LOS ANGELES – Louis Pasteur once famously figured, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”
There’s no history of the father of pasteurization playing competitive golf, and most players in the Genesis Open field probably wouldn’t recognize his prose, but they certainly live by the concept.
On the PGA Tour, every eventuality is anticipated, from the choice of what clubs to play at certain venues to the shots they practice depending on that week’s conditions.
No golf ball is left unturned.
But during weeks like this when Mother Nature forces her will on the outcome, often there is no way to prepare.
It's an occupational hazard of playing an outdoor sport, but that doesn’t provide any comfort when players end up on the wrong side of the draw.
At Riviera Country Club, that line was clearly drawn as Round 2 got underway on Friday under foreboding skies. After a pair of fog delays on Day 1 pushed the completion of the first round into Friday, the early starters were greeted with increasingly difficult conditions.
By the time many reached the turn, the storm that had been forecast had arrived, with winds gusting to 40 mph and a cold, driving rain making just remaining upright difficult, never mind trying to swing with any consistency.
When play was suspended for the day just past noon, none of the late second-round starters had began their rounds. When those late starters returned early Saturday to a soft golf course and dramatically calmer conditions, the differential between waves was striking.
The early wave scoring average for Round 2, those who played through the worst of Friday’s tempest, was 72.86 (including just 29 of 72 rounds in the 60s), while the afternoon draw was more than two strokes better with a 70.47 average.
“This weather sure would have been nice to play in yesterday or this morning,” Justin Thomas tweeted of the more benign afternoon conditions long after he’d completed his weather-whipped round.
It’s understandable those on the wrong side of lady luck may lament their misfortune, but they also realize that pulling a “bad draw” is simply part of the game, like a poor lie or a perfect drive that finds a divot (a rub that should be eliminated, but that’s a topic for another day).
“You've got to try and find positives because the moment that you start thinking negatives and 'Why am I so unlucky because I was on the wrong side of the draw?' that's why you're either missing cuts or you're not making the right decisions out there,” said world No. 1 Jason Day, who endured the worst of Friday’s conditions on his way to his second consecutive 70.
Joining Day on the wrong side of fortune were Brooks Koepka (72), Thomas (71) and Hideki Matsuyama, who was 146 under par in his last 10 starts before ballooning to a second-round 80. It was the Japanese star’s first missed cut anywhere in the world since last August.
Although the weather normally doesn’t become such a dramatic influence until the Open Championship, when a shifting wind can bring four seasons in a matter of minutes, the last two Tour stops have been influenced by storms that didn’t impact the field equally.
Similarly heavy rain and wind forced officials to suspend play during Round 1 last week at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, but that “Crosby” edition of the old clambake also stands as an example of how players can often overcome a poor draw.
Jordan Speith was in the early, more demanding, wave last week at Pebble Beach and had to finish his opening round on Friday on his way to a four-stroke victory; and this week Jhonattan Vegas has defied the odds, coming from the poor side of the tee sheet to grab a share of the early second-round lead.
Vegas played through Friday’s gale, opening his round with birdies at Nos. 1, 5, 6 and 9 before the more difficult conditions set in and he closed his round with seven consecutive pars (including the final four of his second round on Saturday morning).
“It was tough but I knew that you had to stay patient,” Vegas said. “This is a course that nobody's going to run away with it. Just have to stay patient and it worked out really well.”
Given the forecast, which included a 100 percent chance of rain on Friday, Vegas said he knew he was probably on the wrong side of the draw but didn’t spend a lot of time mulling his fate.
“It's too much extra pressure you put on yourself that you shouldn't,” said Vegas, who will begin the third round tied for fourth place after play was suspended because of darkness. “Obviously you plan for what's coming your way, but if you start looking at bad breaks and good breaks and good luck and bad luck, it's just a lot happening that's out of your control that I try not to focus on it.”
Pasteur was right, chance does favor the prepared mind. But on days like Friday, the strong mind also has a say in things.