The money is great. So are the FedEx Cup points. The two-year exemption can be a career changer. There’s also the invitation to spend the first full week in April in Augusta.
But the plane flight to Maui, especially for a player or caddie participating in the Sentry TOC for the first time, must be its own reward. While folks back east dig out of a snowstorm, a select 39-man field follows the sun to a 72-hole shootout alongside fellow PGA Tour champions from the previous year.
The 2021-22 PGA Tour season continues this week at Kapalua and it’s hard to stay cold upon the sight of whales and the sound of Mark Rolfing. For the pros, the 7,590-yard Plantation Course provides the ultimate gentle handshake. A resort course with the easiest fairways and greens to hit, where a man can hit double digits under par if he can stay upright and breathing.
The par-73 layout features four par 5s, three par 3s and short par 4s requiring sharp wedges. Prior to last year’s tournament, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw renovated the course, adding bunkers and reconfiguring green complexes. With minimal wind – similar to this week’s forecast – the birdie rampage continued. Harris English shot 25 under and beat Joaquin Niemann in a playoff. Daniel Berger finished 10th at 19 under.
The Plantation has the highest SG:OTT (0.89) on the PGA Tour schedule. Players find the enormous greens 79 percent of the time – compared to the average of 65 percent. Proximity to the hole is 35.7 feet, which is seven feet farther away than usual.
And like its frozen cousin in Georgia, there are wild undulation changes in what any veteran caddie will describe as the most difficult walk on the circuit.
This is how the 2015 champion Patrick Reed summed up the challenge presented at Kapalua:
“I think the thing is you have all these awkward lies, heavy winds, huge elevation changes, so you have to be creative,” he said. “You can’t just step up there and make a driving range swing, because you never really have a flat lie besides off the tee boxes.”
With the course receiving a foot of rain in December, it could play longer than usual, so driving distance played a part in our calculations this week. But it’s not a deal breaker. Recent champions Xander Schauffele, Jordan Spieth and Harris English (last year) finished outside the top 10 in driving distance en route to the title.
Sharp wedge play, solid proximity outside 200 yards and par-5 scoring ability are also vital to success this week. When the goal is 6 under a day, any weaknesses will be exposed.
Experience matters. All but three of the last 10 champions had made more than one visit to Kapalua before they claimed the trophy. The champion typically emerges from the top 15 on the Vegas board but it’s always wise to find value at the bottom as well.
- Joel Dahmen, Cameron Davis, Lucas Glover, Max Homa, Seamus Power
I’m certain a man could survive on fish and fruit and the occasional poker game with Willie Nelson on Maui. As always, good luck.
Golfer power rankings
16. Patrick Reed – He won here in 2015 and leads the field in 3-putt avoidance. The T-3 in the Hero is encouraging and the wide fairways mask his erratic driving. Finished 6-25-2-20 in his last four appearances at the Plantation course.
15. Jason Kokrak – Struggled in every area at Kapalua a year ago, finishing T-35 in his debut. Still, he’s fifth in SG: Total in moderate wind, third in Birdies or Better over the last 36 rounds and third in driving distance. Won his last official start two months ago in Houston. Has gained shots on approach in 14 of the last 19 tournaments.
14. Abraham Ancer – Not the best course fit but shorter hitters have flourished, even winning, here in the past (Byrd, Zach Johnson, Furyk). Finished T-17 in his first look at the Plantation course a year ago, losing four shots around the greens. That’s been his weakness of late, but top 5 in proximity and top 5 in SG: Putting on slow greens and 3-putt avoidance should keep him in the mix.
13. Viktor Hovland – In 2022, we shall not omit the Norwegian Forest Cat. He loves a coastal course. Maybe the sand offers comfort. He will have many birdie putts and ranks second in the field in SG: Total when hitting fairways and scoring are easy. Also making his second visit to Maui (T-31 last year).
12. Sam Burns – Quite a year for Mr. Burns, the Bermuda king. Last January everyone was waiting for him to realize his potential. Now, he’s a popular pick to contend for majors in 2022. The Plantation Course is generally unkind to first-time guests but a confident birdie machine who avoids 3 putts (fourth in field) is worth consideration at his fantasy price.
11. Marc Leishman – Kapalua has been kind to Aussies. Geoff Ogilvy and Stuart Appleby each won here twice. Leishman has a sporty record, finishing T-4 in 2019 and T-7 in 2018. His iron play trended upward in the fall, producing a pair of top 5s and he has the ability to go white-hot with the putter. He’s one of only seven players in the field to finish a 72-hole event 26 under or better.
10. Sungjae Im – If not for recent poor putting on Bermuda (hasn’t gained strokes on the surface since Hilton Head in April), Im would rank higher. He’s third in the field in proximity from 200-plus yards and comfortable in shootouts (fourth in SG: Total in easy scoring conditions). Finished fifth last year despite losing 3.2 shots on the greens.
9. Bryson DeChambeau – It feels like DeChambeau could win by seven shots on this course. He’s finished T-7 the last two years and it’s easy to envision him bombing tee shots, flipping pitches and overpowering the Plantation course. The undulating fairways and erratic iron play are a concern. But you can count on Bryson to be engaged this week when other participants aren’t. Played only once – the Hero World Challenge – since the Tour Championship.
8. Collin Morikawa – The winning score will likely be 26 or 27 under this week. He’s 37th in the 39-man field in SG: Total in easy scoring conditions. He’s also second in proximity and first in Birdies or Better Gained over the last 36 rounds. He’s top 15 in any tournament he enters.
7. Daniel Berger – Excellent wind player finished 10th here a year ago and has gained shots on approach in 14 consecutive tournaments. At a point in his career where I expect him to win once a year. Didn’t play an official event in the fall (only the Hero) so should be refreshed after taking a well-deserved break. Top 5 in scoring in easy conditions.
6. Cameron Smith – Finished 2021 on a heater with six top 15s in the last seven tournaments. Offsets lack of elite power with the best short game in the field (golf?). Finished T-24 and T-17 in most recent appearances in Kapalua. Just understands how to score and unafraid to go low and keep pushing.
5. Jon Rahm – On one hand, hasn’t played in 10 weeks. On the other, he’s the No. 1 player in the world, reigning U.S. Open champion and has four top 10s in as many starts at Kapalua. The Vegas favorite and top salary in most fantasy formats is an obvious threat, but like much of the field it’s difficult to determine the condition of his game entering the week.
4. Patrick Cantlay – Finished fourth and 13th in the TOC the last two years. In general, doesn’t putt well on Bermuda greens but his long, flowing stroke fits the slow grainy Plantations surfaces as he gained 3 and 4.8 shots putting in those two tournaments. Has three wins in elite fields in the last six months.
3. Xander Schauffele – In the field by virtue of his Olympic gold medal effort in Japan last summer, Schauffele returns to the scene of his most recent PGA Tour victory, in Jan. 2019. Also finished runner-up in 2020 and fifth last year. Also took it easy in the fall, making only two official starts. Top 10 in the field in six of 11 categories targeted this week, including scoring in easy conditions, driving distance and Birdies or Better Gained.
2. Jordan Spieth – There’s a risk involved in ranking the new father this high because there’s a fair chance he wanted to spend time at home and not on the course in recent months. Yet his record here is too strong to ignore – the 2016 champion, a 68.25 stroke average (best in the field) and four top 10s. Should be energized by his first appearance at Kapalua since 2018.
1. Justin Thomas – 2021 was hardly a lost year for Thomas but he probably wasn’t sad to see it fade away. With Bones on the bag feels like he’s primed for an outstanding run and possibly another major title in 2022. Two-time winner at Kapalua and third in the field in scoring on the course. Leads the field in scoring when the fairways are generous and birdies are plentiful. Driven to be the game’s best and spending time with Tiger only helps the pursuit. Has all the tools, possessing the ballstriking and short game to win with an average week on the greens.