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The Jersey sore

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EDISON, N.J. – The world’s greatest professional golfers are welcomed to tournaments each week in many resplendent ways. Luxurious gifts. Courtesy cars. Gourmet meals.

Not that each of those isn’t in abundance at this week’s Barclays event, but this is New Jersey – or “Joisey,” as the locals say – a place with more than a little attitude to go with its servitude.

John Rollins got a taste of it while driving to Plainfield Country Club on Wednesday morning with his wife and young daughter in advance of a practice round.

“It was where the two lanes merge into one lane,” he recalled shortly thereafter. “I saw that the lane was getting ready to merge in, so I slowed down and let the guy pass. I guess he thought I was driving recklessly or being crazy or something. You could see him just throw his arms in the air.

“When I merged right back in, within 100 feet he pulled his car off to the shoulder. His window is down and as I’m passing by, I’m barely even looking at him, but my wife looks over and he’s got his hand out of the window flipping us off. He stopped his car just to do that, then he just kept on going.”

Hey, this is Jersey. It’s where people don’t back down to anyone and don’t mind making their feelings known. Got a problem with that?

Actually, some players do. While many maintain the proximity to New York City and the delectable Italian food are their highest regarded parts of the Garden State, others aren’t so impressed by their surroundings. Asked his favorite thing about being in this state, Kris Blanks said, “I only have to be here for a week.”

That sounds tame compared with a player who went on an f-bomb tirade, but would not go on the record with his name. Gee, wonder why he asked to have his name withheld?

This is where Sinatra first crooned, Springsteen belted and Bon Jovi harmonized. It’s where Jimmy Hoffa may or may not be buried, where a fictional Tony Soprano had his enemies whacked. It’s where everything is within arm’s reach of a mall or 24-hour diner. And it’s where Snooki and The Situation became famous for, well, just for living here.

Of course, for one week each year, the acronym “GTL” instead stands for “Golf, Tan, Laundry,” as the PGA Tour’s top 125 players descend upon New Jersey for the annual tournament to kick off the FedEx Cup playoffs.

Not to bury the lead, but while the state is known for world-class musicians, TV mobsters and “Jersey Shore” reality show stars, it’s also a haven for some of the country’s best golf courses.

This state owns five courses on Golf Digest’s current Top-100 list, including Pine Valley (No. 2), Baltusrol (32), Galloway National (91), Somerset Hills (93) and this week’s venue, as Plainfield checks in at 73rd prior to hosting a PGA Tour event for the very first time.

“I couldn't think of a better spot to play,” Phil Mickelson said. “Plainfield to me is what I consider really a great golf course. It's playable for the average player while still creating challenge for the good players to score low. I think that the setup is terrific and we are going to have a great week.”

Lefty’s contention aside, opinions are already varying on whether Plainfield has what it takes to produce a big-time finish without taking any missteps. At just 6,964 yards, it ranks as one of the shortest courses on the PGA Tour schedule and the word most players have used to describe it is “quirky.”

That’s an appropriate assessment considering the fourth, ninth and 18th holes are each reachable par-4s, depending on wind conditions.

“I think that's fun to have on a golf course and it's fun to have some drivable ones, but I think the drivable ones ought to have some risk/reward,” Matt Kuchar explained. “You want some risk and some guys to lay up, probably as many guys lay up as you want to go for it. So you have some course management there, it's not just 100 percent smash your driver and go for it. It's fun to see some different course management strategies being used.”

On a short course like Plainfield, accurate driving is of utmost importance. Without it, players could find the local New Jersey fans off to the side, offering plenty of attitude. Of course, it wouldn’t be the only time this week. John Rollins can attest to that.