I've heard people say that the golf season doesn't really start
until the Tour hits Florida. Sorry, I disagree. Tiger Woods
started the season with a bang at the Mercedes Championships.
But while Florida might not be the start of the season, it is
the beginning of a new phase, and most of the guys who were hot
on the West Coast probably won't stay that way in Florida.
The biggest reason, by far, is the difference in the greens.
Mark O'Meara owns Pebble Beach because he grew up in California
and learned how to read poa annua as well as bentgrass greens
that have poa annua in them. He learned to play the break toward
the ocean at Pebble Beach and Torrey Pines and the break away
from the mountains at the Hope. So did Tom Watson, who played at
Stanford, and Phil Mickelson and Johnny Miller, a pair of desert
foxes who can also read the greens out West. But in Florida, the
players face flatter bermuda greens with much more grain--I've
seen putts actually break uphill because of the grain. The guys
with the hot putters out West are going to need time to adjust.
Like the greens, the rest of the playing surface takes some
getting used to. There's nothing tougher than bermuda rough.
Remember that ugly shot Greg Norman hit two years ago at the
72nd hole at Doral? The bermuda rough grabbed his club head and
yanked it left. Norman not only missed the green, he also almost
hit his ball left of the lake.
There are other factors, like the time difference, that make
coast-jumping difficult. And let's not forget about the weather.
It can get windy on the West Coast, but it won't blow for four
straight days the way it will in Florida. And because of the
humidity the ball doesn't travel as far as it does in the desert.
Of course, it's all what you're used to. I grew up in the
southeast and had trouble playing the West Coast early in my
career. I couldn't wait for the Tour to hit Florida, where
bermuda fairways, grainy greens and 80% humidity made me feel
like a rabbit in a brier patch. Break out the rain gear and
practice your knockdown shots, guys. You'll need them.
Pate won on bentgrass at the '76 U.S. Open outside Atlanta.
COLOR PHOTO: LAWRENCE LEVY Pate made a big splash after winning the '82 Players. [Jerry Pate]