Collin Morikawa and Maverick McNealy have to be champing at the bit waiting for the CJ Cup to begin Thursday morning.
With 78 of the world’s top golfers in the field, the attraction for players and viewers just might be The Summit Club, the mysterious layout set amongst the red rocks of western Las Vegas.
It’s a course most of the field had not seen until this week with the exception of Morikawa and McNealy, who call Summit their home course and already know everything their peers were cramming to learn this week.
“I think all of us, when it came out, we were looking at Collin and Mav and they had little smiles on their faces,” Justin Thomas said of the moment when the tournament venue was announced. “They were obviously excited.”
Whether that course knowledge transfers into success begins to unfold Thursday, when players attack the 7,431-yard Tom Fazio layout. It’s an arduous walk full of elevation changes, lengthy distances between holes and spectacular views of the Las Vegas Strip.
“It’s definitely a tough walk. You can kind of get turned around direction-wise,” defending champion Jason Kokrak said. “There’s a little bit of depth perception the players are going to have to deal with this week as far as looking up or down. The carry numbers for some of these bunkers and lines, it will be a difficult test.”
Morikawa said the stunning views will capture the imagination of viewers, along with all the undulations around the greens.
“You’re going to see guys hitting certain shots that might land near the pins and roll off,” he said. “It might not roll off down funnels and kind of bowls off the green, but it’s going to roll pretty far away. You might be seeing a lot of 50-footers, 40-footers, so you’re going to see some approach shots that are really going to test you to put it in the right spot.”
Where those right spots are is the kind of knowledge McNealy and Morikawa already have.
“They’re both highly touted Tour pros, so I think it’s more of an advantage to know certain nuances around the greens or something like that,” said Xander Schauffele.
But the Olympic gold medalist added the downside to being the only ones intimately knowledgeable about the course could be any pressure they put on themselves to play well.
“I’m not sure how I’m really going to go into this week just mentally about that,” Morikawa said. “But I have to remember this is still a tournament, this is the start of a new season, and I’ve got to be ready by Thursday just like every other week.”
Dustin Johnson said yardage books are so good that tee to green isn’t an issue for players, but the greens are where McNealy and Morikawa might have an advantage.
“The greens here, they’re good, but they’re not that easy to read and obviously if you play here a lot, you know the greens a little bit better than the rest,” Johnson said. “But you’ve still got to go out and play golf and hit good golf shots.”
Brooks Koepka disagrees that playing a new course is any kind of disadvantage.
“We did it all junior golf, college, amateur stuff,” Koepka said. “You never played the golf course and you go play. So I personally don’t think it’s a big deal. I think sometimes it’s made a little bigger deal than what it is.”
Even Morikawa downplayed any advantage he might have.
“Look, these guys are the best in the world, and we do it every week,” he said. “We show up to courses that we’ve never played and you have to figure them out Monday through Wednesday. There’s no issues there.”
Greg Robertson covers golf for the Review-Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Where: The Summit Club (7,431 yards, par 72)
TV: Daily 2-5 p.m., The Golf Channel
First tee time: 7:20 a.m. Thursday and Friday
Prize money: $9.75 million ($1,755,000 winner)
Field: 78 players, no cut
Defending champion: Jason Kokrak
Weather: Thursday high of 70 degrees and sunny, slight wind
Spectators: Shuttles leave every 10 minutes to and from course to the Las Vegas Ballpark in Downtown Summerlin