Trinity Forest taking on a bit of Australian flavor
May 18, 2018
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
Adam Scott interview after Round 2 of AT&T Byron Nelson
DALLAS – Full disclosure: I’m the wrong person to write this story.
Anybody familiar with the writing team here at PGATOUR.COM knows that our Ben Everill – born in Wollongong, a coastal city south of Sydney -- is our expert on all things Australian. He waves the Aussie flag so much that I have to remind him that yes, there are decent PGA TOUR pros from other parts of the world (especially from Texas, my home state).
But Ben is not here at the AT&T Byron Nelson, taking a well-deserved week off. I’m at Trinity Forest and since I’m wearing a wide-brim hat that looks like part of Crocodile Dundee’s apparel script and have seen two Men at Work concerts, it’s on my watch to talk up the Aussies this week.
Not that they need my help. Marc Leishman and Adam Scott and Matt Jones – all inside the top six through two rounds -- are doing a fine job of it thus far. There are 13 Aussies in the field this week, and every time you turn around, it seems like one of them is making a move up the leaderboard. Pretty sure “Waltzing Matilda” has become the unofficial dance song at the Pavilion party scene.
Leishman, of course, has made the biggest move. He followed his 10-under 61 on Trinity Forest’s TOUR debut Thursday with a solid 5-under 66 and now takes a one-shot lead entering the weekend. He spent the first two days with Scott as one of his playing partners, and you would’ve thought they were playing a friendly at the National Golf Club on the Mornington Peninsula instead of a links-style course a few miles south of downtown Dallas.
“It was great playing with Scotty,” Leishman said. “I think this course has got a real Australian flavor to it. Reminds me a lot of home. So that might have something to do with it.”
Hitting 25 of 28 fairways, 33 of 36 greens and rolling in nearly 244 feet of putts in the first two days also might have something to do with it. Backing up a low round with another good one can be difficult, but Leishman got an early boost when he made a birdie putt from 55 feet, 10 inches on his third hole, the par-3 12th. He was off and running from there.
“I love playing with Marc, especially a guy that is on form,” Scott said. “I almost felt like I had to hop on his coattails and get dragged along the birdie train a bit with him because he was running away yesterday. He’s a guy who I know loves this style of golf, so even feeding off some of his shot choices or club choices was easy for me. Kind of worked to my advantage.”
Leishman was initially skeptical of the tournament move from TPC Four Seasons to Trinity Forest, mainly because his track record at the previous course was so solid – three top-5 finishes and three other top-15s in nine career starts. Once he saw the new venue, though, he was on board.
Marc Leishman's Round 1 highlights from AT&T Byron Nelson
He shouldn’t have been so worried. The AT&T Byron Nelson has always treated Australians well, no matter what course it’s played on.
Peter Thomson was the first International winner of this event, in 1956 at Preston Hollow; the three previous winners, by the way, were Byron Nelson, Sam Snead and Ben Hogan. Bruce Devlin won in 1969 at Preston Trail; tied for second was another Aussie, Bruce Crampton. And at TPC Four Seasons, Scott (2008), Jason Day (2010) and Steven Bowditch (2015) have each won in the last 10 years. Bowditch, in fact, was even married at the resort, and took wedding photos on the 18th green.
Australia is the only International country with two recipients of the Byron Nelson International Junior Golf Award, awarded to junior players not only for their performance inside the ropes but also inside the classroom and in the community. Ricky Kato was honored in 2012; Viraat Badhwar in 2013.
So with that history as a backdrop, should we really be surprised that the Aussies are thriving this week?
“Look, I think both of us feel comfortable on this kind of course,” Scott said. “You can see by the type of shots we pick to hit and some of the situations.”
Added Jones: "I like to be able to bounce into pins, use slopes. It's much more of an artistic way of playing golf instead of just hitting it and getting as close as you can ... It just fits my eye."
It's not just those Aussies at the top of the leaderboard. Cameron Percy is 6 under and off to one of his best starts in more than a year. Robert Allenby is 5 under and made the cut -- it's just his sixth made cut in 30 starts since the fall of 2015. Geoff Ogilvy -- more on him later -- made the cut, just his second in his last 12 starts.
Even the guy who's closest to Leishman sees Australian overtones. Aaron Wise -- born in South Africa but raised in the United States -- won the NCAA individual and team titles with Oregon, and considers Bandon Dunes a decent comparson for Trinity Forest. But he sees a better one.
"I would relate it mostly to when I played over in Melbourne, Australia at Royal Melbourne," said Wise, who's 14 under after his 63 on Friday. "The fairways are firm and fast and the ball is going so far. You got to manage that. That's probably the closest thing."
When developers first decided to build a course on the landfill at Trinity Forest, six golf design firms submitted bids. One of those was the firm led by past U.S. Open champ Ogilvy. Although he didn’t get the job – it went to Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore – the Australian remains so enamored of this place that he was featured in a series of videos explaining some of its nuances.
Earlier this week, Ogilvy pointed out that Trinity Forest would take players out of their comfort zone – which, he noted, was a good thing.
“We get cuddled in the way we get treated,” Ogilvy said, “but variety is one of the best attributes golf has, I think. It’s played in all sorts of different places and all sorts of different environments.
“It’s a more rounded, well-rounded TOUR if we have a bit more stray in the set-up. It will make the players on a course like this, if they’re uncomfortable – it will make us better players. That can only be good for the game.”
Ogilvy said he's not surprised at how well the Aussies are performing this week.
"There's some very [Royal] Melbourne-like shots out there," Ogilvy said after his Friday 67 got him to the weekend at 6 under. "It's not like Melbourne aesthetically, but the way it plays is very Melbourne-like. ... Just have to use your brain a little bit.
"There's some pretty tough pins out there, some pretty fun pins. [It's for] anyone who's played the Sandbelt for any amount of time or grown up in that style of golf."
Yet Australians wanting to make it big on the pro golf stage know they’ll have to give up the comforts of a Sandbelt course and play in either the United States or Europe. They’re used to making adjustments, feeling uncomfortable, having to think their way around a course.
This week, they're applying those skills on a course that reminds them of home. It's obviously paying dividends.
Consider Leishman’s second shot at the par-5 first hole. He pulled a 5-iron from 215 yards and aimed 50 feet left of the pin. It was a conservative approach but if he found trouble on the hole, he feared the possibility of a big number. That was his mindset for many of the holes through the first two rounds.
“Very rarely aiming straight at a pin,” he said. “You’re always trying to play a little bit safer because you know how bad it is if you were to miss the green and then it runs off.”
Scott and Jones, meanwhile, shot 65s to each finish at 10 under. Scott’s round was bogey-free while Jones fought back from a double bogey on his second hole of the day. Scott, of course, is trying to play his way into the U.S. Open by moving into the top 60 of the world rankings. He’s currently 65, so a big finish this weekend could do the trick.
Playing a links-style course – he said it reminds him of the Lost Farm course at Barnbougle in Tasmania, and even his redesigned home course back in Royal Queensland – might have come at a perfect time.
“I didn’t grow up on the Sandbelt, but I learned to play quickly as a kid down there,” Scott said. “Definitely the last eight or nine years, my understanding of links courses, especially at Open Championships, has gone way up.”
Leishman and Scott are not playing together in Saturday’s third round but would love to be reunited in the final group Sunday. Two Aussies going head-to-head – that would really be something, especially Down Under.
As for me, it’s time to wrap up this story. Starting to get hungry and need a little nibble. For some reason, I have a craving for Vegemite and maybe a few Anzac biscuits. Can’t imagine why.
Matt Jones interview after Round 2 of AT&T Byron Nelson