Pat Brennan / Sports editor
Fans traveling to Muirfield Village Golf Club for the Memorial Tournament will see that, like last year, the 16th green is still playing fast. Tournament founder and host, Jack Nicklaus, said the hole, renovated in summer 2010, along with the entire championship course, will continue to play fast throughout the weekend. Nicklaus discussed the maturity of the 16th hole, other changes to the 7,352-yard course and issues facing the game of golf during a Wednesday press conference on the eve of the first-round of Memorial Tournament play.
Nicklaus, an Ohio State alumnus and winner of 18 of golf’s major tournaments, began his remarks by saying that despite earlier-than-expected spring warmth, Muirfield is “good, as it always is.”
“Good” certainly doesn’t mean easy for the players vying for the championship, though. Nicklaus said the speed of the course will show as a result of drainage installed at Muirfield during the last four years.
“I think we’ve got an opportunity for the first time in a long time, and I think we’ll probably have for the next two days anyway, pretty fast conditions,” Nicklaus said. “But I think that’s good for the golf course. It’s good for the tournament. It’s good to see these guys play the golf course rather than in a soft fashion.”
Rain, predicted for Friday, according to Weather.com, could soften the course and therefore slow players’ shots in the final two rounds of the tournament on Saturday and Sunday.
Nicklaus said he expects a fast track between now and the arrival of any forecasted rain because of dry conditions resulting from the installation of “about nine miles of drainage into the golf course over the last four years.”
“Even when we have heavy rain,” Nicklaus said. “Now the golf course drains very, very rapidly.”
The par-3 16th
The tournament has been a PGA Tour event since 1976, and renovations to the 16th hole two summers ago caused problems for some golfers in last year’s tournament. The hole is 201-yards with the fairway curving from right to left. As in 2011 – the first year of the redesigned hole – a pond guards the length of the green’s left-hand side. Golfers averaged 3.3 strokes on the 16th during the 2011 tournament, and the hole is rated as the second-toughest on the course, according to “The Memorial Tournament Magazine.”
Nicklaus said he’s happy with how the hole has matured.
“It plays well,” he said. “The green, obviously, last year was a new green, so it’s probably a little firmer than what the other (holes) are now. It’ll still play quick because it was designed to have the green run away from you.”
Pace of play
Some believe the pace of play is an issue that has risen to the top of those facing the game of golf, but Nicklaus said he didn’t think the problem extended to the PGA Tour to a large degree.
“I don’t think the Tour has a big problem with it. They have an individual every once in a while – I used to be that individual,” Nicklaus said. “The guys have to learn. I learned how to not be a slow player. It took me a few years, but I learned as the other guys will, too.
“But I think, in general, the Tour is pretty good,” he said.
Nicklaus suggested stroke penalties as opposed to monetary fines for slow players in the professional ranks.
Young golfers are also trying to imitate professionals who play 7,500-yard courses over the course of four hours and spend time over each shot, Nicklaus said.
“It’s not that bad,” Nicklaus said of the pace of play on the PGA Tour. “Should it be faster? Yeah, it could be faster, but I don’t think that’s a major problem.”
Tiger Woods was absent from the 2011 tournament, but not this year.
Woods, a four-time Memorial Tournament winner, joins a star-studded lineup of other players that have won the event including Vijay Singh (1997), Fred Couples (1998), Jim Furyk (2002), Ernie Els (2004), Carl Pettersson (2006), K.J. Choi (2007), Justin Rose (2010) and Steve Stricker (2011).
Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Rory McIlroy, Louis Oosthuizen. Stewart Cink, Charl Schwartzel, Ben Curtis have each won at least one major championship and will be part of the Tournament’s 2012 field.
First-round action begins Thursday at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio.