You can almost smell major championship season on the horizon as the stars start to show up at Torrey Pines for the Farmers Insurance Open.
It's the first tough test of the new calendar year so it's easy to see why the big names show up in full force. It's a great test of golf to see where the state of your game is, allowing you to fix those issues before the season is too deep. It also adds a few memories to their bank which they may be able to use at the 2021 U.S. Open which will be held at the South Course at Torrey Pines.
Thanks to the use of two courses, the field is able to stretch to a full lineup of 156 golfers. As we've seen since the start of the season, the top 65 and ties will make it through the 36-hole cut and play the weekend.
Just like we saw last week in the desert, they will use multiple courses to allow for a larger field and still be able to get through before sunset. This week, it will just be two courses used instead of three.
South Course at Torrey Pines (Host Course):
Playing host this week means that golfers will play here three times if they make it through the cut.
The South Course was designed by Billy Bell in the 1950s before he passed away and his son completed the vision. Bell got his feet wet in design by working with noted designer George Thomas whose masterpiece is Riviera Country Club which we'll see in less than a month. Rees Jones has since come through to renovate and refine the course ahead of U.S. Open competitions. They will again be hosting in 2021.
Overall, this course has been used here since the 1968 edition of this event when it played at just 7,021 yards. The course is now the longest on TOUR. A par 72 that stretches to 7,698 yards. Yup, roughly 7,700 yards.
UPDATE: As if it weren't long enough already, they've stretched it to 7,765 yards for 2020!
On a hole-by-hole level, there are six par 4s that play over 450 yards. Add in the coastal climate and time of year, and it's even longer than "on paper" since the ball doesn't really fly that far. Distance is a major advantage around here but don't tell that to Brandt Snedeker or Ben Crane who have three combined wins at this event and are not going to win any long-drive competitions.
The course plays on the tough side of the spectrum, averaging 72.95 here since 2010. Sure, it played extremely difficult in 2016 (+2.50 RTP ) but it has played 1/2 a stroke over par or tougher in 8 of the last 9 nines. So there is no hiding the fact that it's a tough track.
Circling back to Rees Jones, his crew made some tweaks since last year. They've installed new irrigation, refurbished the bunkers, and regrassed collars and approaches on all holes. The work got started last February shortly after the 2019 Farmers. Not ideal if you wanted to play this gem in 2019 but it should play pretty similar to year's past still. The main goal is to get it in top form ahead of the 2021 U.S. Open Championship.
For grasses, they see kikuyugrass that gets overseeded with ryegrass and poa annua greens.
North Course at Torrey Pines:
The South course is still getting touch-ups but the North Course got their makeover in 2016.
The North Course is a par 72 that plays close to 7,250 yards. It's actually still pretty long on a hole-by-hole level but much closer to normal length compared to the South beast.
As for course setup, the North Course one would fit right in last week at The American Express where birdies were flying off the shelves. The North Course does not have much in the way in terms of hazards or well-positioned bunkers. It's pretty much bomb-and-gouge for these pros and it shows on the scoresheet.
The field has averaged 70.53 (-1.47 RTP) here since 2010. There was a brief "break-in" period after the renovations where it played a little tougher but we saw the field average sub-70 last year (-2.16 RTP) which was the second-easiest it has played over the last 10 years. This is where the low rounds will come from on Thursday and Friday this week. You better shoot 4-under or better on the North Course if you want a sliver or hope to contend for the title this week.
For gamers, you need to make sure to target the North Course in any format that allows for round-by-round picks.
Getting to turf talk, the 2016 renovations saw the greens switch from poa annua to bentgrass. That poa will eventually creep back in over the years but it's still relatively young so we should expect them to roll pretty true still. The switch from old poa made it so they could ramp up the speeds to 12+ feet on the stimp.
Sifting through some past quotes, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.
Xander Schauffele: "it’s brutal, it’s mentally exhausting, the place is a hike, just everything about it. When the wind picks up, you’re just worn out at the end of the day. A week like this week, you’re playing two different courses. For some reason I feel like this property like around the practice facilities with the Monday and Wednesday pro-am, it just feels like a zoo already"
Rory McIlroy: "Yeah, the length factor. Par 5s are very gettable, there’s two reachable par 4s. There’s tee shots I hit today offline that if you hit those tee shots on the South course, you get penalized a lot more, whereas you’re giving yourself birdie looks as long as you don’t hit it behind a stray tree that’s somewhere in the rough. Yeah, you can sort of just let it rip a little bit more on the North course."
Phil Mickelson: "The reason why this course plays so long is that we’re at sea level, we get a day like today where it was a little bit cooler and the ball just doesn’t quite fly as far as normal, but that was actually offset a little bit with how firm the fairways were because the ball was running."
Geoff Ogilvy: "if you keep presenting Torrey Pines South, for example, where the farther you hit it the bigger advantage you have, we’re just going to go home, plug in the Trackman and hit it as hard as we can. "
Adam Hadwin: "I love Torrey Pines but it sucks for my game. I just don’t hit it quite far enough to really compete around there."
Overview: Length is the name of the game this week and everyone knows it.
Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, and past performance, here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week:
Rivera CC (Genesis)
TPC Scottsdale (WM Phoenix)
Silverado Resort (Safeway)
TPC Summerlin (Shriners)
PGA WEST (American Express)
We see that location and time of year is the key here. All five of these events/courses are played early in the season, out West. You see similar climates and turf conditions so it's not surprising to see them correlated so well.
Thursday: Sunny with a high of 64 degrees. Winds at 6 to 10 MPH.
Friday: Partly cloudy with a high of 66 degrees. Winds at 6 to 8 MPH.
We've seen some major winds here in the past, being right by the coast but the current forecast is pretty calm.