One of the strongest fields of the year lands in Dublin, Ohio this week for The Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club. Muirfield opened in 1974 as a 6,969-yard track and evolved into its current 7,392-yard, par-72 length with a series of nips, tucks, and wholesale redesigns. Of the 400-plus courses designed by Jack Nicklaus worldwide, Muirfield is considered his seminal masterpiece. Muirfield is a second-shot golf course with ample room off the tee. However, the difficulty of each hole increases as you approach the greens – which are strategically bunkered and feature putting surfaces that are among the quickest and most undulating on the PGA Tour. Here are five things you need to know about the 43rd edition of The Memorial Tournament.
Inside the Field
Thirteen past champions will tee it up at Muirfield, including five-time winner Tiger Woods, 2010 winner Justin Rose, and defending champion Jason Dufner. The Memorial is a title you want on your resume and the field is stacked – boasting eight of the Top-10 Players from the OWGR and the Top-5 players in the FedExCup standings. World No. 1 Justin Thomas, No. 2 Dustin Johnson, No. 5 Jordan Spieth, and No. 6 Rory McIlroy all look to build on recent momentum. Phil Mickelson makes his 18th start at The Memorial. World No. 7 Rickie Fowler and No. 8 Jason Day take aim at their first win in Dublin. While World No. 10 Hideki Matsuyama looks to become only the seventh multiple champion at Muirfield.
Inspiration from The Open Championship
When Nicklaus won the 1966 Open Championship at Muirfield Golf Links in Scotland to complete the career Grand Slam, he was forcibly struck by how much more precision matters in golf than power. Jack only used driver 17 times in four rounds at the 95th Open, and that realization stayed with him as he designed Muirfield in his hometown Columbus. Nicklaus sought to create individual shot values to make players use their minds as much as their muscles, to competently manage their emotions, and to think through all options before drawing a club from their bags. The complexities of Muirfield personify Jack the tactician, and that’s why it’s a paragon of what the game of golf should be.
Budding Golf Course Architect
Other than family and playing golf, there’s been nothing in Nicklaus’ life he’s been more involved in than Muirfield Village. Jack purchased the densely wooded, rolling track of land in 1966, and then apprenticed himself to Pete Dye on a few projects – including Harbor Town Golf Links – to gain architectural experience and acumen. Six years later while still balancing a tournament schedule, Nicklaus began construction on Muirfield.
Acquiring so much land so quickly came at a significant stress financially, but Jack was adamant about bringing a tournament to the people of Columbus and giving something back to the game. And if you’re wondering what effect this kind of pressure had on his play - in 1972 Nicklaus won a career-high seven times – including his fourth Masters and third U.S. Open.
The Man Known Simply as “Jack”
In addition to winning 18 majors, Jack finished in second place 19 times, and five of those runner-ups were just one-stroke losses – a telling tribute to how often he was in the major championship hunt. With over 400 courses designed worldwide, Jack has also forged a prolific architectural legacy that approaches the greatness he achieved on the course.
More than 140 of Nicklaus’ courses have hosted professional and amateur championships, and Muirfield’s strategic design and flawless conditioning regularly attracts the strongest collection of golf’s marquee names. From the moment Nicklaus burst onto the national scene in the 1950s he’s lived up to golf’s gentlemanly rules and principles and conducted himself in the most honorable of fashions. He’s a golf legend. He’s our sport’s greatest ambassador. He’s Jack, and that’s why we love him.
What Will it Take to Win at Jack’s Place?
With brutal rough on just about every hole, treacherous greenside traps, and slick putting surfaces that will send balls screaming every which way, you need to keep the ball in play off the tee and hit some quality approach shots. If you don’t do both, you’re finished. Muirfield’s layout bears a striking resemblance to Augusta National where you have to make birdies on the easy par-5s, avoid the crooked numbers on the par-4s, and try to gain a few strokes on the par-3s.
The 184-yard, par-3 12th is an almost direct replica of No. 12 at Augusta with a kidney-shaped green flanked by two gaping bunkers, water in the front, and a steep bank in the back. Four par-4s measure between 450 and 500 yards. None are tougher than 484-yard, finishing hole. The fairway on No. 18 is relatively narrow and features an assortment of bunkers at the right corner of the dogleg requiring power and precision off the tee. The second shot is uphill to a two-tiered green that is well guarded by bunkers and under-hit approach shots will pay a stiff penalty.
Matt Kuchar isn’t the kind of elite player you want to ride every time he sticks a tee in the ground, but when it’s The Memorial week you always want to look at Kooch. Finding the short grass off the tee at Muirfield is crucial and Kuchar is one of the best on Tour keeping it in play. When Kuchar’s striking the ball cleanly, he’s picking up strokes with his irons better than 70-percent of the players on Tour. Matt has made 10 consecutive cuts here, including seven top-10 finishes to go along with his victory in 2013. Kooch has lost strokes with the putter in his last two starts, but if he can turn that around this week he’ll easily churn out another top-10 and come Sunday evening be the one shaking Jack’s hand on the 18th green.