LAHAINA, HAWAII – Perhaps it was on cue or perhaps it was just overdue but the sun came out Monday at the Plantation Course at Kapalua where the PGA Tour begins its 2017 schedule with the SBS Tournament of Champions Thursday.
Normally, a sunny day on the west coast of Maui is no big deal but to the hear the locals tell it, it’s been raining for nearly two months and they have the mud-stained shoes and ‘Carts On Path’ signs to prove it.
A field of 32 players is here for what is annually a star-splashed, soft opening to the new year’s golf schedule.
Jason Day, last seen withdrawing from the Tour Championship in September, has been in Palm Springs tuning up his game and sounded like a man excited to start after finishing a practice session Monday.
Jordan Spieth has been here for a few days knocking the holiday rust off as is 2016 player of the year Dustin Johnson and Hideki Matsuyama, the game’s hottest player before the Christmas break.
Six eligible players – Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia, Charl Schwartzel, Danny Willett and Henrik Stenson – took a pass on Maui this year, most of them choosing to extend their brief offseason.
Some players made equipment changes effective Jan. 1 – Bubba Watson was showing off a pearl blue Volvik ball he will be playing as part of his new deal. It’s basically white but if you look closely in the sunshine, there is a soft glitter element, almost like a teenaged girl’s eye makeup.
This is a perfect starting point – actually it’s a restart in the wraparound season – given the spectacular setting. The Plantation course is a bucket list layout, sprawling and rolling through the Maui mountains at the base of a rain forest.
It is a gorgeous but leg-meltingly difficult walk, which explains why players and their caddies take carts during practice rounds. It’s why players are shuttled by cart in a couple of places to assure everyone finishes before dark.
The PGA Tour season started three months ago. But it feels new again at Kapalua.
There’s even a new commissioner with Jay Monahan taking over for Tim Finchem.
No wonder the sun came out.