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Culp's Corner

Sony Open in Hawaii Preview

by Josh Culp
Updated On: January 19, 2023, 5:11 pm ET

The PGA TOUR hops over to Oahu for this week's Sony Open at Waialae Country Club. 

There is a lot of continuity when it comes to this event as Waialae has been hosting since the inaugural 1965 edition and Sony has been sponsoring the event since the 1999 edition. 

The field will be loaded with 144 golfers to start the week and that will get trimmed to the top 65 and ties after 36 holes. 


The Course

This classic, Raynor design was laid out in the 1920s and has seen some tweaks over the years, but has been unchanged since last year. 

Glancing at the score sheet we see a par 70 that plays to just 7,044 yards which is rather short by modern-day TOUR standards. 

Off the tee, golfers see narrow corridors and plenty of doglegs to work around. It's a true position-based course in that regard where you are often taking 3-wood or a long iron off the tee, frequently leaving the driver in the bag. 

Driving distance gets muted a bit at Waialae CC which is likely a big reason you see most of the heavy hitters leave this event their schedule year after year despite so many of them playing the week before on Maui. The bomb and gouge method is not the preferred route, with smart and steady striking being the recipe for success. 

Without the ability to grip it and rip it, iron play becomes a key element to contending, even more than the usual week. If you drill down into the expected approach shots, you'll see a lot of short and mid irons, between the 125 and 200-yard buckets. That is really the opposite of last week's course at Kapalua which had you attack from long range or very short wedges. 

Another big week-over-week change is the lack of elevation. Kapalua was one of the toughest walks, with a lot of elevation changes. Waialae CC is very flat and not a demanding walk. 

Looking at the putting surfaces, golfers will see slightly larger than TOUR average greens that feature average, sometimes speedy, bermudagrass. It often plays around 11.5 feet on the stimp but they can ramp that up a little faster when the weather cooperates. Comfort on bermudagrass is a big positive. Given this is a short course with lots of short-iron approaches, you'll typically need to find a hot putter from the 10-15 foot range if you want to see your name near the top of the board on Sunday. 

The overall scoring environment is on the easy side of the spectrum, depending on the weather, of course.  The winning score has reached 20-under or easier in six of the last eight Sonys. There was an 11-under winning year thrown in there (2020) which shows how much weather can impact scoring on this coastal course. 


Course Quotes

Sifting through some past quotes, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.

Marc Leishman in 2014: "I like how firm it is. You've got to judge how far the ball is going to run. It's always windy, as well. I grew up in the wind and enjoy playing in the wind. Those things along with the course, as well, it's not a course that you can really overpower. You have to think your way around."

Brandt Snedeker in 2019: "You got to really think your way. It's not just step up and bash it. You can hit any club you want to off every tee. You can hit driver if you want, you can hit 4-iron off the tee, and there is really no right or wrong way to do it. We don't have a lot of those options anymore. Seems like most golf courses are hit it as hard as you can as far as you can and figure it out from there."

Kevin Kisner in 2021: "I like that it's a shot-maker's golf course. You've got to play to certain spots. I think it's Point A to Point B and make some putts."

A common theme is golfers talking about how you need to think your way around the golf course at Waialae Country Club. It's not a grip-it-and-rip-it type of track. 


Correlated Courses

Using historical data we can look at overperformance and underperformance at this week's host course and compare that to all of the courses played out on TOUR. Here are the ones that shared a lot of overlap: 

Sedgefield CC
TPC Sawgrass
Quail Hollow Club
Silverado Resort and Spa

Quail Hollow features bermudagrass and and emphasis on ball-striking but it does reward distance more than the other courses on the list. Otherwise, we are looking mostly at short, less-than-driver layouts that don't particularly suit one style of golf. It opens the door for almost anyone in the field to contend. 

The Weather

Thursday: Mostly sunny with a high of 78 degrees. Winds at 6 to 16 MPH. 

Friday: Mostly sunny with a high of 79 degrees. Winds at 5 to 10 MPH. 

The only thing to truly defend this course is weather and right now it looks like ideal scoring conditions in that regard. Winds are currently forecasted to be light, under 10 MPH, with gusts under 15 MPH for the entirety of the event. Of course, that could change so check back on the weather before Thursday. 

Josh Culp

Josh Culp joined NBC Sports Edge in 2014. The DFS enthusiast from Iowa State can be found on Twitter @futureoffantasy.