Recap of the day
Morning wave: Sam Saunders, Aaron Wise and Keith Mitchell were the first trio to arrive at Trinity Forest’s 1st tee today. They hit their opening shots at 07:00 and, later that morning, walked off the AT&T Byron Nelson’s much-discussed new venue tied for the lead after all three handed in 6-under 65s. The lead swelled to a six-way tie when Abraham Ancer (07:20), Jonathan Byrd (08:10, 10th tee) and Ethan Tracy (08:50, 10th) also posted 6-under. Kevin Na had reached 5-under thru’ 7 but walked off 18 on the same number.
Afternoon wave: J.J. Spaun (12:00, 10th) set the new clubhouse mark of 7-under but everyone was being left behind by Marc Leishman (12:40). With Trinity Forest being compared to a links course, Leishman was a popular pick this week due to his superb recent record in the Open Championship (three top sixes in the last four years). The theory worked out spectacularly as the Aussie torched the par 71 for a 10-under 61, his lowest ever score on the PGA TOUR. Jimmy Walker’s 64 meant the three best scores came from the p.m. starters. By close of play, over 100 players had broken par.
R1 Leaderboard: -10 Marc Leishman, -7 J.J. Spaun, Jimmy Walker, -6 Sam Saunders, Aaron Wise, Keith Mitchell, Abraham Ancer, Jonathan Byrd, Ethan Tracy, Peter Uihlein, Tyler Duncan. Notables: -4 Adam Scott, -3 Billy Horschel, -2 Jordan Spieth, +1 Sergio Garcia, Hideki Matsuyama, Matt Kuchar.
Friday weather forecast: Temperatures were in the 90s in R1 but they could push into the high 90s on Friday. It’s likely be a little more humid too and, crucially, the winds are set to pick up to around 10-15mph. The gusts could rise to 20mph on Saturday so expect Trinity Forest to fight back after yielding so many low scores on debut.
Top 10 after 18 holes – how they performed
Marc Leishman 61 – two eagles, 2nd in both SG: Approach and SG: Putting. Take a bow Sir!
J.J. Spaun 64 – didn’t miss a fairway, did miss five greens but putter was hot.
Jimmy Walker 64 – gained over 4 shots tee-to-green; eagle, five birdies, no bogeys.
Sam Saunders 65 – 15 greens, +2.466 SG: Putting when handing in his card.
Aaron Wise 65 – split every fairway, hit 17 greens in regulation.
Keith Mitchell 65 – hit all 18 greens in regulation after missing just two fairways.
Abraham Ancer 65 – hit all 14 fairways and missed just one green in regulation.
Jonathan Byrd 65 – 100% scrambling after missing only four greens.
Ethan Tracy 65 – another to hit all 18 greens in regulation.
Peter Uihlein 65 – Got hot late with six red numbers in eight holes on his second nine.
Tyler Duncan 65 – Home in 31 to join the bunch at -6. 12 fairways and 16 GIR.
Run Forest Run
Created specifically to attract prestigious tournaments back to the city of Dallas, Trinity Forest was built on an old land-fill site and designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. They wanted a ground-game golf course so chose Zoysia fairways and Champion Bermuda greens as those were the best grasses to mimic links-style fescue and promote firm, fast, running conditions. To facilitate that, they brought in Kasey Kauff as Director of Grounds given that he had experience of that unusual combo at Atlanta Athletic Club, home of the Tour Championship. Speaking to Golfchannel.com ahead of the event, Kauff noted the hot temperatures and stated: “It’s going to play firm, it’s going to play fast. It’s going to play the way it’s supposed to.”
Jordan Spieth, a club member at Trinity Forest, had a slightly different take. Yes, the ball runs but more off the tee than landing shots short of the green. “It’s kind of an American links,” said Spieth. “A kind of links look and feel but most of it’s played from the air. A bit like Royal Birkdale (where he won the 2017 Open). There’s a few holes you could run it up there at Birkdale but most holes you were flying it onto the green. You really have to do that here. But it can be really windy and you have to work all kind of shots.” With the course watered in front of the greens, Spieth seemed to have it right today.
Focus on – The Leaders
Does anything unite the top 10? Leishman is a links specialist but you wouldn’t say any of the others were. Walker represents the Texas angle but after that? Perhaps it can be argued that ignorance is bliss. There are plenty of younger/inexperienced pros in that top 10, players who are perhaps more open to new challenges rather than veterans who like things as they are thankyou very much without the need for funky new courses. The 40-year-old Byrd doesn’t fit that bill but he actually marked gamers’ cards after a practice round on Monday, telling reporters, “I enjoyed it a lot. There's room off the tee. It's the most links-kind-of-British-Open feel that I've played in the States, I think. It just looks like a course where you're going to have to think about where you want to miss. And, 'Where's the best spot to hit this shot? Should I use this slope to bring it into the pin? Do I need to stay away from this pin?' Things like that."
Focus on – Course Knowledge
It’s always the classic dilemma. Do we give extra credence to players who are members at a course – especially when it’s a brand new one on the circuit like Trinity Forest? The usual problem is that the course in question will play much different under tournament conditions, negating much of the advantage or even making previous knowledge counter-productive and misleading. Spieth was much-quoted in the build-up, saying he’d played it 35 to 40 times while Hunter Mahan said he’d had 70 spins around Trinity Forest. How did they score? Not great!
Jordan Spieth 69 – T57th
Hunter Mahan 70 – T79th
Beau Hossler 70 – T79th
It’s early to draw too many conclusions and perhaps their past know-how will count for more when the wind picks up.
On a day when managers were desperate to hear what players said, it seems a good time to offer an extended quotes section:
Marc Leishman (61): “Drove the ball exceptionally well. Makes the game easier hitting from the fairway. My iron game was great so putting from good positions. Didn’t miss too many greens in bad spots and hot putter helps as well so pretty good combination for a good round. The course reminds me a lot of home, feel comfortable out there, bouncy, a lot of imagination required around the greens and just enjoyed it today. Wind will change it. The wind is its defense and that’s the sign of a good links course.”
J.J. Spaun (64): “I thought it was great. I mean I heard a lot of mixed reviews coming out before seeing the course. I think it’s just got a lot of character. We don’t see courses like this a lot on tour and it brings out your creativity and makes you plot your way around the course instead of just seeing the fairway and banging it down the middle. You’ve kind of got to miss bunkers and miss on the right side, the slopey, undulating greens make it a lot more of a challenge as well.”
Sam Saunders (65): “I think it’s fantastic. I wish we played more golf courses like this. I wish people built more golf courses like this. I think Mr Crenshaw and Mr Coore did a fantastic job here. First appearance, I think a lot of people see some of these slopes and some of these enormous greens and they think ‘oh, that’s just crazy’ but there’s a lot of thought put into every single slope and bunker and design out here. It’s very fair. If you hit good shots, you get rewarded. We had some easier pins, the ball’s going a long way, not a lot of wind and the greens are rolling great so you can make a lot of birdies. I think it will get progressively more difficult throughout the week.”
Abraham Ancer (65): “I like it a lot. It’s way different to what we’ve been playing obviously, being a links course but you have to be really creative. You’ve got to know exactly where you want to land the ball on the greens and I think that’s fun. If you get short-sided you can bank it up other slopes. I thinks it’s great, your short game’s got to be sharp.”
Branden Grace (66): “It was one of the easiest 5-unders I’ve played. I think it’s good. I think it’s really good. They’ve got it right with what they’ve tried to do. The greens look big. There’s a couple of ones they’ll maybe change in the future I think. On a day like today, you’ve got to take advantage of a course like this. The wind is supposed to pick up a little bit in the next few days and that’s going to bite us.”
Ryan Palmer (68): “It’s good because it’s different. It’s links golf here in Texas. We’ve got the heat coming in and it’s going to make some challenges. The officials have done a good job of setting the course up to make sure they’re not getting too crazy yet. Kind of wish they wouldn’t water in front of the greens as much. I thought I hit a great shot on 9… a week ago it would have been perfect but today it was short because they’re soaked at the front. This golf course needs some wind for some defense for sure.”
Matt Kuchar (72): “I’m going to follow the lesson if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all.”