Tournament: Sony Open, January 10-13, 2019
Course: Waialae Country Club; 7,044 yards; par 70; Honolulu, HI
Defending Champion: Patton Kizzire (nice guy, but I still hate Auburn). He outlasted James Hahn in a 6-hole playoff, and honestly was lucky because Hahn missed several makeable putts in extra holes that could’ve won it earlier.
Fun Fact: 9 times has the eventual winner made this his first PGA Tour victory, the last coming in 2013 when UGA’s own Russell Henley captured the title (also his first PGA Tour professional start.
How to Watch: Thursday-Saturday, 7-10:30 p.m. ET (Golf Channel). Sunday, 6-10 p.m. (GC). Being an early season event against NFL football, and being in prime time, means that this won’t get major network coverage. The broadcasting crews will be familiar names, but will only be shown on Golf Channel.
Dawgs in the Field: 10. Seriously, 10. Harris English, Russell Henley, Bubba Watson, Brian Harman, Joey Garber, Sepp Straka, Chris Kirk, Keith Mitchell, Hudson Swafford, and Kevin Kisner.
Aloha, Dawg fans! With college football in the books, and winter storms barreling across the country, you need to occupy your recliner or favorite couch with something Bulldog-related, and we have just the thing... golf in Hawaii. Professional golf, at the highest level, and thankfully including so many alums of the University of Georgia men’s golf program. After a hiatus during college football season, we’re back with the first 2019 installment of “‘Dawgs on Tour”!
This week is indeed in Hawaii, after last week’s Sentry Tournament of Champions on Maui. Known as the Hawaii Swing, or the Pacific Fortnight (not that Fortnite), the PGA Tour wisely starts it’s calendar year in the Hawaiian Islands for the first 2 weeks. The Sentry Tournament did not hold much Red & Black - Bubba Watson was the only former Bulldog in the field and he finished pretty much last (still cashed over $65k though). This week, as you saw above in the intro, is quite different and Bulldogs are liberally sprinkled through the field.
Also different from last week is the course; the Plantation Course at Kapalua (Maui) is HUGE. Severe elevation changes as it climbs up the mountains and back down, incredibly wide fairways to make things fair for the 20+mph trade winds that blow regularly, and low scores thanks to 400 yard drives and soft greens. Young American Xander Schauffle beat fellow American and long-hitter Gary Woodland.
Though this be the first weeks of the PGA Tour in 2019, it is not the first of the season. The 2018-19 season started in October and included stops in exotic locales such as Shanghai, the Bahamas, Kuala Lumpur, and Jackson, Mississippi. Okay, maybe Shanghai isn’t quite exotic, but you get the drift. And we did have many former Bulldogs competing, though no winner’s circle yet.
We now know the season started. But also new to 2019 are tons of rule changes. The USGA and the R&A (golf’s two powerful governing bodies) looked to simplify rules to speed up the game and make it less confusing to the amateur. Hitting a ball out of bounds is less penal, you have less time to look for your ball, but you can drop it with more control, you can remove loose impediments, etc. Oh, and you can putt your ball in the hole with the flagstick still in - this was previously cause for a penalty.
So to set the stage, I’ll give a quick breakdown of each Classic Canine competing in the tropical paradise:
Harris English: 2011 graduate, currently 334 in the world rankings (OWGR) but spent a couple of seasons in the top 70. Has 2 PGA Tour wins (2013, 2014), and over $12 million in career earnings. Has made the cut in all 5 current season tourneys, but no high finishes.
Russell Henley: also 2011 graduate, currently 96th OWGR, consistently top 100. 3 career Tour wins (‘13, ‘14, ‘17) and $12.9M in earnings. Has only made 1 of 4 cuts this season, but did win this tourney in 2013 in his first PGA Tour start. Don’t worry... he will warm up as the season progresses.
Bubba Watson: turned pro in 2002, but did go back to finish his UGA degree in 2008. I think most fans know Bubba, and definitely the most successful golfer produced by UGA. He’s 16th in OWGR (previous high of #2), has 12 career wins including 2 Masters, and over $42 million in earnings. His 3 wins last season was arguably his best, but he did make more money in 2015 making 17 of 19 cuts and 10 top ten finishes. Only played 1 tourney so far and that was last week (T31st).
Brian Harman: 2009 graduate, and the other lefty from the Classic City. 54th in OWGR, and 2 career victories (2014,2017), and over $14.5M in career earnings. He’s played 5 times this season, making all 5 cuts, and actually won the QBE Shootout in early December. Being a team event, it is not an official PGA Tour event and doesn’t count towards career wins - but the check still cleared. He won the team event pairing with Auburn Tiger Patton Kizzire, proving that mass hysteria reigns and Dan Akroyd has ADD.
Joey Garber: one of two UGA rookies on Tour, Garber graduated in 2014 and spent a couple of season on the mini-Tours before earning his PGA Tour card in dramatic fashion last summer. Due to exemptions, he has played in 6 Tour events prior to this season and even had a top 25. His 3 tourneys this year haven’t yielded a check yet, but he will get his feet under him quickly.
Sepp Straka: Graduated in 2016, and was the senior anchor for UGA golf coach Chris Haack that season. Straka is also a rookie, also earning his Tour card last summer, and actually made the cut in his first PGA Tour start, earning just over $17,000.
Chris Kirk: a 2007 UGA grad, Kirk has been on Tour for 10 years now and has captured 4 PGA Tour titles (,11, ‘14 twice, ‘15). He’s 167th in OWGR and hasn’t quite come back from a wrist injury 2 years ago. He made 24 of 28 cuts last season, earning over $1.8M, and has over $16M in career cashings.
Keith Mitchell: Listed at 6’1” and 185 lbs, the 2014 graduate looks more Solomon Kindley than Eric Stokes (at least on TV). Big-boned and carries a big driver, Mitchell is in the 2nd full PGA Tour season, and cleared over $1.6M in his rookie campaign, recording 4 top 10s including a 2nd and a 3rd place showing.
Hudson Swafford: Now in his 6th full season, the 2011 UGA product is 307th in OWGR but plays better than that in the US. He has 7 top 10 finishes and a single Tour title (‘17), but at one point had the longest active made-cut streak on Tour. A little bit of a down year last season but still cleared over $500k and has over $5M in career earnings.
Kevin Kisner: The 2006 graduate has definitely paid his dues and is earning his rewards. After struggling on min-Tours Kisner was about to give up the game but re-dedicated himself to practicing and in 2015 more than doubled his career earnings to date. Since then, he has become a mainstay top 50/top 30 player, has won 2 Tour titles (‘16, ‘17) and has threatened at at least one major. He’s essentially cleared more than $3M his last four seasons and has over $16M in his career.
So if it’s cold and rainy this weekend, or if you’re in the NE and there’s a foot of snow on the ground, tune in to Golf Channel and check out 70 degrees, sunny, palm trees, and resort golf at it’s finest. Plus, you can root on all the Bulldogs looking to capture the trophy. And as always...