February 23, 2020
Observations from up close
This winter, I attended three days of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego and two days of the Genesis Invitational at Riviera in Los Angeles. Watching the best players in the world in person gives you a different perspective of their talent and sometimes an insight to what makes them who they are. I like to choose a group and follow them for at least nine holes. That gives me a good sense of their shotmaking ability, routine, attitude, and strategy.
At Torrey Pines, I followed Tiger Woods for a combination of 12 holes for the two days. This is the best I have seen Tiger Woods swing for quite a while. His composure and attitude was different and upbeat. Of the over 20 times that I have seen him play in person, this was the most positive and refreshing I have seen him on the golf course. At Riviera it was harder to get close to his group, so I was only able to watch about six holes in the two days. He still looked positive, but his body didn't let him swing as freely as what I saw in San Diego. Based on San Diego, I thought the sky was the limit, but realistically Tiger's body is telling him it can't be counted on consistently.
Tiger played with Jon Rahm and Collin Morikawa the first two days at Torrey Pines. Rahm is solid all the way through his bag. I saw no weaknesses and he only reinforced my opinion why he will be a top 10 player for many years. But I was most impressed with Collin Morikawa. First time playing with Tiger Woods and he showed no intimidation or fear. I loved his ball striking, course management, and composure. He reminds me a lot of Xander Schauffele. Love the way they play with their fearless approach to the game.
One person that I was interested seeing in person was Matthew Wolff. The young man won the NCAA individual title last year and then won the 3M Open in only his third start on the PGA Tour. He has a very unusual takeaway and backswing, but he is able to repeat the movement. Unusual swings are rare on the PGA Tour. Some will last for a few years, but the flaws will usually catch up with them and you won't hear from them again. I got to see him play eight holes on Thursday and 15 holes on Sunday. He's the real deal. I think the swing will stand up over time. I don't see a major championship for him, but I see multiple PGA wins in his career.
On Sunday at Torrey, I came early to watched one group. Jordan Spieth, Matthew Wolff, and Lucas Glover. I mainly came to see Jordan play and have another chance to watch Matthew. Jordan's long game has improved. Length was surprisingly long, but short game was not what it was three years ago. As he lost shots, you could see his frustrations mounting. It appears he has all the tools in order to regain his stature in the world ranking, but he is struggling to relearn how to score. What came easy three years ago is no longer easy. I hope he can figure it out, because it's not physical right now.
In Los Angeles, it was much easier to get closer to the players. On Thursday I had only around 200 people following three top 10 players in the world, Rory McIlroy, Patrick Cantlay, and Dustin Johnson. I was able to watch them up close for eight unobstructed holes. I specifically loved the sound that they made with their drives and crisp iron shots. Rory especially just loves hitting his driver. It is a fantastic weapon. One takeaway from watching Rory in person is that he seems to only have one gear. When he is "on", he's unbeatable. He plays the game at full speed and no back off. If that isn't there, he doesn't have a second gear or backup. He wins or challenges when he has his "A" game. Fortunately, he has his "A" game a lot of the time.
On Friday, I watched the threesome of Adam Scott, Sung Kang, and Danny Willett. Kang was especially playing well and out played the others until Scott caught fire for the last few holes. On the difficult back nine at Riviera, Kang hit within 15 feet or better on 6 of the nine holes. Adam Scott ended up winning the tournament, but on the holes I watched on Friday, he was nothing special. Driving was spotty and iron play was average. On the 13th hole, after a poor drive, he hit a six iron to 2 feet. He was lucky, because he aimed at the center of the green and pushed the ball to a tough pin position. He and his caddy smiled and laughed at their good fortune. He kept that momentum going with birdies on three of the next four holes. After his win, the golf analysts were gushing over his play and win over a stellar field on a demanding golf course. Some predicted resurgence in his career and great things to come. Could happen, but I saw the same old Adam Scott, who plays "golf swing" and not golf.
I saw countless other players and many different shots, but one thing that always impresses me when I see them in person is their ability with the wedge within 80 yards. The characteristics are very little divot, low ball flight, one bounce and spin, smoothness of motion, calm body, and great distance control. The average player doesn't fully appreciate the skill that is required to consistently hit those shots. Watching in person gives you a different perspective and appreciation then viewing on television. I really feel fortunate to be able to watch the world's best a few times a year up close and personal.