Get the popcorn ready, we’re in for a treat

Mark McGowan
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Get the popcorn ready, we’re in for a treat

Rory McIlroy (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)

After two months of re-runs, walk-throughs, swing tips, and spotlights, live golf returns to our television screens this Sunday and it’s been a long time coming.

I’m talking about the TaylorMade Driving Relief skins match of course, pitting Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson against Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff, and there are many reasons to be excited. Most obviously, for those of us starved of live sport, this is a tasty appetiser ahead of the main course with the PGA Tour looking set to resume in less than a month.

We get to watch Rory and DJ – two of the most stylistically attractive players in the game – battle Fowler – equipped with an entirely different set of skills – and Wolff – whose unique swing and torque action make him very much the wildcard of the bunch.

Even the format – I’ve long argued that skins is the worst in golf – can’t dampen my enthusiasm as its unpredictable and arguably unfair nature means that the former Oklahoma State students are attractive outsiders at 7/4. And of course, with upwards on $4 million pledged to COVID-19 relief, even a curmudgeon like myself can’t find cause to complain.

And then there’s the venue.

You will probably have heard of Seminole’s legendary annual member-pro event which often attracts a field stronger than the PGA Tour events it’s sandwiched by. This year, a dozen major champions were among the elite players to pair-up with a Seminole member, with the likes of Fowler, Tommy Fleetwood and Ian Poulter also on the time sheet. But by electing not to host PGA Tour or major tournaments, the South Florida course has been something of an enigma.

Designed by Donald Ross in the 1920s, it is widely spoken of in the same breath as the Scot’s other masterpiece, Pinehurst No. 2. Both are regularly ranked among the top-10 courses in the United States but Seminole, flanked by dune ridges on both sides, is arguably Ross’ finest accomplishment.

Situated along the Atlantic Ocean in Juno Beach, Seminole is sometimes described as links golf with palm trees, with the strong Atlantic breeze often dictating the style of play. Similar to Pinehurst – whose greens Jonny Miller once likened to “trying to hit the ball onto the top of a VW Beetle,” Seminole’s greens are heavily sloped with large run off areas to catch anything stray, but much more heavily bunkered than the North Carolina course.

Speaking on The Fried Egg podcast, PGA Tour pro and golf course architecture enthusiast Zac Blair spoke of the triangular shaped routing, meaning that the wind direction is never the same on consecutive holes and of how he has shot in the low-60s and in the mid-80s on consecutive days in varying conditions.

A regular at the member-pro, Dustin Johnson spoke of the intricacies required for navigating Seminole by declaring that he always expects to tear the course to shreds before walking off with a harsh dose of reality. McIlroy is also a regular but much less familiar with the links than his father Gerry, who joined Seminole in recent years and can be found there most days.

The TaylorMade skins match will be our first glimpse at the exclusive turf and a taster of what’s to come when Seminole hosts the Walker Cup in 2021 having accepted the USGA’s invitation and enlisting the team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw to extensively renovate the aspects of the course where mother nature has been unkind over almost 90 years.

Possibly the highest compliment that any golf course can receive is to be deemed a true test of every skill and by all accounts, that is Seminole to a tee.

Get the popcorn ready. We’re in for a treat.

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