Farmers Insurance Open Preview

Josh Culp
·10 min read

The transition from warmup to major-championship prep happens at different times for different golfers. However, there is a distinct switch in course style and setup when it comes to playing Torrey Pines compared to the other January events.

This event often flips a switch for golfers and fans to remind them of what they will likely see on the yearly major-championship rota. That is even more apparent this year since Torrey Pines South will actually be hosting one of those majors, the 2021 U.S. Open in June.

The Farmers is usually where Tiger Woods gets things started, as well, but that's obviously not happening this year as he recovers from his December back operation.

The tournament officials won't give it the full major treatment this week when it comes to course setup but it will still be a tough test, especially when you compare it to the Hawaii events and last week's American Express at PGA WEST. Winning scores have been 15-under or tougher in seven of the last eight playings of this event.

Similar to last week's event, we have a two-course tournament with a full field of 156 golfers and a 36-hole cutline of top 65 and ties.

The Courses

Each golfer will play once at Torrey Pines South and once at Torrey Pines North. Those are the guaranteed rounds. Then, after 36 holes the field will be chopped to the top 65 and ties where the final two days will be played on the South Course.

South Course at Torrey Pines (Host Course):

The South Course continues to be one of the longest courses the PGA TOUR plays each year.

This par-72 layout stretches out to 7,765 with seven par 4s that play over 450 yards. That is a yardage you might expect to see if the TOUR strolled through Denver and played an event in altitude. However, this is the San Diego area where the fairways don't usually get much roll and the air density makes it even tougher to hit those massive drives.

As a result, this is a brute of a course that plays just as long as it sounds on the scorecard. Big hitters have an advantage here but there are always exceptions. Just look at Brandt Snedeker who has more than his fair share of success here and he's not winning any long-driver competitions anytime soon.

Hitting it long and straight is always the preferred route but last year's winner, Marc Leishman, showed that straight is not a requirement. He split just 27-of-56 fairways for the week including just three fairways on Sunday en route to a closing 65 which helped him better Jon Rahm by one shot at week's end.

The course was built in the 1950s but there have been notable renovations over the years. The Open Doctor, Rees Jones, did a complete redesign in 2001 and he made his way back in 2018-19 for some additional tweaks.

For grass the golfers will see bermuda fairways and kikuyu rough, both overseeded with ryegrass and then poa annua on the putting surfaces. The greens can get real speedy, usually stimping in the 12-to-13 range.

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North Course at Torrey Pines:

The North Course will be played just once by each golfer this week. Still, it's very important to the overall recipe for winning at the Farmers. This course yields some low scores so you need a golfer to fire a low one at the North to have a good chance to win by week's end.

The course is a par 72 that plays up to 7,258 yards. There are three par 4s that play over 475 yards but the rest of the course does not require much distance. Especially when you compare it to its neighbor, the South Course.

The North Course doesn't challenge the pros much from tee-to-green. Water is in play on just two holes and the bunkers don't do much to stop the bomb-and-gouge approach here.

The field scoring average here sits around 70.5 from a long-term view which is more than two shots tougher than the South Course.

If you are playing single-round formats this week or formats that allow for in-tournament swaps then you definitely want to target golfers when they play the North.

Another difference between the two courses is turf conditions. The North Course now uses bentgrass greens which are going to be a bit purer than the poa annua over at Torrey South.

Course Quotes

Sifting through some past quotes, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.

Rory McIlroy: "Yeah, the length factor. Par 5s are very gettable, there’s two reachable par 4s. There’s tee shots I hit today offline that if you hit those tee shots on the South course, you get penalized a lot more, whereas you’re giving yourself birdie looks as long as you don’t hit it behind a stray tree that’s somewhere in the rough. Yeah, you can sort of just let it rip a little bit more on the North course."

Phil Mickelson: "The reason why this course plays so long is that we’re at sea level, we get a day like today where it was a little bit cooler and the ball just doesn’t quite fly as far as normal, but that was actually offset a little bit with how firm the fairways were because the ball was running."

Geoff Ogilvy: "if you keep presenting Torrey Pines South, for example, where the farther you hit it the bigger advantage you have, we’re just going to go home, plug in the Trackman and hit it as hard as we can. "

Adam Hadwin: "I love Torrey Pines but it sucks for my game. I just don’t hit it quite far enough to really compete around there."

Alex Noren: "I mean, it is a ball-striker’s course, but also if you miss a few shots here and there it’s not — at the end of the day you can still manage to maybe get it onto the green because there’s an opening to every green, you can run it up from the rough. I think you’ve got to play strategically, you can go for a few pins if you’ve got a good lie, and if you don’t, you’ve got to play smart to avoid bogeys."

Length is the talk of the town when golfers stroll into La Jolla, California.

Correlated Courses

Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, and past performance, here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week:

TPC Scottsdale
Muirfield Village GC
Riviera CC
Augusta National
Quail Hollow

Length and green speeds (fast) seem to be the key links this week when looking for correlated venues.

The Weather

Thursday: Sun and Clouds with a high of 65 degrees. Wind at 7-to-15 MPH.

Friday: A strong chance of rain with a high of 58 degrees. Winds at 7-to-15 MPH.

Friday is the ugly day this week with a 90% chance of rain and only not much sunshine. Keep an eye on that Friday forecast over the next few days and hope for a revision or improvement as the event draws nearer.

Golfers to Watch

Jon Rahm
We saw him back out of The American Express on Monday last week. There was no indication that it was injury-related but if you're looking for any reason to avoid him then you can start to insert that narrative. However, everything lines up for Rahm on paper when he heads to Torrey Pines. It's a bomber-friendly layout and he loves playing in California. Rahm won this event in 2017, finished T5 in 2019, and snagged a runner-up finish last year. He definitely likes the layout here at Torrey Pines.

Rory McIlroy
Another big-hitter who is tailormade for Torrey Pines. He didn't include this on his schedule early in his career as he played in the Middle East but McIlroy finished T5 in his 2019 tournament debut and returned to post a T3 last year. He's not letting the travel get in his way this year as he flies straight from Abu Dhabi to California this week. Jet lag might be the only reason to overlook him this week but even there it's a stretch. It's early in the year and he's eager to spread his wings after a slow 2020.

Tony Finau
Another big hitter and another with a strong resume at Torrey Pines. Hmmm, probably not a coincidence. Finau is 6-for-6 at this event with all six doubling as top 25s. That includes finishes of T6 or better in three of his last four trips. He didn't finish the job last week as a 54-hole co-leader at PGA WEST but he didn't gag it away either. I think his confidence tank should be pretty high as he enters the week on a course that fits his game.

Xander Schauffele
He's a local product who hits the ball a mile and has played the course hundreds of times. Yet, he's earned a paycheck in just 1-of-5 trips to the Farmers Insurance Open. Schauffele has spoken on the "zoo" that comes along with having so many friends and family around this week. If he's going to buck the course-history trend then a week with no fans would be the time to do it.

Jason Day
There are some golfers that don't need warmup events before getting in contention. Day is one of those golfers. He does his prep work on his on time and gets ready without competitive reps. For Torrey Pines, he typically spends a week or two at The Vintage Club to gear things up. That looks to be the case again this year based on social media activity. As for the results it produces, Day is 8-for-11 at the Farmers with a pair of wins (2015, 2018) to go along with a runner-up finish from the 2014 edition. He ended his fall with top 15s in two of his last three starts so there may be something ready to click for the Aussie who slumped for much of the last two years.

Will Zalatoris
This fan-favorite is making his first start of the new year. He earned Special Temporary Membership with his strong play in the fall so he will look to parlay that into full status as he kicks off the 2021 schedule. Zalatoris has top 20s in four of his last six PGA TOUR starts and he should like the layout at Torrey Pines which will reward his length. Competitive rust would be the only thing holding him back from being higher on my rankings.

Matthew Wolff
The youngster made his tournament debut last year and he found himself in a tie for 131st place after day one. He rebounded with rounds of 66-71 -69 to land a T21 finish by week's end. If you're looking for big hitters with winning upside who also happen to be from California, look no further.

Ranking the Field

1. Jon Rahm
2. Rory McIlroy
3. Xander Schauffele
4. Harris English
5. Patrick Reed
6. Tony Finau
7. Hideki Matsuyama
8. Viktor Hovland
9. Adam Scott
10. Jason Day
11. Matthew Wolff
12. Bubba Watson
13. Ryan Palmer
14. Louis Oosthuizen
15. Scottie Scheffler
16. Brooks Koepka
17. Jason Kokrak
18. Sungjae Im
19. Si Woo Kim
20. Will Zalatoris