I have to admit I’ve always been a big fan of Tiger Woods. I first met young Eldridge when he was 16 years old (before he was really called Tiger) after seeing him hoist a 6 iron from 200 yards out at the 2nd hole at Pebble where the ball sailed up like a 9 iron into the fog, and came straight down into the middle of the green, I then knew he was a cut above the top amateur talent. After hearing about every Tiger joke/slander finally the barrage of Tiger talk has settled down. Although it’s hard for me to feel sorry for a guy that’s bagged a cool BILLION playing golf, I think it’s time that he faces the drummer and acts like a mature adult and faces his audience. Yeah some say Tiger is the game, others say he’s not bigger than the game, but the bottom line is Pro golf suffers without him. I’m not convinced that amateur golf suffers without him though, we as amateurs aren’t paid for TV ratings and for wearing Nike logos. We play because we love the game, and love to compete.
It’s really too bad that Professional Golf now dominates all the media channels while great historical events like the SF City have seen their media attention shrink to almost nothing. It was incredible that in 1984 when I played in my 1st City finals against legendary Aly Trompais, the Chronicle Sports page had featured on the cover of the sports page “Battle between Brokers for city title”. I understand why amateur golf doesn’t sell advertising or newspapers, and Tiger does. Although now what will advertisers do other than Nike that has the cliché right for Tiger “Just Do It”. I’m not knocking Tiger, and maybe I am envious of his massive success and bankroll. Hopefully after tomorrow we’ll know when he’ll be back to once again dominate the game.
My goal in writing this blog is to offer valuable information about many aspects of golf and my life long experience as a successful Amateur player.
SF CITY GOLF CHAMPIONSHIP MOVES INTO MATCH PLAY
Match play is how the game was originally meant to be played and still every major amateur event is played in a match play format – US Amateur, US Mid Amateur, British Amateur, California State Amateur, Northern California Amateur, and the SF City Championship all are match play events.
The SF City is one of the biggest and oldest amateur events anywhere and has a very rich history. The wonderful thing about golf is anyone at any skill level can find events to compete in.
Match play requires a different approach and strategy that I have certain beliefs about. Not always does the best player win in match play, and often the player who plays best towards the end of the match usually wins. It’s not like stroke play where each shot counts the same, in match play a horribly played hole results in merely a loss of that hole.
I have been quite fortunate to have played in hundreds of match play events, and have fared well (won the 3rd most matches in USGA events in the 1990’s behind Tiger and Jerry Courville) with over 25 USGA match play wins and over a hundred match play wins between the SF City, Nor Cal amateur and State Amateur. This experience still doesn’t take the butterflies away on the 1st tee or even the 18th tee…it keeps the pressure on you throughout the whole match.
With that said I now will give you my keys to winning matches in the SF City with shot by shot analysis of the front nine, and then tomorrow the back nine at Harding Park. But before I begin I’d like to make a few comments about my experience at Harding Park this afternoon. I was thrilled to see a contingent of mowers on the front nine giving the fairways a much needed trim. While on the 4th hole I met the head of the greens keepers Kevin Reavey, who told me that they haven’t been able to mow at normal intervals for the past two months due to heavy rainfall. The front nine is still very soft and moist, while the back is in much dryer and in better condition. The course will again play long which will require a strategy different than when the course is running and rolling. All yardages and sight lines are from the blue tees. Photos of each hole will be below the description of how I suggest playing it.
Hole #1 395…This straight away par 4 doesn’t require length or great accuracy off the tee. The proper target is the double trees just left of the green. The fairway is actually on the right portion of what you’ll see, but a miss left leaves a bad angle and tree trouble. The goal here in match play is to get off to a good solid start. The green slopes slightly from left to right and like many of the greens are narrow at the front of the green. The front right bunker is to be avoided, especially with a right pin. The second shot to this green plays slightly uphill which I will typically add 5 yards to the distance. It amazing how many bogies are made under the jitters of the 1st hole. Take a safe line into the green and get off to a solid start. The green is 30 yards long and near the back of the green is 24 yards wide.
Hole #2 430…This is a tough uphill par 4. With zero roll in the fairway or rough, a solid drive is important. The big tree in the distance is the proper line with a right center drive leaving the best angle to this green. The fairway bunkers on the left are to be avoided and a miss right can have you blocked out. The second shot plays 7-10 yards uphill, and with cold and windy conditions it will play even longer. Over the past 30 years, I cannot tell you how many players I’ve seen come up significantly short on this hole. With the pins back, a shot left on the front of the green will make a two putt very challenging. Yet I’ve only seen a few shots ever sail over the back of this green which is sloped from back to front and left to right. The green is 34 yards long and gets progressively wider from front to back. The back of green is 24 yards wide, while only 17 yards wide in the front third of the green. In match play, a regrettable blunder would be a short sided miss. I’ll win this hole 50% of the time with a par, so I take a very safe line into this green, and always take an extra club up the hill.
#3 165 or 183…It seems we play the back tee most of the time and again we are going uphill, so add another 5-10 yards to properly adjust. The shot to this green should be aimed at the far left tree (of 4 trees) that are in the distance behind this green. I will work the ball off this tree to a right or left pin. As with hole #1, this green gets progressively wider from front to back. Fifteen yards onto this green is where the second tier begins with 5 yards to the top of the tier and another 15 yards to the back. The first third of the green is 20 yards wide, while the back third widens to 33 yards. I again tend to error on the side of caution, knowing that a par on this hole wins often enough to warrant a conservative line. However, if my opponent has hit a shot that looks like a guaranteed birdie, I then will take dead aim into a corner. Another key to this hole is getting the ball on the right level, leaving a better chance at success. The grass around this green is very thick and uneven; a missed green here will be a challenge.
#4 580…The line off the tee here is the group of three trees in the distance, which is the middle of the fairway. This is a generous fairway at 34 yards wide along with another 10 yards on each side. The mistake I see here in match play is when someone lays to far back. Although the second shot may look narrow, the shot calls for a straight or slightly fading ball flight. The right side is where the fairway runs and leaves the best approach into this large green. Again, this green widens as you go back with a total length of 35 yards and a generous width of 28 yards towards the back of the green. The best approach is to leave your shot slightly left of the hole, which will usually give you an uphill putt. This is a hole you should aggressively approach to make a birdie 4. I again often see shots come up short on this approach as I think players don’t allow for the cool breezy conditions. During Feb. and March, less experienced players often get frustrated when their distance is negatively affected by the weather.
#5 395…This tee shot requires you to pull the club you have the most control over. If a driver is that club, pull the driver. I prefer a metal 3 off this tee which usually still only leaves a wedge into this narrow green. Getting the yardage into this green correct is key as this green is 45 yards long and 20 yards wide near the front and slims down to 14 yards wide near the back of the green. A shot missed left of the green will leave a very difficult up and in, especially if the pin is on the left. Give yourself a good uphill opportunity here by leaving your second shot a bit short and right of the target.
#6 440…As with #2, this is a longer par 4 that requires a solid tee shot. From the tee it looks like a very narrow opening, but don’t let that affect your target line which should be at a tree in the background in the distance. I have found a shot slightly missed right is now better than a hooked tee shot. A row of trees on the right are no longer looming to catch an errant drive down the right side. The angle into this very wide target is also best from the right. With the green at 34 yards wide and 34 yards deep, you have a very large target to negotiate. Taking the left bunker on requires an additional 10 yards from the front of the green. Typically I will work the ball from the middle of the green to keep a par as the primary objective. This hole, like #2, will be won 50% of the time in match play, with a par. Regardless of how you stand in match play, the wet conditions make it imperative to accept your pars on these tougher, longer holes and attack the shorter holes to gain ground on your opponent. This particular green crowns in the middle, causing balls to run off the green on both sides making for a difficult putt if you are on the wrong side of the slope. Try to leave your second shot on the proper half of this large green to afford yourself a better chance at a birdie.
#7 335 or 140…If we are able to use this saturated fairway, I suggest taking a club that will put you just short of the fairway bunker on the left center which is 245 yards off the tee. This shot plays a good 10 yards uphill and typically into the breeze. The temp tee is approx 140 yards from the middle of the green. This green is long at 42 yards and narrow at 15 yards in the front portion and 23 yards towards the back. A back left pin requires an additional 10 yards over the left bunker from the middle of the green. This is a birdie hole and should be attacked. I play the second shot a good 5 yards longer than the distance, which over the years has proven to be quite accurate.
#8 200…This downhill par 3 really never seems to play downhill unless you can feel a good breeze behind you. Again the trouble is short left and right. The pit short left is especially tough as the lie will never be good down there. I take my shots off the middle of the green, as the green at the middle is the widest at 34 yards. The key is to hit a solid shot that gets you somewhere in the proper quadrant of this green. This is also a hole that normally will produce a good result with a par 3 in match play. With the rough conditions surrounding the greens, there is an extra premium on getting your shots on the putting surface.
#9 495…Bombs away- be aggressive off this tee as a good drive should leave you a reachable second shot into this green. I typically take a left center line down this fairway to avoid any chance of flirting with the right fairway bunkers. The key to the second shot here is to NOT short side yourself into this green. A shot in the left bunker will be a very difficult up and in, same with a right pin, right miss. This is a long green at 37 yards, and is typically quite slow putting up towards the back of the green. Be aggressive here, make a 3 or 4.
CONCLUSION…The front nine requires you to get your shots further into the green to be on the safe side. If you are miss hitting shots, the front can leave you well behind in the match. I believe taking more club will leave you with better opportunities in match play and keep you from short sided attempts at par. In match play you are playing a combination of the course FIRST, and your opponent SECOND. Of course I will I take a safer line if my opponent is in trouble. But be careful not to get away from the shots you are most comfortable with by staying committed to the shot making that got you here and keep breathing as the pressure in match play is always more intense than stroke play.
Tomorrow, more thoughts on the back nine at Harding Park if the weather cooperates.