the I-95 corridor. How small is Norton? Its first traffic light was installed in 1997.
TPC Boston isn’t the only landmark in Norton, however, because Wheaton College, a leading liberal arts establishment, is located here. Lesley Stahl of “60 Minutes” fame graduated from Wheaton, as did Chris Denorfia. A former major leaguer, Denorfia in 2015 made history – he became the first pinch-hitter to hit a home run in a 1-0 game while leading the Cubs to a win over the Royals.
Match that, Lesley Stahl.
Jim McCabe has covered golf since 1995, writing for The Boston Globe, Golfweek Magazine, and PGATOUR.COM. Follow Jim McCabe on Twitter.