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Farmers Insurance Open

Why the PGA Tour decided to use the 'lift, clean and place' rule under sunny skies at Torrey Pines

January 28, 2021

Troy Merritt hits a shot on the second hole of the South Course during the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open.

Ben Jared

SAN DIEGO — It may have been one of the strangest situations ever for lift, clean and place on the PGA Tour.

On Thursday morning, tour officials announced that the first two rounds of the Farmers Insurance Open would be played with the competitors able to lift their ball to clean it off and replace it. The strange thing: The skies were sunny and the fairways mostly firm and mud-free after a fierce wind event (with very little rainfall) blew through Torrey Pines on Monday.

The issue for the tour is that the forecast calls for a large storm to arrive by late Thursday evening, bringing with it between 1 and 3 inches of rain along the coastline well into Friday—which qualifies as a deluge here. That becomes a problem because of the unusual format of the tournament, which uses two courses for the first two rounds, the North and the South. The hole locations remain the same for both Round 1 and Round 2 so all the players are playing “the same” course. But a torrent of rain one day compared to the next would certainly create very different playing conditions depending on which day you played which course. (Particularly, too, with the South Course considered the more difficult of the two.

“I think basically what they’re trying to do is just make sure it’s fair each day, right?” said Sam Burns, who shot a 66 on the North and was tied for second. “There’s obviously no reason to play lift, clean and place today, but [Friday] is a different story. I think they did a good job of looking ahead and seeing what we have tomorrow.”

The tour has rarely had to stop play at Torrey Pines because of rain. In fact, the tournament has only been shortened to 54 holes three times, the last in 1998. Fog has been more of an issue, as it was for portions of play last year, and for Tiger Woods’ victory in 2013, which was completed on Monday.

It figures that the courses’ drainage will be tested in this tournament, and it will be interesting to see how they hold up. The North Course underwent a complete rebuild by Tom Weiskopf before the 2017 Farmers, and the South Course’s bunkers, green surrounds and irrigation system were updated before the 2020 event. So the drainage should be good, depending, of course, on how much rain actually falls.