On a day of first-round reboots and muddy boots, the Riviera Country Club grounds crew was under pressure Thursday to get the course in playable condition after torrential rain.
“The rain wouldn’t stop,” said Matt Morton, in his 20th year as Riviera’s superintendent. “The course was already at a saturation point from all the rains since December, so any more rain we got just made it more challenging.”
Play began on schedule at 6:40 a.m. but was suspended 50 minutes later, as showers swelled to a downpour. Two inches of rain fell between midnight and 1:40 p.m. Thursday, when play resumed and the tournament was started anew. Despite sporadic rains in the afternoon, the tournament was not halted until 5:34 p.m. because of darkness.
Among the reasons the early scores were wiped out and the tournament was rebooted: poor visibility made the conditions unfair in the morning, and the “lift, clean, and place” rules — implemented in the afternoon — were not yet in effect.
During that downtime, Morton and his crew of 75 — 40 regular groundskeepers, and 35 seasoned volunteers from top clubs around the country — cleared the greens, tees, and fairways of debris, and completely re-raked all 60 sand traps. Two of the volunteers were from Kasumigaseki Country Club, which will play host to the golf at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
“We’re just fortunate to have a great staff that rallies behind you,” Morton said. “These guys have done it for such a long time, and it’s one of the main reasons that it gets done. The crews that have been here so long, they know what to do.”
Morton said that recent renovation of the bunkers ensured they drained well, and drainage of the course as a whole is optimal because it was built on an old river bed featuring gravelly, sandy soil.
“It’s a testament to George Thomas and his design, how wonderful the water flows,” Morton said of the legendary architect who completed the course in 1926. “That’s a beneficial thing, and that’s why we were able to get the golfers out there.”
Jordan Spieth, who finished 12 holes Thursday, said the course soaked up the water “unbelievably well” but the biggest challenge was the wind.
“Once you turn into the breeze out here,” he said, “you’re just trying to hold on for dear life.”
Weather or not
The golfers won’t be packing away their rain gear. As of Thursday afternoon, the Friday forecast called for a 60% chance of rain showers after noon, with winds of 10-18 mph. Saturday calls for morning showers followed by partly cloudy conditions, with winds of 15-25 mph.
Rich get richer
The tour’s changes to the FedEx Cup playoffs and payouts for this year will serve the dual purpose of simplifying an often-complicated situation while fattening the bank accounts of the top players. New for 2019 is a $10-million bonus pool, called the Wyndham Rewards Top 10, that will pay the golfer who finishes the regular season with the most FedEx Cup points a $2-million bonus. The No. 2 player will receive $1.5 million, and so on until the 10th-place player will earn $500,000.
In addition, the FedEx Cup playoffs have been reduced from four tournaments to three — the Northern Trust, BMW Championship and the season-ending Tour Championship. The total bonus pool, including the Wyndham awards, will double from $35 million to $70 million.
The byzantine points system that has confused players, fans and rocket scientists to determine the FedEx Cup champion since it began in 2007 has been simplified with a handicap system that will eliminate the possibility of the FedEx Cup champion not being the player who won the season-ending event. (That has happened three times, including last year when Tiger Woods won the Tour Championship but Justin Rose, who finished fifth, won the FedEx Cup and its $10-million bonus.)
This year, the points leader heading into the Tour Championship will begin the tournament at 10 under par, the next player will start at eight under and downward, until players in positions 21 through 25 will start at one under. Players 26-30 will start at even par, which means the winner of the tournament will be the Cup champion as well.
First things first