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5 Things for Sony Open: Cameron Smith's mullet; Remembering 1983

Smith
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The PGA Tour's fortnight in Hawaii continues this week at the Sony Open, played at one of the coolest courses on Tour, Waialae Country Club in Honolulu.

Here's everything you need – and some stuff you didn't think you needed – to know for the Sony Open:


All eyes on

Cameron Smith – and his mullet. If you follow the Tour closely, surely you've seen Cameron Smith's hair by now. Smith's mullet was on full display last November at the Masters, where he shared second behind winner Dustin Johnson, but when Smith arrived in Hawaii last week, somehow it got even more epic.

Smith, this week's defending champion, doesn't plan on getting rid of it any time soon, either.

"I saw a few of the rugby league boys at home doing it. It was a great time to do it during quarantine, just something fun. Make people have a laugh about it. I've just kind of kept it going," Smith said. "I've almost turned it into my good luck charm. It's not bad. I think it needs a little bit of a trim at the front. I'd really like to go full business at the front and party at the back. But maybe within the next couple months, it might change up a little bit."


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What else we’re talking about

Can Joaco bounce back? After Sunday's playoff loss to Harris English, the 22-year-old Niemann will be a popular rebound candidate at Waialae. Niemann closed his Tournament of Champions with a final-round 64. He would've won outright, too, had it not been for a missed 8-foot birdie putt on the final hole of regulation. At Waialae, where Niemann tied for 57th in his debut last year, Niemann's stellar iron play should come in handy.

"It's a little different than what we played last week; that it was hilly and wide and now it's more narrow," Niemann said. "We don't hit many drivers off the tee."

Of course, we're also still following the story of Niemann's young cousin, Rafita, who needs a life-saving – and $2.1 million – drug called Zolgensma. Niemann, who visited Rafita in the hospital for the first time a few weeks ago in Chile, said that fundraising efforts for Rafita have reached "95-97 percent of our goal."

"I'm really happy to be helping him out," Niemann said, "and see how he's getting all the support from all the people here on the PGA Tour."

Hideki’s putting. Hideki Matsuyama enters the year’s first full-field event behind only five players with better odds, according to PointsBet Sportsbook. Matusyama is listed at +2000 odds despite coming off one of the worst putting performances of his career.

Matsuyama ranked last in the 42-player field at Kapalua in strokes gained: putting, losing 2.435 shots per round on the greens and nearly 10 shots for the tournament. The last time Matsuyama had performed worse in the category was last summer’s RBC Heritage, where he missed the cut after averaging -2.595 strokes gained: putting in two rounds. His last 72-hole event with a worse putting performance? The 2017 Tour Championship (-2.462).

After reaching No. 17 in the Official World Golf Ranking after last November’s Masters, Matsuyama, who tied for last at Kapalua and finished 21 shots back, is back outside the top 20 at No. 21.

Takumi’s potential. This week’s Sony field features plenty of veterans: Life members Vijay Singh and Davis Love III, career money earners such as Jerry Kelly and Bo Van Pelt, and sponsor exemptions like Shane Bertsch and Y.E. Yang. But there are also some intriguing young players, most notably Takumi Kanaya, who is one of three Japanese 20-somethings who are playing via designated sponsor exemptions.

The 22-year-old Kanaya is fast approaching the top 100 in the world after reaching No. 1 in the world as an amateur. Since turning pro last fall, he has four top-7s in five starts, including a victory at the Japan Tour’s Dunlop Phoenix, where he won in a playoff while topping a field that includes the likes of Chan Kim, Ryo Ishikawa and Shugo Imahira.


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Gut feeling

Webb Simpson wins. There are a handful of courses on Tour where Simpson always plays well. Waialae is one of those courses. Simpson has never missed a cut in 10 Sony starts. He has five straight top-15 finishes there, including a T-4 in 2018 and solo third last year (he skipped the event in 2019). Simpson was a late arrival to Kapalua last week because of COVID-19, didn’t play a practice round and ultimately finished T-17. Simpson’s taste hadn’t returned as of last Friday, but come Sunday hopefully he’ll be able to taste victory.


Aoki
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Remember when…

Isao Aoki won the 1983 Hawaiian Open? Aoki’s dramatic victory marked the first PGA Tour win by a player from Japan. Aoki trailed Jack Renner by a shot through 71 holes, but needing a birdie to force a playoff, Aoki holed out for eagle from 128 yards out at Waialae Country Club’s par-5 18th hole.

“I figured at worst I’d be in a playoff,” said Renner, who had previously lipped out an eagle putt at the last. “There was a big roar behind me and above me back on 18, and it was a little bit different roar than what I expected. I thought that he had hit it close by the sound that was made, and finally after a few seconds of [me] being in oblivion, so to speak, somebody told me that he had holed the shot from the rough for an eagle to win the tournament. But my first thought was it was almost comical. … I didn’t think there was anything to do other than just grin, and unfortunately the camera missed the grin and caught the look of death.”

Aoki, who was 40 years old at the time, did not win another Tour event, but he did capture the Panasonic European Open on the European Tour late that year. For his career, Aoki won 80 times professionally, including 51 events on the Japan Tour. He trails only Jumbo Ozaki (94) on that tour’s career wins list. His best major finish came at the 1980 U.S. Open, where he finished runner-up to Jack Nicklaus by two shots.

He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2004.

As for Renner, he bounced back the following year at Waialae, winning in a playoff over Wayne Levi.


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Did you know?

Much has changed since Seth Raynor first designed Waialae Country Club, which opened in 1927, a year after Raynor’s death. The construction of the Kahala Hotel in the 1960s altered routing of several holes, and only in recent years, with the help of architect Tom Doak, has the club attempted to revive some of its Raynor roots, particularly in regard to restoring some of Raynor’s template holes.

One course feature that was not part of Raynor’s initial layout – and arguably the most noticeable to the casual fan – is the cluster of coconut palm trees shaped into a ‘W’ behind the seventh green (or 16th green during tournament weeks). According to a feature by PGATour.com, the trees were added in 2009 after member Ethan Abbott lobbied the club. Abbott, inspired by the movie “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” where hidden treasure is buried under a bunch of palm trees shaped into a similar ‘W,’ eventually gained the support of club manager Allan Lum and course superintendent Dave Nakama.

The project cost about $3,500, and cranes were brought in to position the new palms and form what is now one of the most iconic non-course features on Tour.

“I really give a lot of credit to the arborist, Steve Nimz, actually,” Abbott said. “I may have had the idea and the kind of vision, but he had to physically make the trees in the shape of a ‘W’ and do it correctly. … It just was symmetrically perfect. I was thrilled and excited and it was even better than the movie because it was the real thing. … I said, ‘Yep, this is it. We've nailed it.’”