Walker likes Kapalua layout
KAPALUA – Jimmy Walker is in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions for the first time.
The Kapalua Plantation Course is hosting the event for the 16th time.
Walker and the other 12 first-time winners in this 30-man, winners-only field are seeing the Plantation as it has perhaps never been seen before. In Wednesday’s practice round, Walker said the course was pristine in virtually windless conditions.
“The other day all the really long par-4s played downwind, the long par-5s played downwind, so it didn’t play too, too long,” Walker said on the seventh fairway during his practice round Wednesday. “The ball was still rolling and running a little bit.”
Kona winds from the southwest direction can make some holes extremely difficult. The course is designed to play in trade-wind conditions from the northeast.
“I think you play 17 (a 508-yard par 4) it wouldn’t be too much fun to play straight into the wind because you might be hitting 3-wood into it,” Walker said. “I don’t know how the golf course is designed to be played because I have never played it before. Honestly, I’m just playing it for what it’s giving.”
Walker enjoys the 7,411-yard, par-73 layout.
“It’s a fun golf course, I really enjoy playing it,” he said. “The back nine is a lot of fun to play, there’s a lot of cool holes. There’s some fun holes where you can hit driver and catch the slopes.”
Walker won the Frys.com Open and is the current FedExCup leader.
Mark Rolfing, an analyst for The Golf Channel who has lived at Kapalua for more than 25 years, said the course needs some changes with the lack of trade winds recently.
“A hole like No. 3, which is a short (380-yard) par 4, plays normally uphill into the wind and there’s a gigantic set of bunkers on the right-hand side that typically should be in play off that tee but they’re not anymore,” Rolfing said. “So, players are driving the ball right up in front of the green, within 60 or 70 yards of the front of the green. That third tee may have to move back.”
Rolfing said there are some possible changes that could put some teeth back in the Plantation Course.
“There’s a place back there where you could build a new tee that could work for both the ninth hole and the third hole,” he said. “Which would be really a cool addition.”
Rolfing said that the lack of trades is unique to the Plantation Course that is carved into the undulation of the West Maui Mountains.
“It was unique to begin with in that the three main elements – the wind, the slope and the grain all go in the same direction typically,” Rolfing said. “And that’s why it’s such an extreme golf course. . . . Because this started out so extreme, now a change in it is really dramatic.”
Rolfing said the course is actually longer than it is listed on the scorecard.
“The first hole says 520 yards – it is longer than that, but 520 is a nice, comfortable number,” he said. “If we get a good Kona wind, there could be a scenario where a player can’t get it over the ditch on his second shot on a par 4 and have to lay up. It could happen at 17, too.”
Rolfing said the forecast for this week could make for severely varying conditions.
“What you are going to see this week is it’s going to start with a Kona wind and then it’s going to turn around and come from the exact opposite direction, by Sunday is what they’re predicting, back to trades,” he said. “So this course, players are going to see it in completely different scenarios, which is good in some ways if you can have flexibility in the way the holes are set up.
“Because of the way it was designed and the nature of the property with all the ravines, it’s very difficult to get a lot of flexibility.”
Rolfing said it might be very tough for the first-timers at Kapalua.
“You are really going to have to pay attention to what you’re doing,” he said. “I think the caddies are going to be critical. They are going to have to figure out how these holes play under different conditions. The 13th tee, a player could hit as much off the par 4 as a driver, or he may in a south wind hit a 6- or 7-iron off the tee in order to not hit it too far.”
Rolfing added, “This is the most extreme I’ve seen, but it began earlier in the decade of the 2000s.”
Since Stuart Appleby and Vijay Singh had the two worst winning scores here – 8-under in 2006 and 14-under in 2007 – the average winning score here is minus 22 and that includes Dustin Johnson’s 16-under over 54 holes last year when the event was shortened due to inclement weather.
Rolfing remembers Ernie Els dominating the course on his way to a PGA Tour-record 31-under to win this event in 2003 in virtually no wind when he consistently had 7-iron second shots on the 555-yard par-5 15th.
“It is crazy,” Rolfing said.
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com