The Aura of ’08 Still Shines Brightly at Torrey Pines

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USGA and local officials celebrate the 2021 agreement

In a way, it’s still very much 2008 every day at Torrey Pines.

The mystique of the epic ’08 Open, site of Tiger Woods’ dramatic sudden-death victory over Rocco Mediate, now draws golfers from around the globe to tee it up on the South Course and walk what has become hallowed golf ground.

Merchandise with the ’08 Open logo still sells, stories of that week are repeatedly, and happily, retold and golfers mostly ask, “Hey, when’s that going to happen again?”

Now we know.

Torrey was granted its long awaited and much anticipated encore Tuesday when it was officially revealed “America’s Championship” would return to Torrey in 2021. City and USGA officials jointly announced and celebrated the agreement, passing out 2021 hats and having photos taken with a replica of the U.S. Open trophy.

The sentiment of recapturing the magic of ’08 was expressed by everyone, including the new mayor, using words such as “electricity,” “passion” and “excitement” in what they hoped to recreate in 2021. They’ll will be hard pressed to match the original, but we’ve now got seven years to ponder about how it could be topped.

After the announcement, I asked a few of the Torrey Pines staff members why it is that the 08 Open captured people’s imaginations in a way that few sporting events, not just in golf, rarely do. Think about it: Are people still talking about the 08 Super Bowl? The World Series? The Final Four? No.

Heck, people aren’t still talking about those things from a year ago.

Aside from the Hollywood-level drama, what’s different is part of what makes golf different.

“You can actually play the course where they played the U.S. Open,” says Torrey Pines Head Pro Joe DeBock. “Torrey Pines became very popular just for that fact. The course brings back those memories in a way that just going back to a stadium doesn’t.

“And it was one of the greatest championships ever.”

For comparison, you can try to recreate Christian Laettner’s iconic NCAA Tournament shot, but you can’t do it at the free-throw line of The Spectrum in Philadelphia.

However, you can walk to the 18th green at Torrey and recreate the 12-foot birdie putt Tiger drained to force the championship into an extra day.

And DeBock has. Many, many times now.

“I’ve recreated that putt so many times,” he says. “I originally did it for the media, but people still ask about it all the time.

“It’s a hard putt. If you get it too left, it stays left. It you get it too high, it stays high. It’s a tough putt to recreate.”

But it’s all part of the daily Open conversation at  Torrey.

“I talk about the U.S. Open in every lesson I give, and every tournament we have causes people to reminisce about it. It’s always a hot topic around here and will be even more so now.”

Possibly the only thing DeBock gets asked about more than the 08 Open is when there’d be another one at Torrey. DeBock said he’d been harboring a hunch for a while that it’d be back in 2021.

“When they announced Winged Foot (in New York) for 2020, I started to feel good about us getting it back in 2021,” he said. “When you look at the East/West geography balance, it made real good sense. And enough time had gone by.”

For those that don’t know, by the way, the 2019 Open is at Pebble Beach.

They opened the press event on Tuesday with a video montage of the 2008 Open and seconds later, Tiger was emphatically fist-pumping all over again.

“I still get chills watching that,” confided USGA Vice President Dan Burton. “And I know Rocco does, too.”

In a way the legacy and stature of 2008 has only grown since Tiger’s last putt fell, largely because that’s where his major march toward Jack’s record came to a historical hault.

For what will be six years now when Tiger tees it up at The Masters, Torrey has been the point of reference for his last major title in what still ranks as the most compelling storyline in sports.

Tiger will be 45 when June 2021 rolls around. Where his major odometer will be by then is anybody’s guess, but if he’s still in need of another to break the record, you’ve got to believe this will be coming too late in the game.

But that type of speculation led to a fun thought from Paul Cushing, the City of San Diego’s maintenance manager for golf operations.

“Who knows where the 2021 U.S. Open champion is right now?” he said. “He could be in high school. He could be in another country.

“It’s fun to think about it.”

It is. And we’ve got seven more years to do it. Let the game begin.

ImageFor $36, pin flags from the 2008 U.S. Open still sell

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The U.S. Open Returns to Torrey Pines in 2021

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Just wanted to get something up about the big news of the golf day out here – the U.S. Open returning to Torrey Pines in 2021.

This is huge news and long anticipated, basically ever since Tiger Woods’ last putt dropped on his epic sudden-death victory in 2008, which, as we all know well, is his last major victory. I’ve got a post coming about the aura of the 2008 U.S. Open and how it still shines at Torrey every day, but for now I thought I’d give you a glimpse of the new hottest piece of golf gear in SoCal as of, oh, 1 p.m. today.

Traffic to the pro shop should be picking up any minute now. A great and well-deserved day at Torrey and for Southern California golf. Congrats to all the staff members who worked hard for years to make this happen for San Diego.

More thoughts on all of this to come.

Revisiting “The Big Miss” and Hank Haney’s Predictions About Tiger and Majors

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I use the word “revisit” but that’s mostly in reference to myself as I have yet to meet someone in California who actually “visited” Hank Haney’s tell-all about coaching Tiger Woods when it was released prior to the 2012 Masters.

So, for almost all of you, the passages I’m about to quote from the closing chapter of “The Big Miss” will be entirely new.  For what I remember reading at the time, that chapter, titled “Adding It Up,” didn’t get any play in the press coverage of the book, which focused almost exclusively on injuries Tiger incurred while being fixated for a time on being a Navy SEAL and training toward that end.

That was the easy tabloid takeaway at the time from a book that actually gave quite a bit of insight into Tiger and his game, enough that you never watch him the same way again after reading it.

The title ends up having multiple meanings and applications in the book, but its literal meaning is “the big miss” the pros fear off the tee. In Tiger’s case, that’s a big duck hook that comes out under pressure and can ruin runs at titles, and, in the bigger picture Tiger is always measured in, majors.

Haney contends in the book that Woods has more less become scared of his driver and controlling his otherworldly swing speed, thus the club he rode to greatness and domination becoming his nemesis as this point in his career.

That’s why Haney concludes that if Tiger is to break Jack’s record of 19 majors, he’ll have to do it via British Opens, where the courses are hard and fast and more conducive to iron play off the tee.

Eight majors have passed for Tiger since the book was published and so far the predictions in “The Big Miss” are 8-0. I thought about this after the Farmers, when Haney and Tiger got into a media tiff about how much his emphasis on weight training has hampered his swing.

Haney certainly seems to have plenty of appetite left for his issues with Tiger, who now has not won a major since his epic U.S. Open win at Torrey in 2008, leaving him stuck on 14 majors, five short of passing Jack.

As we all recall, Tiger bombed out of the Farmers this year, not even making it to Sunday on a week that many predicted would be just another victory lap at Torrey Pines for Tiger.

That wasn’t the way anyone expected Tiger to start up a new year that followed five wins and another Player of the Year honor in 2013. Momentum seemed to be building again for him and many looked at the Tiger-friendly majors line up and had already predicted, of all things, multiple major victories for him in 2014.

You haven’t heard much from those people since Torrey, but we have heard from Haney, whose book I recently tracked down and partially re-read. Since the Jack vs. Tiger debate is always just bubbling below the surface in golf when it’s not at a full boil, I thought I’d go back and quote a few portions of the book and see how it scores two years out.

I was going to wait to do this prior to the Masters, but Tiger and Hank’s media squabble prompted me to move it up.

So here’s some of what you missed in “The Big Miss” when you missed it the first time.

         “The most asked question about Tiger is whether he’ll break Jack’s record for major championships. … Certainly there are questions of health, physique and technique to consider, but to me the most important issue is desire.”

Here’s where Haney picks up his familiar theme of questioning Tiger’s practice habits and it echoes those of people who wondered how much Tiger prepped for Torrey.

         “I’ve never known a player who lost his hunger for practice to regain that same level of hunger. Nick Faldo, who in his prime was one of the most diligent and intense workers the game has ever known, said that after he won the 1996 Masters, he lost the drive to practice. … That drop-off marked the end of his career as a champion.”

But then Haney’s tone changes and he seems to forecast Tiger being an exception.

     “If Tiger can keep his work ethic strong, he’ll sort out his golf swing. Whatever theory he’s using, he’ll find a way – either in concert with Sean Foley or another teaching or be finding his own accommodation of their theories.”

        However …

        “However, I don’t think simply solidifying his technique alone will fix his problem with the driver. There is a mental issue there that needs to be addressed, and the odds are against it ever being completely resolved.”

And here’s what mean when I talk about this book changing how you watch Tiger. Remember the British Open last year when Tiger couldn’t keep up with co-leader Lee Westwood on Saturday? Westwood was hitting driver and blowing it by him, while Tiger was settling for 3-wood/5-wood/irons and finding traps and losing ground. According to an SB Nation column from the tourney, Woods didn’t hit his first driver until the 39th hole of the tourney. You can look up the column by Emily Kay that basically reads like it came right out of Haney’s book.

Which brings us to Haney’s British Open theory.

        “(The driver issue is) a weakness that tells the most in majors. It’s why, unless he finds some kind of late-career fix with the driver, Tiger’s best chances in majors will come on courses with firm, fast-running fairways that will allow him to him irons off the tee. Of the four majors, the British Open best fits this profile.”

After a strong start, Tiger finished tied for sixth, five shots behind winner Phil Mickelson. His week at Muirfield played into Tiger’s new trend of fading on the weekends of majors.

And it’s largely due to putting. Tiger seems to lose his touch and feel for the greens, which he was already struggling with when Haney wrote his book.

Here’s Hank on Tiger’s putting:

        “I’m not sure what to make of Tiger’s putting problems. Technically, he still looks good over the ball and has a textbook stroke. But putting is undone by the smallest and most mysterious of errors, and players rarely improve their putting after their mid-30s. … His putting, both his ability to lag long ones close and his solidness in holing from within six feet, was the foundation of Tiger’s ability to close out victories when he had the lead.”

And save for a few flurries of vintage Tiger putting in 2013, he largely didn’t look like the player we’ve known.

And if you can’t putt in the clutch, you can’t close, which is what leads Haney to doing a little math about how many majors Tiger will likely need to contend in to get five major victories. And this was Hank’s math going into 2012.

         “He’s not quite the same closer kind of closer, or not quite as fortunate as he’s been, (so) it could take 15 or more such opportunities. It seems like a tall order for the Tiger who enters 2012.”

And now for the Tiger who enters 2014 staring at basically the same equation, but now at age 38.

Hank closes by playing into an argument John Miller trumpets of how intense the media scrutiny will become if/once Tiger moves off 14 and gets his majors train moving again. And this is also where Haney sees the biggest difference from Nicklaus.

         “A final factor to consider it that, whereas Jack Nicklaus’s final few majors were won in a historical vacuum and were essentially padding to his record, Tiger will face ever mounting pressure and scrutiny the closer he gets to No. 19. Assuming the erosions of age, for Tiger, the soon he can get to 18, the better.”

Haney then predicts Tiger needed a major in 2012 to put a restrictor plate on the pressure he’ll feel to go faster to catch Jack as the battle with age and time sets in. Well, we know how that turned out.

Haney closes with a hopeful note on never counting out Tiger’s genius, but then gets back to a central theme of  how Tiger’s personal turmoil caused him to lose his mental edge – and caused his biggest miss, a shot at golf history.

         “Unlike the Tiger who in his 20s and early 30s was virtually indomitable, today’s Tiger has discovered that in like real disaster lurks. … That realization creates doubt, and in competitive golf doubt is a killer.

         “The big miss found its way into his life. If it’s ingrained, primed to emerge at moments of crisis, his march toward golf history is over.”

So there you have it. You can question Hank Haney’s motivations, and especially his ethics, for writing the book, but his observations to date are spot on.

Like I said, I found the book an insightful read, though a bit of flat one, and it adds perspective to understanding of the greatest sports chase/storyline of our lifetimes and the debate that will never die until Tiger either breaks Jack record or hangs up his clubs.

We’ve got a lot of years left on this debate, but the score for “The Big Miss” going into year three post-publish is that it hasn’t missed yet.

Turf and Surf: Saturday photos from Torrey and Cardiff

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Photo courtesy of Kimberly Burditt

Just wanted to post a few shots from the day and the drive home. Stopped in Cardiff after the tournament at Torrey and got the shots below of big waves rolling in before sunset.

The above pic is the scene around the 5th green today, where Jordan Spieth hit his approach long and left of the green, had to take relief from a cart path and ended up taking double bogey. To his credit, he overcome a tough start and remains the story of the tourney – you know, if you don’t count Phil and Tiger being out of it.

I’m intrigued by Spieth and followed him for half his round today. I’m going back tomm. and we’ll see if he can really grab the golf world’s attention by finishing what he started. Should be fun.

See you at Torrey.

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Friday FIO Photos: Jordan and Tiger

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This was the closest I got to the story of the day on Friday. When Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth played No. 18 on the North Course on Friday, they passed right by the media center.

After both reaching the par-5 in two, Spieth would birdie while Woods would par, and they would go on to have dramatically different rounds after.

I’ve got some thoughts and observations on Spieth, but I knew he would dominate the post-round coverage today so I thought I’d roll them into a Saturday piece.

I can tell you Woods’ missed birdie putt on 18 was met with a gasp from the gallery; his lipped out par putt to end his round was met my gasps and few jeers by those gathered around a TV in the Lodge. Very curious to observe the great divide of sentiment that still surrounds Tiger.

But what a change in story lines we have from what was expected. Many thought this would be another victory lap for Tiger and instead Torrey Pines has been handed a scintillating rising-star storyline instead. Highly curious to see how this plays out, but no doubt Spieth’s stock went way up on Friday. He was very composed and calm about it after and seemed poised to follow it up over the weekend.

Curious side note: Was selfishly a bit glad to see Billy Horschel climb the leader board Friday after my practice round piece on him.

Spieth/Horschel in the final group on Sunday? I’d write that.

As they say, see you at Torrey.

& here’s a few more of Jordan and Tiger from Friday.

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FIO Day Two: Capturing Torrey’s Transformation

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This is my final follow-up post to the preview piece I did for the January issue of Southland Golf where I documented the maintenance practices at Torrey Pines and how they prepare the course to peak for the Farmers Insurance Open.

As a complement to that piece, I wanted to go back during the tournament and document the transformation, so, working again with Torrey’s head maintenance supervisor Paul Cushing, we ventured onto the South Course at about 3 p.m. Thursday. Because of the 30-minute fog delay to start the day, groups were still on the course, so Cushing and his crew had to wait a bit so as to not disturb play.

After spending about 45 minutes watching Cushing and his crew work, I decided it might be best to just analyze the process over one hole, so here’s a look at the work on No. 4 on the South, which is where the grounds crew started and then worked toward the clubhouse.

The following is a little photo essay about the process, which utilizes City of San Diego workers and volunteers each day to return the course to championship condition in about four hours at the end of each round. Cushing also shared that during Farmers week superintendents from across the country will fly in to work the tournament to get experience.

It was interesting to watch them work as a team and restore the shine to Torrey Pines.

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This is the maintenance crew and machinery staged near the 4th hole, awaiting the go-ahead from Cushing. The orange machine is worth noting. That’s a roller. It follows the mowers to help tighten the fairways. It’s a process Torrey added after Cushing worked the U.S. Open at The Olympic Club.

“It really makes a difference,” Cushing says. “It really tightens the turf and gives shots that extra little bounce.”

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     This captures quite a bit of the process in a snapshot. You can see the three mowers working in tandem in the fairway. They make one pass up and one pass back to keep turning to an absolute minimum. You can also see the hand-mowing on the approach and on the fringe. Then hand-watering takes place green-side and in the bunkers, but not on the green itself. To maintain green speeds, the greens to unwatered, spritzed at most, during the tournament.

One each hole, you’ve got about seven pieces of equipment and at least 12 workers working in unison.

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After the round, the bunkers are graded smooth in preparation for them to be hand-raked the next morning. Seemingly little things like bunker contours matter to players. The bunkers are raked to have the grain going toward the hole, which making it more conducive for an approach shot.

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     This shows the fairways making their return pass and, in the distance, you can see the roller working behind them.

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       This is the half-and-half look the mowers achieve. As you can see, the effect is created by simply mowing in two different directions. While pleasing in person, the look is largely done for TV, Cushing says.

“We never forget that the blimp is watching us,” he says. “That’s also why our lines have to be perfectly straight.”

The final phase of the transformation, which I neglected to get a photo of, is the volunteer crew that follows the machinery. They’re repairing the divots, which seemingly dot the fairway every two feet or less where approach shots are commonly taken.

If there’s an imperfect divot, the loose turf has to be removed and the divot filled with a seed/sand mixture. It won’t heal overnight, but it at least re-starts the process, Cushing says.

Image    And then the crew moves to the next hole and the process starts all over again until both courses – the North and South – are completed.

The one time-saver, at least on Thursday and Friday, is that hole locations don’t have to be re-cut. The pins and cups simply have to be removed and then replaced. Golfers who played the North Thursday play the South Friday and vice versa.

“They want the golfers to get the exact same golf course the other players had,” Cushing says. “It doesn’t save us a ton of time, but it is one less thing.”

I just wanted to say thanks again to Paul for sharing his time and his photos. I hope readers enjoyed this inside look at the process and gained a little appreciation for what it takes to make a championship golf course really sparkle.

Pro-Spective: No. 7 on the North Course

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Excuse the golfer on the right, who walked into my shot. This is the uphill, dog-leg right No. 7 on the North Course. It follows the dramatic downhill par-3 and is the last of the ocean holes on the North Course.

      While the pros largely can be much more aggressive on the North than the South – look at Thursday’s scoring split – Scott Bentley, our resident pro, says this is one hole the pros still have to respect.

       “It’s the tightest driving hole on the North. You’ll see a lot of 3-woods here,” he says. “You don’t want to get overaggressive here and bring in the trees on the right.”

      Playing at over 400 yards, a 3-wood off the tee still leaves a 7- or 8-iron approach, and Bentley says pros can’t afford to miss long.

     “You definitely don’t want to be over this green, because it will be sloping away from you.”

     It’ll be interesting to see today how many strokes the players who started on the South can make up on the North, including on No. 7.

FIO Day One: A Salute To A Classy Tradition

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When I arrived at the course today, I made a point to make the 14th hole on the South Course my first stop. I’d heard about the tournament’s annual tribute to the military and wanted to see it for myself.

What I witnessed is an incredibly classy use of a golf hole.

For those unfamiliar with a tradition that is now in its fifth year, the flag on 14 is an American flag. When the golfers reach the green, one of the caddies removes the flag and hands it to one of two waiting servicemen, who are in full dress.

The servicemen hold the flagstick to prevent the flag from touching the ground in a breach of flag etiquette.

When play of the hole is finished, the caddie retrieves and replaces the flagstick and then two more servicemen rotate in for the next group.

This is all staged at a hole were the grandstand, called the Patriots’ Outpost, is filled with active-duty soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen and Coast Guard, all of whom receive free admission to the tournament.

What a great way to give back to the veterans and honor their service.

The hole is sponsored this year by a company called ViaSat, which is a provider of network services.

ViaSat President Rick Baldridge says half his company’s business involves the military so sponsoring the hole was a natural. The sponsorship included providing the attending servicemen with free Wi-Fi at the event.

“San Diego is a great military town, and giving these guys a venue to come out and bring their families, it’s exciting to them. The military guys love golf. That’s why all the bases have golf courses.

“It’s a noble game and it’s a noble way to honor their contributions.”

I can’t improve on that, but I’ll just say I wish all, instead of some, golfers acknowledged the servicemen before moving on to the 15th tee. Doesn’t seem much to ask.

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Pro-Spective: No. 13 on the South

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         This mini-feature is an attempt to look at a pivotal hole each day through the eyes of a former pro who has played the tournament.

Our pro is Scott Bentley, who played the tournament three times in the 80s-90s, which, of course, is before the redesign of the South. Still, 11, 12, 13 was a pivotal stretch then and certainly is now.

Bentley says it’s hard to talk about 13 without mentioning the holes that precede it, 11 being a long par-3 and 12 being a notoriously tough par-4 back toward the ocean. Then 13 is a par-5 that played over 600 yards on Thursday.

“I always felt like if you bogeyed 11 or 12, or both, it deflated you a bit,” Bentley says. “But if you parred those, you were ready to score on 13.”

There are two tee boxes for No. 13, one being far right that makes the hole more of a dogleg left. That’s how it was played Thursday.

And it was a three-shotter for each of the groups I saw come through. The ones who struggled the most were those playing their second shots from the thick left rough. That included Tiger, but unlike the others, who bogeyed, he managed to save par.

The 13th green is front by tiered bunkers, making coming up short quite undesirable.

“You’ve really got to think about your second shot there if you don’t get home in two, because you want to leave it on an upslope. The greens are firm and won’t hold shorter shots.

“But if you birdie 13, it sets you up to make a little run.”

Bentley is now the Golf Course Manager at Torrey Pines and Mission Bay. He’ll give his hole insights daily here, and we thank for him volunteering.

Gearing Up

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If you haven’t yet seen it on TV, you won’t be able to miss it at the course.

Adidas is debuting it’s new adizero blue shoe at the tournament. It’s being sported by all the TaylorMade players and is prominently displayed around the course, including the patio of the clubhouse.

The shoe, in its many styles of blue, is a pleasing color contrast to the launch of the initial line and is certainly less loud that the Big Bird-yellow shoes many players wore a year ago.

It’s also worth a mention is Phil Mickelson’s blue KPMG hat is on sale at the merchandise tent on the South Course.

The proceeds of sales of the hat go to fight illiteracy.

You can learn more at philsbluehat.com.

Broadcast Byte

Tiger Woods’ 2014 tournament debut prompted another round of will-he-or-won’t-he regarding breaking Jack Nicklaus’ record for victories in major championships.

As most golfers on the planet should know, Jack’s record is 18 and Tiger has been holding at 14 for five years now.

I didn’t discover this until I got home and watched the tape of the broadcast, but The Golf Channel’s Gary McCord added a new two-cents of perspective on the chase.

McCord talked about Tiger now being age 38 and what it would take to break Jack’s record with 19 majors.

He used Phil Mickelson’s five majors as a gauge.

“So to get to 19, he’s got to have Phil’s career starting at age 38,” McCord said.

He didn’t really finish that thought, but I imagined him humming, “Things That Make You Go … Hmmm.”

  

 

Wednesday at Torrey in Photos

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Photos courtesy of Paul Cushing

This was the ominous end to the day Wednesday, a scene that caused many to recall last year’s fogged out Saturday round. Hopefully we won’t see a repeat.

Below are some photos taken late Wednesday of the maintenance crew prepping the course for play today. You’re going to be reading a lot more about this process on Friday. I’ll be on the grounds all day today filling my notebook and getting you some unique takes on the tournament.

Have fun following Day One.

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FIO Course Conditions: Shades of the ’08 U.S. Open at Torrey?

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Editor’s Note: This is a follow up to the Southland Golf Magazine piece I did in January about the months of maintenance and preparation that go into preparing Torrey Pines to host the Farmers Insurance Open

A warm San Diego winter nearly devoid of rain has helped give Torrey Pines a golf course for the Farmers Insurance Open that is reminiscent of the PGA Tour’s major held there in 2008, says Paul Cushing, Torrey’s lead maintenance supervisor.

Cushing, the City San Diego’s Maintenance Manager for Golf Operations, described the course players were practicing on Tuesday, with thick rough and slick greens, as “U.S. Open-type conditions.”

“This is most definitely the closest the course has played to the 2008 U.S. Open for the Farmers,” Cushing says. “From a greens, rough and fairways standpoint, it’s very close.”

Cushing says course-friendly weather and diligent maintenance programs have resulted in a best-case scenario for course conditions.

“We have the ability to shape the golf course exactly like how we’d like it to play,” he says. “It’s going to be fast, firm and dry. It’s all the things you love to have to be able to present a tournament of this magnitude.”

Cushing says the ankle-deep rough has drawn compliments.

“Going around during practice rounds, everybody was talking about the rough. We’ve never had this quality of rough for the Farmers, especially on the South. It’s the best overseed we’ve ever had.”

Without a drop of rain in the forecast and high temperatures continuing throughout the tournament, Cushing says the Farmers is primed for one of its best years.

Besides the lush grass beneath their feet, Cushing hopes visitors will also notice the attention given to improving the look of Torrey on the horizon.

“We have really spent a lot of time the last two years cleaning up the canyon areas on the North and South to improve the viewing corridors. Some of the areas had really become overgrown,” he says.

“We wanted to improve the vistas and the views of the ocean, and I think people will really notice that.”

Cushing has graciously agreed to provide a daily course maintenance picture or two for socalgolfblog.com to give followers a unique look at the course and what goes into producing the Torrey Pines the world sees on TV. So you can you look forward to that.