By Dan Reardon
Positioned as it is on the PGA Tour calendar, the Wyndham Championship has a split personality. On the one hand, it is a stop with a long history and a roster of champions any player would relish becoming a part of. On the other hand, it is the last opportunity to qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs. Toss in securing playing privileges for the 2018/19 season and the event unfolds on the weekend with an abundance of storylines.
Tracing its heritage to the Greater Greensboro Open, the tournament boasts the Texas triumvirate of Sam Snead, Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson as three of its first four champions. It returned to Sedgefield Country Club from Forest Oaks in 2008 and is the only Donald Ross course currently on the PGA Tour.
One year ago, Henrik Stenson and Ollie Schneiderjans shot ten under on the weekend with matching rounds of 66-64 with Stenson emerging with the one stroke victory. It was the Swede’s last win. It was also the last PGA Tour start for the late Australian Jarrod Lyle who will be remembered on the first tee.
Three times, as many as five players used Wyndham to climb into the playoffs. Last year Martin Flores, Rory Sabbatini, Harold Varner III and J.J. Henry placed in the Top 20 to move on. For Henry it was his second time using Greensboro as his stepping stone.
CBS’ Mark Immelman knows the course, knows the field and knows the significance the week has for a number of PGA Tour professionals.
A week ago, at the PGA Championship we saw the attention a restored Tiger Woods can bring to galleries and viewership. When he was dominating the game we almost had two Tours – the Tiger Tour and the regular Tour. Do you think there is any danger of that happening to events like Wyndham where this new generation of talented youngsters will be eclipsed by Woods?
“That’s a really good question. We all know and everyone on the Tour knows, including the young superstars, that Tiger really moves the needle, and when he is in the field events are just different. There is a different atmosphere. The crowds are different. The media attention is different. And so, it’s a given. And the young stars of today recognize that.
In the case of them really becoming invisible when he plays I really don’t think so, and the reason why is because they are just so talented. These young men can hang with Tiger any day of the week. We saw that with Brooks Koepka. We saw that with Justin Thomas. And because of that they are going to keep winning events. Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka are all going to be really relevant over the next couple of decades.
The thing Tiger has going for him is this new 2.0 version of himself I guess but he is also 42 competing with these twenty somethings. So, I don’t think so. I just think golf is going to be exciting over the next decade or so. It will be a nice mix of old versus youth and I look forward to seeing how the whole thing shakes out.”
A lot of history at Sedgefield Country Club. From your perspective what is challenging and interesting about the course?
“What’s interesting is just the history that is there. This is the club that dates back to 1938 and now it’s eleven years into its comeback. There’s the old Tudor clubhouse, the wall of champions and the Sam Snead plaque on that wall. You feel like you take a step back in time. The Donald Ross design is awesome. It’s got the two loops of nine which is very old school. There are lots of elevation changes. There are small undulating greens. The greens are always in spectacular shape.
It poses every question of the golfer. You’ve got to drive the ball well. The rough can be punitive. You can play from it but given the small greens you have to be accurate off the tee. The neat thing is, if you are playing well you can shoot low. We’ve seen that. Last year Si Woo Kim shot 60 in round one. But, if you are playing poorly, it will trip you up pretty fast. So, it’s a fun test. It’s a good test and the crowds are massive. It sort of checks all the boxes from my vantage point.”
Are there any holes that people tuning in should pay attention to?
“On the front nine I love a little stretch of holes, five, six, seven and eight. Five is a very reachable par 5. You might see an eagle there, highly likely if you drive the ball in the fairway. Six is a big valley par 4. You travel downhill and then back up hill. Seven is a tough downhill par 3 with a water hazard on the right. And then eight is a short par 4 where you can see birdies and eagles there too.
Then on the back nine it has an awesome finish. Fourteen is a good challenging dogleg left par 4. Fifteen is a par 5 that you can see eagles on. Sixteen is a wonderful little par 3 and there is always a hole-in-one prize there (two last year). And then seventeen and eighteen. You can make birdies at seventeen and then eighteen you have to hang onto your hat there.”
We have Henrik Stenson returning as champion there. We have Webb Simpson who has played very well this year in the field. Thoughts about those two players?
“Well Webb Simpson and Sedgefield are like cookies and cream. They just go together these two. Webb is so comfortable there. He went to college down the road at Wake Forest. He had his first PGA Tour victory there. In fact, he named one of his daughters Wynny after the Wyndham Championship. Webb and Sedgefield, I would bet my mortgage on the two of them.
As far as Henrik, it has been a funny sort of season. The results have belied his performance. Statistically he has been striking the ball well. He’s putting pretty well. He’s just not putting scores together and so it is just a matter of time before Stenson breaks through. He is doing everything well. It is just a matter of Henrik putting everything together.”
This is two tournaments, with the FedEx points being finalized this week. You have a player like Jhonattan Vegas sitting dangerously at 122 and Sergio Garcia being out of the FedEx playoffs for the first time.
“Everyone knows the situation. It’s an interesting dichotomy. You come to the Wyndham Championship and you get this vacation feel about the event. Wyndham puts on this great show. You almost feel like you are on holiday with beach balls and beach sand. And out on the course you have the same sort of sensation with tee markers and things.
But then you have these players who are playing for their PGA Tour lives really. So, you get the feel of vacation but then you get these players who are just grinding. As far as Vegas is concerned I think 122 is kind of safe. I think the average is 2.7 to three players advance from outside the top 125. Last year was the outlier when four guys made it in. You really never know with golf.
Last year Rory Sabatini went from 148 to 122 so there is some volatility for the guys who are on the bubble.
Sergio is interesting. We all thought, including myself that when he won his Masters a few years ago that might like the parking brake being released. Then the marriage and the birth of their little one and maybe priorities have changed for Sergio. You know I don’t think the fans out there realize what a holistic game it is and if you are the father of a new young baby things change in the house. Perhaps your practice times have varied and perhaps because you have been up a few nights your sleep is deprived so you don’t have the energy to work.
Maybe it’s the fact that Sergio is just elsewhere mentally. All of that being said we’re getting to the point where the season is about to end and the Ryder Cup is just around the corner. Those are things that are important to Sergio. And he has played well here. He has won here before at the Wyndham Championship. So, I wouldn’t be surprised if Sergio doesn’t come in and play really well.”