Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches

PGA National (Champion Course)



Farmers Insurance Open

Love it or loathe it, Torrey Pines South remains one of golf's most demanding tests—and it could be more brutal this week

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Ben Jared

January 24, 2024

SAN DIEGO — For anyone who follows PGA Tour golf and the ridiculously low scores players shoot these days, it is a statistic that is hard to fathom. In the 2021 Farmers Insurance Open, with the field playing its standard three rounds over the South Course at Torrey Pines (and one on the North), the scoring average for the more demanding layout was a robust 73.340. Not surprisingly, considering that figure is in the black, it was the fourth-hardest scoring test that season, behind three major venues.

One of that trio was ... Torrey South. Four months after the Farmers, the U.S. Open was contested for the second time on the South Course, and the average score for 72 holes: 73.450—or only one-tenth of a stroke harder than the Farmers. In other words, there were basically two tournaments with major-like conditions played on the San Diego municipal course in the same year.

The winners of those two tournaments reflected the kind of players you might expect outlasting a field when facing such a stern test. Masters champion Patrick Reed seized the ’21 Farmers by five shots, and devout Torrey lover Jon Rahm captured the 121st U.S. Open for his first major title.

Loved or loathed—and there are vocal denizens of each camp—Torrey Pines South has consistently ranked among the longest and toughest tracks on the PGA Tour, and it figures to keep that position this year after the Farmers Insurance Open is played this week. With record amounts of rain dousing the region Monday, and with an earlier-than-normal tournament start on Wednesday, the rough hasn’t been mowed since Saturday. And because of how wet it is, there won’t be any of the usual cutting ahead of the final two rounds, according to the PGA Tour’s Mike Peterson, the advance rules official in charge of the setup. Heavy mowing would chew the place up, so the deepest of the rough could reach five inches for the final round on Saturday. “It’ll be U.S. Open-like,” Peterson said.

After playing nine holes of a pro-am round Tuesday, Keegan Bradley said, “The rough is insane. … I would assume they’re going to try to cut it because it’s chip-out [to the fairway now].”

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Xander Schauffele plays out of the rough in the 2020 Farmers Insurance Open.

Donald Miralle

That help is not coming, and the 156 players in the field are going to get possibly even more punishment than they signed up for.

Still, they can’t say they’re going in blind. Over the last decade, the average winning score for the Farmers is 12.5 under par, and in the first three years of that span the best result was single digits in the red. Last year, Max Homa, who has won four of his last 11 starts in California, finished with a 13-under total to top an impressive leaderboard that included Bradley in second and Collin Morikawa in third.

The Torrey scores become laughable when comparing them to the benign and pristine desert conditions in last week’s The American Express that resulted in 12 under not making the 54-hole cut, and 20-year-old amateur Nick Dunlap prevailing at 29 under.

“I get why people want to start at the desert,” said Homa, who skipped the last two events after finishing T-14 in The Sentry. “It's a good, nice, easy way to feel good about yourself, and I would say knock some rust off because you're going to make a lot of birdies and probably learn about your game. You start here [at Torrey Pines] and you're going to get punched in the mouth immediately.”

Once the Torrey Pines South Course was beefed up to host its first U.S. Open in 2008, the PGA Tour and its setup gurus had a decision to make. They could be very different from the USGA and dial the conditions way back, cut the rough and widen the fairways—essentially, make it like many other tour events. Or they could go all in and basically provide a major championship test in the first month of the calendar. They chose the latter—which is embraced by some players, but clearly not others.

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Ben Jared

Examples: Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka, before they went to LIV Golf, rarely put the Farmers on their schedule; Justin Thomas has played only four regular-season events at Torrey. He entered this year, but as soon as he gained enough World Ranking points to assure he was in the signature event at Pebble Beach next week (with his T-3 in the Amex), he pulled out. Rickie Fowler, the Southern California native who has been a staple at Torrey for his entire career (in part due to his own sponsorship from Farmers), isn’t here this week. Jordan Spieth hasn't entered the past two years after missing cut the two years prior.

Conversely, the major champions who continue to embrace Torrey include Rahm (now missing because he went to LIV Golf), Morikawa, Bradley, Jason Day, Justin Rose and Hideki Matsuyama.

“I think you either love this course or you don’t,” said Bradley, who has three top-10 finishes in the Farmers. “You know that every single time you tee it up here it's going to be a battle. It used to be you would go to the North Course and shoot really low scores, but now the North Course in some ways is just as tough. It's tricky. It's got some crazy greens. … Every hole is if you miss the fairway, you're in trouble. But if you do hit the fairways here, especially with it being soft, you can score.”

To Bradley’s point about the North, since the late Tom Weiskopf’s redesign before the 2017 Farmers, the “easier” course has been about two strokes better for scoring than the Sorth, though it was nearly four strokes easier in 2022. That’s a far cry from the old layout that surrendered 61s to Mark Brooks and Brandt Snedeker.

Marty Gorsich, the Farmers Open tournament director and CEO, fully acknowledges that there are players who simply won’t come to Torrey because of the rough, the sometimes-bumpy Poa annua greens, and even the tournament’s place on the West Coast Swing that is now peppered with three signature events in the first seven weeks. Gorsich contends he is perfectly OK with that, because the Farmers has its own “signature” with its seaside courses and the cachet that comes with Tiger Woods winning eight times on the property.

“It’s the one sport that it’s not just the caliber of the guys you’re competing against, but the field of play differs,” Gorsich said. “And you want to beat the best. A lot of these guys grew up watching Tiger, watching Phil [Mickelson], watching Opens, and this is to them a dragon they all want to slay.

“You’ve got to own your identity,” he added. “We can change it, but then you’ll get a couple of guys who say it’s not for me anymore, that they had an advantage on the field and now they don’t. By trying to please one guy, you can burn another one.”

Torrey’s fans will tell you there is far more to the place than scores and prize money. Bradley, a six-time tour winner at age 37, said he equates the PGA Tour with Torrey Pines, thanks to experiencing early in his career the hoopla here surrounding Woods. Homa recalled skipping high school at home in Los Angeles and driving down to watch Tiger play the back nine of the South. Xander Schauffele just about fell out of a pine tree next to the 18th green when Tiger made his Sunday U.S. Open putt to force the playoff with Rocco Mediate.

“I've always enjoyed coming back here and just thinking about how awesome it is to play a golf course I watched so much growing up,” Homa said. “Yeah, I've had some success here and then last year obviously hit the jackpot and won. Now it holds an even more special place in my heart.”