Watching the conclusion of the Sony Open was a masterclass in course management. Hideki Matsuyama was one stroke back playing the last hole of the tournament. The reachable Par 5 18th hole at Wai’alae Country Club has provided so much great drama over the years.
Much like most of the back nine, it is a right to left swinging dogleg from the tee box. In fact, four of the final five holes to finish are right to left bending holes. Only the Par 3 17th is not. By the back nine on Sunday, the tournament had become a two-player race. Russell Henley the 54- hole leader and the current Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama.
As the two orchestrated their way through the winding holes at Wai’alae, it was very interesting to see their strategy from the tee. The best example of this lesson came on the final hole of the tournament. Matsuyama was one stroke down and needed an eagle to try and catch Henley who would almost certainly birdie the hole. Taking full advantage of the teeing area Hideki went to the far right of the teeing ground.
Almost awkwardly close to that tee marker, Hideki took out driver and made a very aggressive swing at the ball. Taking on the angle of the dogleg he carried the corner and placed himself in great position to attack the Par 5 in two. Henley on the other hand, had the one stroke lead. He took out a fairway wood and tried to drive the ball more conservatively into the corner of the bend in the fairway.
Henley’s drive unfortunately rolled through the elbow of the turning fairway and into a bunker guarding the outside edge. From there, Russell was forced to layup and try to make birdie in a more conventional Par 5 manner. Matsuyama on the other hand reached the green in two, made birdie and forced Henley to do the same. Henley made a par and the two were tied.
Now it was time for a sudden death playoff and the two went back to the 18th tee. This time Henley played first and again drove it into the same fairway bunker. With driver in hand and having witnessed Russell’s mistake, Hideki switched to a fairway wood and placed his tee shot in perfect position. There’s been a couple PGA coaching moments already in this Sunday summary, but here’s the most important. There are multiple ways to play a dogleg hole. You must consider not only the shape of the hole as it applies to your game, but also the situation.
From the fairway bunker, Henley laid up again and then from the middle of the fairway,
Matsuyama won the tournament with one superb swing.
Playing a dogleg hole presents a specific challenge from the tee. Consider the course you play most often. How can you adjust your strategy to score better? Watching Hideki and Henley through the back nine was fascinating. Take their approach and apply it to your game off the tee on these turning holes. With a little extra thought before you start the hole, you just might find yourself in a better place than usual.