Quick look at the Sentry Tournament of Champions
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
When Justin Thomas first started out as a regular PGA TOUR member – you remember, way back in 2015 – he wondered why his game wasn’t yet good enough. His dad Mike suggested it was due to experience, that older players could draw upon knowledge that his son simply had yet to acquire.
Poppycock, replied Justin. (OK, he probably didn’t actually use the word “poppycock” but you get the drift.)
“The golf ball doesn’t know how old you are,” Thomas explained. “The experience is a huge factor but there’s no reason that I can’t accomplish something just because of my age.”
Well, Thomas is 24 years old entering this week’s Sentry Tournament of Champions. He’s the defending champion of the event and also the reigning FedExCup champ. Youth certainly has not been his limitation.
But perhaps his point is most reflected in the age makeup of this week’s field at Kapalua.
Of the 34 players who will tee off in Thursday’s first round on the Plantation Course, their average age is 29.7. It’s the lowest average age in tournament history since at least 1970, the first time the average has dipped below 30 years of age. The previous low was an average of 30.3 for the 29 players in the field in 1981.
Sixteen of the players this week are in their 20s, tying 1981 for the most in that age category. It’s the seventh consecutive year at the Sentry Tournament of Champions that at least 10 players in the field are in their 20s.
Sure, you could argue that the two active players with the most career wins on TOUR – Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson – would raise that age average significantly if they played Kapalua. Woods hasn’t played since 2005; Mickelson hasn’t played since 2001. Their last TOUR wins each came in 2013, so neither player has even qualified to play in this winners-only event in the last four years (Woods, of course, battling injuries for much of that stretch).
But it’s also a reflection of the youthful dominance the last few seasons on TOUR, with Thomas and good buddy Jordan Spieth leading the pack, along with Rory McIlroy – who, incidentally, would have lowered the age average at Kapalua even further had he ever played the event.
The youngsters will not take their dominance for granted, though. They are becoming older and wiser themselves. They know Dustin Johnson (age 33) has found another gear, and Justin Rose (age 37) seems to be doing the same. They see Sergio Garcia winning his first major last year at age 37. They know Tiger may be lurking out there after his positive performance at last month’s Hero World Challenge. And who wants to ever count out Mickelson?
“This year, 2018, the unknowns are very exciting right now,” Spieth said, adding that the next six months will be “a pretty special time to be a part of professional golf.”
Perhaps that argument Thomas had with his dad – youth vs. experience – remains fluid, ever changing with the ebbs and flows of golf. For this week, at least, the youngsters are in control.
THREE PLAYERS TO PONDER
The finishing three-hole stretch at Kapalua is about as fun as any on the PGA TOUR. The 365-yard 16th is a short strategic par 4 with split fairways but not drivable under the crossing trade winds; players want to avoid that last bunker in the fairway. The 549-yard 17th is the hardest par 4 on the back nine and the longest par 4 on the course. The view from the teebox is the prettiest on the course, and offers a dramatic downhill elevation change of 150 feet. The 663-yard par-5 18th is the longest of any hole and yet still reachable in two thanks to the assisting winds. It was the easiest on the back nine last year.
THE LANDING ZONE
The 520-yard par-4 first hole has ranked as the toughest on the course for the last three years; in 2017, it played to a stroke average of 4.109, yielding just seven birdies in 128 attempts. It’s downhill and downwind, with approach shots going to a sloping left-to-right green. Last year, players finished an average of 42 feet from the pin. Here is where all tee shots landed last year.
From PGA TOUR meteorologist Wade Stettner: “High pressure is forecast to remain north of the Hawaii this week and produce brisk trade winds through the weekend. Expect partly cloudy skies each day with sustained winds of 15- 20 mph and gusts to 25 mph. Measurable rain is not forecast this week; however, this is Hawaii and a brief shower or two cannot be completely ruled out on any given day.”
For the latest weather news from Kapalua, Hawaii, check out PGATOUR.COM’s Weather Hub.
BY THE NUMBERS
1 – Number of players who won at Kapalua and went on to win the FedExCup title. That one player? Justin Thomas last year.
233 – Number of drives 400 yards or more at the Plantation Course since 2003. No other course on TOUR comes close to that (Firestone is second on the list at 67). Last year. there were seven drives of 400 yards or more, with Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas producing two each.
-2.625 – Scoring average in relation to par at last year’s tournament. That made it the easiest course on the PGA TOUR last season.
84.09 – The percentage of players in the FedExCup era who have played in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and ultimately advanced to the FedExCup Playoffs. In other words, if you’re in the field at Kapalua, you’re probably going to make the top 125.
In 2014, Jordan Spieth – at age 20 years, 5 months, 10 days -- became the youngest player to play the Sentry Tournament of Champions since at least 1970. The youngest winner came in 1997 when Tiger Woods won at the age of 21 years, 13 days. …
At 7,452 yards, the Plantation Course was the fifth longest course on the PGA TOUR last season. The longest was Erin Hills, the U.S. Open venue listed at 7,741 yards. …
Since 2003, just four players have completed the Hawaii Career Slam (winning both events in the state): Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, Justin Thomas and Zach Johnson.