The 2021 golf season gets underway this week, so we’ll be showing up a bit more regularly. And by 2021 season, I mean the 2020-21 wrap-around season, which started in September and is now 12 weeks in and roughly 25% complete. Weird, isn’t it? Let’s get right into the details.
Tournament: Sentry Tournament of Champions, January 7-10 2021.
Course: The Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort, 7,596 yards, par 73 (Maui, Hawai’i)
Purse: $6.8 million total, and somewhere north of $1.3 million to the winner.
Defending Champ: Justin Thomas. The Alabama product started hot, but cooled off considerably, especially his bogey on the 72nd hole to fall into a 3 way playoff. He eventually won that playoff over Xander Schauffle and Patrick Reed.
Fun Fact: From the course, you can see whales breaching in the Pacific Ocean. I’m no expert on cetaceans, nor pelagic creatures, but I still think it’s pretty cool.
TV Times: Thurs-Fri-Sat 6-10 p.m. ET (Golf Channel); Sunday, 4-6 p.m. ET (NBC), 6-8 p.m. ET (Golf Channel)
‘Dawgs in the Field: Four. Hudson Swafford, Harris English, Brendon Todd, Kevin Kisner.
The Tournament of Champions is now over 25 years old, and unofficially kicks off the season. Because 1) it is held the first full week of January every year, and 2) because it’s golf in Hawai’i while most of us are miserable, and 3) as the name implies, it has a stacked field of recent winners. But that’s not necessarily true in these times...
Since the 2019-20 season was halted last March due to COVID-19, and though it did resume, (several tournaments were canceled altogether or held at strange times) the PGA Tour and the Tournament Committee expanded the list of invitees. Normally it is exclusively for those who won a PGA Tour tournament (which includes the majors and WGC events) in the last 12 months. As some tourneys weren’t held at all, the invite list was too short so they included those in the FedEx Cup top 30 not already qualified (i.e. those who made a metric s**t-ton of money but didn’t actually win). The good news for us is that increases the Bulldog quotient this particular week.
The course is fabulous; rich and vibrant with views of the Pacific at almost every turn, huge elevation changes bordering on mountainous, massive fairways but with sidehill slopes everywhere, trade winds that can affect a golf ball by 30 or 40 yards, and newly tweaked greens that gave the players fits last year. Add in that Maui sits about 6 hours west of us on the longitudinal scale, that their daylight starts way after the US East Coast, and we have prime time golf.
The tournament has a laid back vibe to it. I’m sure because it’s in Maui, most of these players have taken a leave of several weeks over the holiday and haven’t been grinding, many pros bring their families as a winter vacation, and the field is so small (42 this year, usually around 33 or so) and the property so remote that it’s just like playing golf on vacation. A vacation that can pay you well over $1 million if you win, but still has a guaranteed payoff for every player of around $50,000. See? No stress whatsoever.
Here’s who to keep an eye on:
Hudson Swafford: the only former Bulldog who gets in via an actual tournament win. His victory in the Corales Puntacana (Dominican Republic) this past September punches his ticket.
Harris English: Beneficiary #1 of the expanded invite list. English made the cut in 18 of 20 tourneys, 14 times finishing inside the top 25, 6 of those being a top 10 finish. Didn’t win, but did cash over $3.2 million, more than ever in his career.
Brendon Todd: Todd won twice in the 2019-20 season, but both of those were fall 2019 events, so he used up his winners-only invite in last January’s edition of this ToC. Because he played well through the summer and was in the top 30 of FedEx Cup points, he qualified for this year as well.
Kevin Kisner: He made over $2.2 million last season, which is his worst year since 2014! This ain’t no hobby, fellas. Kisner has never fared particularly well here, and last year was near middle of the pack with a T14 (out of 34). The course is extremely long, a par 73 to boot if you noticed, and that just isn’t the recipe for Kiz.
Sure you’ve got NFL playoffs happening this weekend. And I guess the NBA season officially started, if that’s your cup of tea. But if you want to escape the crappy winter outside your window, flip the channel from HGTV and check out these ‘Dawgs chasing little white balls. And as always...