Highlight Hole: No. 18 at Aviara

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The view of No. 18 from last year’s tournament

         As finishing holes go in San Diego, few, if any, come much tougher than No. 18 at Aviara.

         This dogleg right par-4 wraps around a lake that runs along most of the fairway and to the green, providing a serene and aesthetically pleasing finish, but also one that’s been known to swallow a lot of golf balls.

This hole was a major factor in the LPGA’s KIA Classic last year and not just because it hosted the two-hole playoff won by Beatriz Recari. It played as the toughest hole of the tournament, averaging well over par.

Aviara Director of Golf Renny Brown says the hole plays unusually tough for the tournament because of a unique circumstance.

“From the fairway, the grandstand build-out blocks the wind, so the flag doesn’t move. A lot of girls were coming up short last year because when the ball would get above the grandstand, the wind would knock it down,” Brown says. “They had trouble gauging the wind.”

The wind on 18 blows off the Pacific Ocean and Batiquitos lagoon, making it play even longer than the 413 yards from the blue tees, which is what the Kia uses.

The tee shot alone is challenge here to say the least. Besides water on your right, you’ve got out of bounds and bunkers lurking on your left. With the wind blowing, this fairway can feel very small.

According to a review of Aviara at worldgolf.com, Arnold Palmer once described this as the toughest finishing hole he’s ever designed.

It quoted Palmer as saying, “You have the lagoon on the left and a pond and waterfall to the right. Even if you hit a strong drive, you have to think on the approach, because the fairway narrows to 20 yards.

“It took me a long time to realize you need to be safe and go for the back of the green (on your second shot) to stay away from the water.”

At the Kia media day, Recari offered her professional opinion on how to play 18 from the tee.

“You have to play to the right, just inside the bunker,” Recari says. “I usually hit driver, but I hit 3-wood there last year (in the playoff) because the wind was up.

“If you land it to the right of that bunker, you’ve got a good chance.”

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         Recari plays a draw, as do I, which makes a driver a nervous play here for me. I took Recari’s advice on media day and pulled 3-wood. I hit the best shot I’ve ever hit on 18 and, though a little too close to the lake, I had 160 to get home and a good lie. And then … yank. OB.

I’ve done this the last three times (grrr) I’ve had played this hole. I suspect the wind is at work, though it mostly factors in in that it leaves me one club longer than what I’d prefer – my 7 iron.

Therefore, unfortunately, I can’t speak to going for birdie or par here, but Brown has a tip about reading putts on 18.

“Forget about putts breaking to the ocean,” he says. “Once you’re standing on the green, look back toward the fairway and use that tilt to judge the putt.”

Speaking of putts, new this year is a plaque on 18 honoring where Recari hit her winning putt from the fringe last year.

As well all know, hitting Aviara’s helipad-size green is one thing; putting them is another.

And given how straight the female Tour players hit it, putting is everything at the Kia, Brown says.

“The winner out here is going to be someone who’s top five in putting,” he says. “The greens are so massive out here that it becomes a putting contest.”

While 18 has a fierce reputation, Brown says it’s actually the second of closing one-two punch for the women, given that No. 17, a par-5, is the longest hole on the LPGA at 565 yards.

That leaves the drivable par-4 16th as the best last stand for birdie. Because if it comes down to 18, you’re really going to earn it.

For my part, I plan to stake out 18 this week until I see a birdie, just to see what one looks like there. And while I’m waiting, maybe I’ll go see if any of my old approach shots are still buried beneath the brush on the Batiquitos trail.

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Equipment Insider: Talking Golf Shafts With Marshall Thompson of Fujikura

This is the second post in our occasional series, in conjunction with world-renowned Vista-based golf shaft manufacturer and supplier Fujikura, about golf shafts, the fitting process and fitters. In this installment, we profile Fujikura fitter Marshall Thompson, who talks about some of his famous fits from 2013, including the LPGA’s Michelle Wie, and looks back on the year in fitting and what’s ahead.

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Name: Marshall Thompson

Hometown: Scottsdale, AZ

College: Two years at Palomar College followed by two years studying abroad at the University of London.

Playing experience: After being introduced to the game by his dad, Marshall quickly became hooked and started playing junior tournaments. He then played all four years at Rancho Buena Vista High before walking on at Palomar College and playing two years. His parents were members at Shadowridge CC in Vista. “Golf has been my passion for a long time.”

Career at Fujikura: Five years. Marshall started out as an intern under Pat McCoy and John Hovis. “They taught me everything about fitting.” He’s now runs the Fit-On studio with John Hovis and did fitting the past year on the Web.com Tour. He also works with tour departments of OEM’s and is involved in prototyping and design and testing of new product.

Years of fitting experience: 8. He started out doing demo days in San Diego and North Country for TaylorMade while at Palomar.

Fit philosophy: Everyone comes in with a swing fingerprint. That’s what we work with to get your head to square on time and for the shaft to load properly.

How to maximizing your fitting: Coming in with an open mind, ready to learn and trust the process. Too many people come in and say, “My swing speed is this, so I need an X flex.” That’s not always the case. Come in ready to experience the process, digest the data and learn how shafts really affect launch and spin.

Biggest fitting development in 2013: I think it was just a greater overall acceptance of fitting, which in itself is huge. I think people are really starting to listen to the message we’ve been really trying to ingrain of going to get fit. Spend the money, spend the time to get into the right product. It’ll change your game. It seems more people are seeing the results of that and it’s helping them play better. And I think the process is getting easier, and more fun, too, because of the technology.

Fitting challenges for 2014: Our challenge, as always, is to design for what the equipment companies are producing. Right now, that’s low spin and that might mean moving back toward a higher spinning type of shaft rather than what we’ve been doing the past few years. It’s always a counter-balance to whatever the manufacturers are doing.

Fit insight: We’re a shaft company, but a fitting is a head and a shaft. We’re here the find the perfect marriage of the two.

Famous fits: Michelle Wie. She was a real highlight. She came in this year and was phenomenally nice – and tall!

She has a great swing and a great personality. She was a lot of fun to work with. She’s a hard swinger by lady’s standards (104 mph) and we put her in a very stiff shaft (a 7.2 Tour Spec X flex).

We decreased her spin by 400-500 RPM’s and actually flattened her trajectory and got her a little more rollout, distance. And her dispersion stayed tight. It worked out well.

She’s fundamentally sound and her swing is as good as it gets.

On the men’s tour side, we had Jason Gore come in from the Web.com Tour. He’s a character and a really funny guy.

He’s a high-launch, high-spin guy, but we got him into a driver with a new CG, a little bit more forward and high. He was able to launch it low and get his spin down around 2,200-2,300, which he hadn’t seen before. He needed a new head and shaft combination. Sometimes it’s not one or the other; it’s both.

He really got the benefit of some of the new technologies with heads and shafts.

Outside of the tour, we had former baseball player Jermaine Day. We got him another 15 yards. He swings about 112 mph so he comes at it pretty hard. We decreased his loft and gave him a stout handle. He was a lot of fun to fit.

With baseball players, it’s always curious to see how much of their baseball swing is reflected in their golf swing, but, as a group, they’re all very fast from the top down.