LA JOLLA, Calif. — It’s almost exactly five months from when Tour caddies typically see Torrey Pines’ daunting South Course during the Farmers Insurance Open.
So just how different is a January Torrey Pines versus a June version?
That’s something we discussed with caddies following the first round of the 121st U.S. Open.
Austin Kaiser, who’s looped in the Farmers five times for Xander Schauffele, saw some big differences with the course’s playability.
“It’s definitely a lot more firm, especially the fairways, that was the biggest thing I noticed was the fairways were running out tremendously and we had clubs that we’ve never had into these holes,” he said. “So it definitely makes it a lot easier from that aspect, but the greens being firm you’ve got to really play smart out there so, that’s why 4 under is leading right now.”
Being in places you’ve never been coming into greens on a course you know pretty well as San Diego natives, must be a strange feeling, but as Kaiser explained, it actually makes the course play much easier being closer to your targets.
Many are saying that the rough is about an inch taller than January, and it’s more dense in some places than others.
“That rough is unpredictable, you almost don’t know what you’re going to get,” Alex Gaugert (Erik Van Rooyen) said.
Kaiser agrees and has a lot of course homework that comes into play because of these variables with the rough.
“The rough really is spotty out there,” he said. “You’ve got to pay attention to where the sprinkler heads are off the fairways, that’s kind of where it’s thick, where it gets the most water. You can miss it offline here if you hit it in some of those dry rough areas, so I definitely tried to make a note of that throughout the week in my preparation. I wrote down where it was thin and where it was thick.”
The greens are understandably firm out there and running faster than in January.
“It’s definitely drier this week versus January and the greens are certainly faster,” veteran caddie David Clark said. “Downhill putts can definitely get away from you out there, much more than they do in January.”
Kaiser has a relatable example of this.
“Downhill I noticed a huge difference on our putts,” he said. “We had some downhill putts in our first round that normally would have barely gotten to the hole, but instead they ended up a good four or five feet past. That’s just how it is this week, and you’ve got to adjust. Downhill they’re very icy and overall the greens are a little more pure and less bouncy. This poa annua doesn’t really sponge up like it does during Farmers, and the course is in great condition.”
Clark sees some subtle — but significant — changes in the weather conditions this week compared to Farmers week and how that affects the golf itself.
“End of January it’s always very wet, cold, the ball doesn’t travel in the air very far, but with this week with the air slightly drier it’s still heavy air here in San Diego so the ball still doesn’t go as far as it normally would,” he explained. “The fairways can get away from you out there and the areas around the greens, they’re a bit faster than during the sloggy conditions of the Farmers.”
Ryan Goble has caddied a few Farmers Insurance Opens here in the past, and explained what he saw from the early U.S. Open conditions on the South Course.
“The rough seems to be a little thicker in areas, but it’s patchy. It’s not horrible. You can get some good lies in the rough, it’s not impossible out there. Overall it’s a similar test to Farmers week, there’s just the pressure of the U.S. Open out here,” Goble said.
Henry Diana, the caddie for Tom Hoge who made a deep run in the Farmers in 2020 when they played with Tiger Woods, had this observation about the South Course: “All in all the course to me is very similar to January. The big difference is the fairways and greens are sure a lot faster and firmer.”
This is the U.S. Open. Firm and fast is the consistent refrain.