Farmers Open

Heavy wind at Torrey Pines for Farmers Open was better for paragliders than golfers

January 26, 2023

Jon Rahm plays his shot from the 16th tee of the North Course during the second round of the Farmers Insurance Open.

Sean M. Haffey

SAN DIEGO — The drive to the Torrey Pines golf courses that hugs the red sandstone hills and and goes past the ocean has to be one of the most scenic in all of tournament golf. For the players in the Farmers Insurance Open, it can be a soothing sight on their way to wrestle some of the most beautiful and demanding tracks that they’ll see all year.

But as the sun lit up the blue-green water in the early morning on Thursday, there was an ominous sign in the breaking waves. As they crashed, curtains of spray drifted into the air because the wind was blowing so hard into them from the east. It was stunning, if you were a photographer or tourist. Not so much if you’re trying to keep a little ball from being blown over the cliffs.

“We knew today was going to be like put your helmet on and kind of get ready for battle,” Sam Ryder would say after winning the fight by shooting a four-under-par 68 on the South Course for a two-round total of 12 under that gave him a three-shot lead over Brendan Steele.

When someone asked Jon Rahm, who rallied late in the day for a 67 on the North Course, to compare the conditions in the calm of Wednesday’s first round to the havoc of the second, he offered a brief blank stare before saying, “Yesterday was very easy; today was very hard. Can’t tell you much else, honestly.”

For a place that’s renowned for its usually comfortable weather, the Torrey Pines golf courses have seen their share of strange circumstances during the January weeks of the Farmers Insurance Open. One year, a ferocious overnight storm hit so hard that some massive eucalyptus trees toppled into fairways. Several rounds have been delayed when fog drifted over just some of the holes of the property while others were awash in sunshine.

Now we can add Santa Ana winds, and they played havoc with the scoring at Torrey Pines as the field battled simply to survive and reach the final two rounds on Friday and Saturday. These particular winds are known for blowing in from the desert, bringing warmer air and stronger-than-normal gusts than those that come off the Pacific Ocean. On Thursday, the forecast was for consistent winds at about 15-to-20 mph and gusts in the 30-mph range. The weather people got it right, and the golfers dealt with the tough conditions the entire day.

The result? Both courses played more than three strokes harder in the second round than the first, with the more-challenging South yielding a 75.85 stroke average on Thursday compared to the North’s 73.17. Though some players speculated that the South played much harder than the North on Day 2, the margin between the courses was nearly the same in the benign first round.

It just felt like everything played tougher.

“Yeah, drastically different days, both course and weather,” said Max Homa, whose second-round 70 on the South moved him up 15 spots on the leaderboard to a tie for fourth at six under. “The South is just so much harder. … The North has a couple holes that are a little bit easier than a couple of the holes on the South, but you add in the poa greens and a bunch of people playing on them, so they get bumpy. And then obviously this wind today was hard, putting was hard, pulling a club was hard.”

Some of the holes played considerably different, and not all were tougher. The South’s dangerous duo of the 225-yard par-3 11th and 505-yard par-4 12th played into a breeze in the first round and were the No. 6 and No. 1 toughest holes, respectively. On Thursday, with the heavy wind at the players’ backs, they were 12th and sixth.

Conversely, on the North, one of the easier holes—the 339-yard 11th—played into the wind in the second round and the scores were one-third of a stroke higher.

“On 11, we’re thinking about hitting close to the green,” Rahm said. “I piped a drive and I had 80 yards to the pin.”

The hardest hole on the South, at .75 strokes over par, was the 438-yard 14th that hugs a canyon and played on Thursday into a crosswind. The North's most demanding hole was the 479-yard fourth (.53 over), which was directly into the wind.The latter played as the 11th most dififcult on Wednesday.

In the conditions, Rahm was remarkable with his driver, and he rallied late in the round with three birdies and an eagle for the 67 that put him into a tie for 14th. The winner of the 2017 Farmers Open and 2021 U.S. Open at Torrey missed only four fairways and was seventh in the field in strokes gained/off-the-tee. His left-to-right shaping of shots has made him formidable at Torrey Pines, but he still had to fight to keep his bombs in the short grass.

“Obviously, start lines are very different,” Rahm said. “With those left-to-right winds coming down the stretch, ball started very far left compared to the right-to-left wind we're used to sometimes.”

On a leaderboard that has a few surprise names, PGA Tour rookie Tano Goya standing alone in third at seven under is among them. But he probably shouldn’t be, given the 34-year-old from Argentina played more than a decade around the world in a wide mix of conditions. After shooting a bogey-free 67 on the North, he said, “I’ve been playing Europe for 11 years. I think that helped me a lot. It’s a lot of rounds where you play with a lot of wind. … I like to hit it low and trying to work on the distances with my caddie, that was key.”

Asked about the windiest conditions he’s played in, Goya smiled and said it was pretty much every time he played in the Dunhill Links in Scotland. I remember playing my first major in St. Andrews in 2010, it was so windy,” he said.

There’s no doubt Scotsman were chuckling at all the fuss at Torrey Pines. “A wee bit of a breeze” is probably what they’d call it.