The first full-field event of the year takes place in Honolulu on the heels of a thriller last weekend in Maui, where low-scoring records were set all over the yard. The island and the course par change this week, but don’t expect the low scoring to as well. Some of the best golfers in the world will be hoping to capitalize at the short Waialae Country, and if it turns out to be as soft as Kapalua, more records could fall on the second half of the two-event Hawaii swing.
As the Sony Open gets underway at the Waialae Country Club, Honolulu, Hawaii, we look back at Cameron Smith’s victorious round last week, finishing with an incredible 34 under for his four days play, holding on to clip his fellow Australian Matt Jones by two and Spaniard Jon Rahm by one.
In doing so, Smith became one of only a few golfers who has claimed victory in both Hawaii events at some point in their career, and if he can win again this week, he will join Ernie Els and Justin Thomas as the only golfers to sweep the Hawaii swing.
Bryson Dechambeaus’ withdrawal earlier this week only enhances Smith’s chances of lifting another trophy this week; he is now the favorite heading to Waialae Country Club, where he won a playoff against Brandon Steele in 2020, his only PGA Tour Victory before Maui. The par 70 Waialae course offers a purse of $7.5 million, so there’s plenty of incentive.
From back in 2016 to last year, Smith finished no better than 119th in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee (119th in 2021, tied for 160th in 2020; 140th in 2019; 145th in 2018; 130th in 2017; and 158th in 2016). Following the RSM Classic just before Thanksgiving, Smith assessed the information to hand, and he went to work; he is already reaping the rewards.
“Yeah, I don’t typically like working on stuff through the season,” Smith said. “I like to make subtle changes here and there. But I think just actually hitting golf balls; I spoke to my coach a lot over the offseason, sent him a lot of swings, and, yeah, it’s just something that we kind of grinded on.
“My irons I’ve always felt kind of comfortable with, and my wedges, and we knew that if I could finally sort out the driver that I could really have one of my best seasons yet.”
Smith was asked by the media if there was anything else he had looked at?
“I mean, that’s hard to explain, to be honest. It really wasn’t much,” Smith said. “Probably just hitting more balls with driver, to be honest. I’m one of them — I’m not lazy. I guess I’m lazy on the range. I get through the wedges and the irons, and then I’m like, oh, I’m ready to go home, and I barely hit driver. So I made sure I stayed there for an extra 10 or 15 minutes and actually hit some balls.”
Webb Simpson is another player worth watching, not only this week in Hawaii but throughout 2022. Simpson will have been disappointed with his 2021; despite his overall game being quite good, we just didn’t see the finishes we are accustomed to seeing from the man from North Carolina. Despite not having a top-three finish last year, Data Golf rank him as the number 15 golfer in the world, ahead of Tony Finau, Jordan Spieth, and Louis Oosthuizen.
Waialae Country Club historically rewards players who aren’t as long off the tee, and perhaps interestingly, his best finish last year was a T4 at this event. A good few days here for Simpson could be an excellent indicator of a better season in store for Webb.
Smith and Webb aside, the rest of the field is a good one, but we would be lying if we said it was great. Smith is, in fact, the only top-10 player who will feature this week but Harris English, Hideki Matsuyama, Abraham Ancer, Kevin Kisner, Sungjae Im, Billy Horschel, and defending champion Kevin Na are all in attendance and are all top 20 guys. It’s pretty typical to have a considerable dropoff from last week’s all-star game, but it’s disappointing that more players haven’t stayed in Hawaii to play this event.
It is possible to tear up this course by cutting corners, which is why DeChambaus’s withdrawal was such a disappointment. A week on from Kapalua, where it was difficult to go long, it will be intriguing to see how the mixture of long and short hitters in this field choose to play this course.