As much as I appreciate the World Golf Championship event moving to a new geographical territory, there is a tinge of sadness that we may have seen the last of Doral’s Blue Monster, one of the most iconic golf courses in the world.
I loved the Blue Monster. My best World Golf Championship result — a tie for fourth place — came there. The Dick Wilson-designed course, with water coming into play on most holes, was a demanding layout. I haven’t personally experienced the changes that were made a couple of years ago by Gil Hanse, but from what I heard, most players like that too.
Club de Golf Chapultepec in Mexico would be a complete new experience for players. It is an old-school, classic tree-lined course. That in itself will not be an issue, but what would make a huge difference this week is the altitude at which the course is set.
Club de Golf Chapultepec is nearly 7,800 feet above sea level. That’s almost 50 per cent more than the highest altitude players are used to. On the PGA Tour, Reno-Tahoe Open is played on a course that is at 5,500 feet and on the European Tour, the Omega European Masters at Crans Montana is almost 5,000 feet above sea level.
The altitude changes the way you play golf completely. At that height, the ball is going to travel at least 10 to 15 per cent further. So, the time at the driving range, especially with TrackMan, becomes very important. Once you figure out how much extra you are hitting the ball, you’ve just got to trust the numbers, do the math and hit your clubs accordingly.
I think one of the added fun factors this week is going to be keeping a watch on how long guys like Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas hit with their drivers, and other clubs. I am betting that the 400-yard mark is going to be crossed a few times.
One of the big talking points this week is surely going to be the return of Rory. The world No.3 has recovered from the stress fracture of rib that kept him out of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and I am sure he is hungry for some action. I read somewhere that he made six birdies in the members-pro tournament at the legendary Seminole course earlier this week, so I am guessing there is not much rust to shake. There is also a chance that he would reclaim the world No.1 ranking if he wins (obviously depending on where Dustin finishes), so that would be an added incentive.
It is going to be an exciting week, more so because there are so many top players who are in such good form. Dustin, Justin, Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler are all recent winners on the Tour. Henrik Stenson made a super start to his season in the Middle East and I am sure he would have put in an immense amount of hard work in the early-season break that he seems to prefer after the Desert Swing. Sergio Garcia won in Dubai and because he is such a fantastic ball-striker, he will be a force to reckon on a tree-lined course.
The European Tour is also in South Africa this week for the Tshwane Open, which is a very well-organised tournament and a particular favourite of mine. Charl Schwartzel won the tournament in Pretoria last year and the home contingent, as always, will be tough to beat in South Africa.
(Jeev Milkha Singh is a four-time champion on the European Tour)