HONOLULU (AP) — Turning the corner of the dogleg left on the 16th hole of Waialae is one of the best views on the course, as players walk straight toward the Pacific Ocean and can see gentle waves breaking through the palm trees.
There is an added feature this year.
Waialae spent $10,000 last year bending the shape of four palm trees to form a large “W” behind the green. And while Waialae isn’t among the most famous courses on the PGA Tour because it is so far away from everything else, the “W” creates a course signature like the clubhouse at Riviera, the lighthouse at Hilton Head, the water tower at Firestone in the shape of a golf ball on a tee.
The palms, with the ocean as a backdrop, look similar to the scene from “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.” There is no suitcase buried beneath the “big W” filled with $350,000 cash from a tuna factory robbery.
But a birdie might go a long way toward a $972,000 check for winning the Sony Open.
Paul Goydos, meanwhile, had his own “W” story to share when he arrived at Waialae.
He flew into Honolulu last Sunday in the middle of the afternoon and was hungry when he checked into the W Honolulu-Diamond Head hotel. Goydos decided to order a pizza, and he was asked where it should be delivered.
“I told her I was staying at the W,” he said. “And she said, ‘How do you spell it?”‘
Goydos should have picked up a newspaper the next day. In the business section there was a brief story about how the W was under new management and had changed its name to The Lotus.
LITTLE BIG MEN: Golf has been trending toward a big man’s game, and one need only look at the biggest stars for evidence.
Of the top 10 players in the world who have won majors, Tiger Woods and Padraig Harrington are the shortest at 6-foot-1. Ernie Els, Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson are all over 6-foot-3 and could suit up as linebackers. Geoff Ogilvy is a little more slender, but still a presence at 6-foot-2.
That’s what made the leaderboard at the Sony Open going into final round Sunday so unusual.
Only one of the top nine players was a 6-footer – George McNeill, barely. The leader was Zach Johnson, known for laying up at all the par 5s when he won the Masters. He is listed at a generous 5-foot-11, proving golf’s media guides aren’t much different from other sports.
One shot behind was 5-foot-10 David Toms, who laid up on the par-4 18th when he won the 2001 PGA at Atlanta Athletic Club. He was joined by Nathan Green, Brian Gay and Shigeki Maruyama, all of whom are a few inches short of 6 feet.
And chasing them is Tadd Fujikawa, the 5-foot-1 senior in high school. Fujikawa played Saturday with 6-foot-2 rookie Matthew Borchert, and nearly had to leave his feet for a high-five when Borchert made birdie on the 16th.
“It wasn’t many years ago where short wasn’t that bad of a thing in golf,” Toms said. “It seems like everybody is getting bigger and taller and stronger, and the game has kind of gone that way.”
Even now, height is not a prerequisite for winning, for the list of major champions this decade include Trevor Immelman and Mike Weir at the Masters, Toms and Rich Beem at the PGA Championship.
Power always helps (Jack Nicklaus, the pioneer of the power era, was 5-foot-10 with legs as big as tree trunks), but not necessarily at the Sony Open. Recent winners have ranged from Singh to Paul Goydos, from Els to Jeff Sluman.
“I hit three or four long irons to par 4s, and I hit a couple of wedges to par 4s, and same with the par 3s – a couple of long shots and short shots,” Toms said. “It has a flow to it. It’s the type of course I wish we played more.”
ROOKIE DEBUTS: Three rookies were in the top 20 going into the final round of the first full-field tournament of the year – Jeff Klauk, Webb Simpson and Wil Collins.
Klauk is the son of Fred Klauk, the longtime and recently retired superintendent of the TPC Sawgrass.
Simpson, a 23-year-old from North Carolina, might be the most polished. He was a four-time All-Amercan at Wake Forest, played on the Walker Cup team two years ago in Ireland and won the Southern Amateur at Pinehurst.
He majored in religion at Wake Forest, in part because of his faith, but mainly because “it was a pretty easy major.” Then he was asked which was the toughest course he took.
“Introduction to the Bible,” Simpson replied.
MARUYAMA AND MAJORS: Shigeki Maruyama of Japan uses a translator when speaking to the media, but he emphatically answered in English – with plenty of gestures – when the topic of major championships came up.
Maruyama says he struggles on long courses, and that’s what he finds at the majors.
“Big rough,” he said, holding his hands a foot apart vertically.
“Narrow fairways,” he said, holding his hands the same distance apart horizontally.
“No chance,” he concluded.
Then he was told Hazeltine could be 7,700 yards this year for the PGA Championship, and Maruyama went back to Japanese.
“Sayonara,” he said.