‘It’s Going to Get Nuts’: Why Muirfield Village Will Look So Much Different This Week

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Stan Badz/PGA TOUR via Getty Images. Pictured: Collin Morikawa

Over the past few days, if you’re the type who’s as entrenched in the golf prognostication industry as some of us, you’ve either uttered the following words or heard somebody else utter them:

Oh, come on. There was just a tournament at Muirfield Village and the winning score was 19-under. If it didn’t play too tough last week, there’s no way they can make it that much tougher this week.

That sentiment, of course, is in direct response to what was already reported weeks ago about the contrast between these two tourneys.

Some of the tee boxes were moved up at times for the Workday Charity Open; they’ll mostly be pushed back for the Memorial Tournament. The rough was 3-3½ inches last week; it’ll be closer to 4-4½ this week. And most importantly, the green speeds were running around 11-11½ previously; they’ll be at least 13-13½ by Thursday.

Even the most cynical observers will admit that this week’s tourney sounds like it’ll play tougher, but they’ll likely also point out that even with similar conditions last year, the winning score was, well, 19-under – exactly the same number which won the Workday.

In fact, by Tuesday, some players already felt like the course was back to its normal setup.

“The greens are already much faster than they even were Sunday,” said Patrick Cantlay, last year’s winner who fired a final-round 64 to post that 19-under total. “It’s nice to see the golf course back how I remember it.”

That said, there’s already some thought that if the course is playing the way they remember it early in the week, by the end of the week it could be like nothing they’ve ever seen here.

One player already told me, “Jack will kill the course this week.” Another said, “It’s going to get nuts.”

The winning score here hasn’t been single-digits under-par since 2012, when Tiger Woods won at 9-under. While a 10-stroke differential between last year’s winner and this year’s winner seems a bit drastic, there’s reason to believe that the total will be closer to the 2012 number than the 2019 one.

I wouldn’t call this U.S. Open-like conditions, but I do think there’s potential for a U.S. Open Lite by this weekend.

All of which has me thinking of big, brutal, fast, firm Midwest ballparks.

It also has me thinking back to 2016.

The U.S. Open was held that year at Oakmont, a somewhat comparable track just a few hours down the road. On Wednesday of the Memorial that year, I played a little hooky and made the drive, teeing it up in the famous SWAT game at Oakmont, one of the most memorable rounds I’ve ever played.

Two weeks later, Dustin Johnson claimed that U.S. Open title. Among the runners-up were Scott Piercy and Shane Lowry. Branden Grace and Zach Johnson each finished inside the top-10.

Keep those names in mind, we’re not done yet.

Two weeks after that U.S. Open was the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, moved up in the schedule to account for the Olympics that summer. In the eight editions of that event before then and the final two after it, the winning score at Firestone was always double-digits under par.

That week, though, the winner was a mere 6-under, posted by DJ yet again – and Piercy was second again.
Lowry was a mere 36th, but it should be noted that he won at Firestone the previous year. And once again, Grace and ZJ were in the top-10.

If we’re looking for comp courses to what we might see at Muirfield Village this weekend, those two tracks – and specifically in that one year – could wind up being the best of the bunch.

Granted, there was no Jon Rahm or Collin Morikawa or Viktor Hovland on the pro circuit at that point, guys like Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele were still dreaming about reaching this level and Tiger Woods was in the midst of a 16-month layoff. We shouldn’t think of the players who contended back then at the expense of forgetting all of those who could do it this week.

It would be silly to simply look at those leaderboards and expect the exact same results this time around, even if the course does indeed mimic the toughness of those two.

It might be similarly silly, however, to ignore those leaderboards, failing to understand how history could have a way of repeating itself this week, with a scenario that could remind us of a few other not-too-distant events.

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