Monday, September 21, 2009

On the Set-Up for the Samsung: Length Isn't Everything

Are my eyes deceiving me? Are the SI guys really leading with the LPGA this week? Must be a bye week for a PGA playoff system nobody is really enthusiastic about, eh? Seriously, they had some interesting things to say about the set-up at the Samsung. I enjoyed watching Torrey Pines play to a normal length and was very happy to see the leaders go even lower than Juli Inkster predicted before the start of the Samsung. I thought making the 18th short enough for everyone in the field to think seriously about going for the green in 2, despite the water hazard short left of the green, was a great set-up decision. It meant that if you could get your drive out there 250 yards or more with the tournament at stake--as it was for both Ai Miyazato and Na Yeon Choi--you faced a very high-stakes tactical decision.

Personally, no matter how well I had been hitting my 5-wood or 3-hybrid that week, I would have laid up with a 1-shot lead, figuring that there was a small backstop behind the cup that I could use to take the water out of play, eliminate the possibility of a bogey, and maximize my birdie chances--particularly if I knew that my typical miss with that club was a draw. Then I would have given myself the best odds to have at least a 1-shot lead and at best a 2-shot lead on Choi, putting even more pressure on her than she actually turned out having. But, hey, that's probably why I'm reduced to golf blogging and am no longer playing much of any golf, much less competitive golf. These days on the LPGA, it seems, you have to have your pedal to the metal on almost every hole, because there are 50 or more players not all that far behind the game's elite. And especially on a longer track like Torrey, the key was to do what it took to take advantage of each and every birdie opportunity on the long course by LPGA standards.

So I think in terms of Sunday drama and Saturday moving day possibilities, I would move the tees up on 18 on the weekend for sure. But I would have made it a 3-shot hole on Thursday and Friday for the shorter hitters, figuring that the reduced risk from the pond for them would offset the added reward for hitting the green in 2 for the longer hitters. Mixing things up from round to round and presenting the players with multiple strategic choices over the course of 72 holes is a set-up philosophy that's getting increasingly popular, thanks to Mike Davis's set-ups for U.S. men's and women's opens. I love this trend myself, as it brings strategy, shot-making, and the mental side of the game back to the forefront from the perspective of the players and maximizes the odds of a great competition for the fans. For that reason, I'd love to see the LPGA keep going with its push to bring its biggest events to name courses with great histories, particularly those that the men's game has outgrown.

So I'm less concerned with the debate over Miyazato's decision and more interested in the implications of the set-up on Sunday at Torrey Pines for future LPGA events. How about you?

[Update 1 (1:08 pm): Ron Sirak reports on twitter that the LPGA just lost one of its best events, the Michelob Ultra.]

[Update 2 (1:52 pm): Michael Arkush puts Ai-sama's strategic error in a PGA perspective and Jay Busbee agrees it was a strategic error. I tend to agree with them, too, but would rather emphasize that forcing players to make their choices, stick with them, and live with the consequences makes for better golf and better tournaments than making 18 unreachable to everyone on the LPGA but the bombers. If the tees had been back, we wouldn't have had the chance to be having this discussion.]

[Update 3 (1:55 pm): Tod Leonard gives me hope my discussion isn't just academic. Up to Samsung now to re-up the return to Torrey!]

[Update 4 (3:08 pm): Stephanie Wei puts the bad Michelob Ultra news in perspective.]

[Update 5 (9/22/09, 10:36 am): Brent Kelley digs up a couple more key details on the death of the Michelob Ultra.]

[Update 6 (2:40 pm): Beth Ann Baldry gets more from Zayra Calderon, who's sounding optimistic about the 2010 schedule. Good thing, b/c she's the LPGA's chief negotiator with sponsors and tournament organizers!]


Anonymous said...

Completely agree with you on Miyazato making the wrong play to 18 on Sunday. Force the girl with the jangly nerves to birdie to get into a playoff at worst, or make birdie and force an eagle.

The flag on Sunday wasn't in the traditional PGA Tour Sunday position. That backstop is front left - where the women played it on Saturday. The women were front right on Sunday where they could play a run-up shot for a chance at eagle.

I had no problem with the setup of 18 on Sunday. Par 5's are supposed to be strategic 3 shot holes for short hitters and risk-reward holes for big hitters.

Enough of the women were getting over the water just fine, but many tried to get too cute with the shot - trying to just barely carry the water then stopping the ball flag high, and drowned their ball. That tells me that they were hitting balls high enough and with enough spin to control where the ball finished. If they were concerned about the water, they would have taken more club. With that big opening right of the water, it's a pretty simple pitch to get up and down for birdie.

Anonymous said...

Is it just me or is Ron Sirak looking more and more like Phil Jackson these days ? :-)

The Constructivist said...

Ai-sama said she was playing to miss it in the right bunker (shades of her Evian finish, I believe). She just mis-hit the shot just enough to cost her the tournament.

My mistake on the backstop thing. I figured from the way she babied that downhill putt and the way her pitch from the rough checked that there was a mini-backstop middle right, but it's probably the wrong choice of words.

Anonymous said...

The hole position was on top of the hill. They did have to be a little careful not to go too far past and left of the hole to avoid going down into the low area where the men play on Sundays.

I'd still rather have a solid wedge or a pitch onto the green than face a short sided bunker shot with the downhill not too far past the hole.

Oh well - get 'em next year.

The Constructivist said...

Marc Figueroa does a good job explaining Miyazato's intent:

But yeah, I'd rather have a wedge in my hands to that pin, too.

Anonymous said...

Yikes - sounds like there was a pretty big misread to go with the good intentions. Aiming for the back bunker and came up 5 yards short of dry land ?

Uphill lies go left...and tend not to fly as far as intended...but 30 yards is huge.

Oh well - you have to like Ai's moxy. You can't count her out of a tournament now that she has gotten the LPGA monkey off her back.