Behold the spoilsports at the PGA Tour, who have this week denied us all the spectacle of a world golf championship being staged at a venue owned by the leader of the free world.
Where once there was the Cadillac Championship at Doral, a sprawling complex on the outskirts of Miami that Donald Trump bought in a bankruptcy sale, we now have the Mexico Championship – a change announced that last year while Trump was out campaigning for the Presidency. Ironists swooned when it was revealed the event would be heading to a venue south of the border.
I hope they have good kidnapping insurance Trump said at the time, showing the kind of grace for which he is renown – the bad kind.
The PGA Tour being the PGA Tour we can safely assume all financial contingencies have been taken care of as its roadshow rolls into Club Golf Du Chapultepec on the outskirts of Mexico City.
It is the first time a WGC event has been staged in central America and it says something about the world’s best players that virtually all of them will tee it up come Thursday morning.
Once upon a time, many, especially the American players, would have been reluctant to venture outside their comfort zone. This week the only big name missing is Jason Day, and he is absent only through injury. The Australian will not be missed except by admirers of golf played at a glacial pace.
Even the tiny minority pining for Mr Day will surely be placated by the re-appearance of Rory McIlroy, back after injury and his day on the links with the bold Mr Trump.
The Irishman will find a golf course designed by a couple of Scottish brothers back in the 1920s but which looks like just another cookie-cutter PGA Tour venue: tight, tree-lined fairways, lush rough and greens that run faster than Mo Farah being chased by a WADA patrol van.
To the untrained eye, it looks like the Firestone course in Akron, the annual venue for another of these WGC events, but the there is a big difference between the two. Namely, a vertical rise of 7,760 feet.
Seriously high altitude
Firestone is in the flat, American heartland. Club Golf Du Chapultepec is perched up in the mountains, with the clubhouse 7,760 feet above sea level. Only Cherry Hills in Denver has staged a PGA Tour event at such a seriously high altitude.
This at least will give the TV commentators something to talk about. More pertinently, it will give the players a lot to think about.
For one thing, the thinner air at high altitude will present some physical challenges, even to those who might be considered prime specimens. It will take a lot of getting used to.
Expect the golf ball to fly somewhere between 10 and 15 per cent further than it does at sea level. The players will need to find out exactly how much further. And do so before Thursday’s opening tee shot.
It’ll be something of a maths game, said the former Open champion Justin Leonard, who lives at 8,000 feet.
Leonard’s word will send shivers down the spine of those inclined to throw their lot in with the brand new World No 1, Dustin Johnson. The good news for Dustin and his fans is that he has a caddy to do the pencil work. The even better news is the big American is playing so well right now that miscalculating a few yardages, will hardly knock him out of his languid stride.
Those already on site in Mexico have described the course as being similar in layout and agronomy to Riviera Country Club, where Johnson lapped the field a couple of weeks ago to ascend to the top of the rankings. In other words, he is undoubtedly the man to beat.
The question then becomes, who will accept the challenge? Mcllroy, of course.
The Irishman has come in for a lot of flack for his day out with Trump and, being a cussed soul, would like nothing better than to remind his critics of the old saw about water and a duck’s back. Yet he’s been away for a few months and as golf courses go, Club Golf Du Chapultepec, at 7,300 yards (playing 15 per cent less than the book yardage because of the altitude) might be a little too short for his liking.
This looks to be a finesse golf course rather than one that can be overcome with power. The winner will need to plot his way around. He will need to drive the ball straight rather than far, be spot on with distance control and deadly on the greens.
They are plenty who fit that description in the field of 77 but those who catch the eye include the likes of Justin Rose, who has had three top-five finishes this year already and surely stands on the cusp of a victory, and Kevin Na, who fits the profile of potential winner this week. A neat game, a cerebral thinker, a decent streak of form. He finished in a tie for fourth alongside Rose at Riviera.
That takes care of a thinking man’s each-way bet for which Na is currently 150/1. As for a stick-on winner? Not many will look past DJ but he doesn’t have the monopoly on gilt-edged form.
The former World No 1 Jordan Spieth has a victory on his recent resume, at Pebble Beach earlier in the month, and like many of his PGA Tour wins it was earned as much with his brain as with his ball-striking.
On a plotter’s paradise like Club Golf Du Chapultepec, he may prove to be irresistible.