Golf fans in the Northern Hemisphere stuck in the winter blues get a taste of the tropics.
The PGA Tour’s 2022-23 schedule resumes after a month or so off with the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
It’s an event that’s been held since 1953 and at its current venue, the Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort in Maui, Hawaii, since 1999.
The event was formerly reserved only for PGA Tour champions since the previous Tournament of Champions was played. In 2021, this was altered to include participants in the previous year’s Tour Championship to help fill the field after a pandemic-shortened season.
The tournament field qualifications returned to normal in 2022, but the Tour Championship provision has been permanently re-added beginning in 2023.
It’s a bastardization of the spirit and intent of the tournament in my eyes, but life goes on.
This year, 39 players are in the field for this 72-hole, no cut event. The purse is $15 million with a $2.7 million winner’s check.
The Sentry TOC is held at the lone par-73 on the PGA Tour.
It measures 7,596 yards and only features one par-3 on the back nine and three total. There are four par-5s and 11 par-4s.
It’s also perhaps the hilliest and most unfavorable jaunt for caddies.
You’ll never confuse the picturesque views of the Pacific Ocean with the azaleas and pines of Augusta National, but the two are comparable in the amount of elevation change and sidehill lies that come into play.
Both also feature wide fairways and playable second and third cuts.
Course upgrades were made in 2020 to implement Celebration Bermuda on tees and fairways and TifEagle Bermuda on the greens. Bunkers were also reworked.
You’ve got to go really low to win the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
Aside from Justin Thomas grinding it out at 14-under to win in a playoff in 2020, 21-under or lower was needed to win each of the last seven years.
Last year, three players set the new course record of 12-under 61 and Cam Smith set the 72-hole record (34-under) in his one-shot victory.
The weather forecast hints at a chance of rain in the middle of the week but it expects to be dry with temperatures in the 60s-80s for tournament days.
A fun stretch of golf is set to begin with a pair of events in Hawaii before the historic West Coast Swing. Let’s dive into the top 10 power rankings for the Sentry Tournament of Champions:
Tom Kim is making his debut at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last six-plus months, you know that seeing a course for the first time is no deterrent for young Tom Kim.
The 20-year-old out of South Korea was one of the big winners in golf in 2022. He started the year racking up big finishes on the Asian Tour. He took advantage of a sponsor’s exemption at the AT&T Byron Nelson (T-17th) and got into the U.S. Open where he took 23rd.
Kim contended across the pond at the Genesis Scottish Open (3rd) and made the cut at The Open at St. Andrew’s (T-47th) before winning the Wyndham Championship on the PGA Tour.
How’s a front-nine 27 and Sunday 61 do for not only coming from behind but winning in dominating fashion as a rookie on the PGA Tour? He already was granted special temporary membership on the PGA Tour, but this gave him entry into the playoffs.
He was exhausted by the time he got to the BMW Championship for his seventh week of competing in a row. Kim nearly earned his way into the Tour Championship, falling just shy at 35th in the FedEx Cup standings.
Kim got to recharge for the Presidents Cup in September. He was one of the stars at Quail Hollow thanks to his energy and personality, as well as his performance that impressed more than his 2-3-0 record shows.
His next time out produced a win at the Shriners Children’s Open, ahead of TPC Southwind stalwart Patrick Cantlay who tied for second place.
Kim was fairly active this fall. He teed it up in four Official World Golf Ranking-counting events, including T-25th at the ZOZO Championship and T-11th at the CJ Cup.
I think Kapalua is a tough nut to crack on the first try. However, I still think Kim is in too good of form to completely disregard.
Kim’s elite iron play can be a big asset here. He did not record enough rounds to count toward official PGA Tour rank last season. In 34 rounds, he gained .727 shots per round on approach, which would have slotted him sixth last season.