The 2020-2021 PGA Tour hits the halfway mark this week with two important tournaments on tap – The WGC-Dell Match Play Championship in Austin, Texas, and the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.
The Match Play Championship is the only head-to-head competition on the schedule, and features the top-64 ranked players duking it out over five jam-packed days of elite-level match play competition.
That event gets top billing, but for many golf aficionados – myself included, the lure of following the PGA Tour’s opposite-field event in the Dominican, featuring lesser-known professionals, is far more interesting.
While the sports world salivates toward The Masters, scheduled April 6-9, the 4th annual visit to the Dominican Republic is special because it allows an opportunity for a variety of struggling pros to earn critical PGA Tour status and FedEx Cup points, that can shape or remake their careers.
The expression ‘every shot counts’ never had truer meaning than at an opposite-field event like what’s happening this week at Corales. Although the field of 132-players is highly-skilled, the vast majority of these players don’t fly around on private jets; don’t have multi-million-dollar sponsorship deals; don’t travel with a team; and don’t have bank accounts with lots of zeros at the end.
Corales Golf Course is the host course and also one of the most photogenic and longest on Tour, while tropical breezes can make scoring challenging. Last September Hudson Swafford posted an 18-under par score to win, that also earned him a two-season PGA Tour exemption and invitation to The Masters.
But, Swafford, currently ranked No. 198 in the world, is a perfect example of how difficult life can be playing golf for a living. He’s admittedly in a slump having played in 12 tournaments since his victory in September, he’s missed the cut nine times.
Yes, he loved the thrill of victory but dreads the thought of another MC at a tropical Caribbean Island he adores.
At a pre-tournament teleconference Swafford talked about defending his title, and getting back to the basics amid a lengthy struggle with form.
“I am, I’m very determined. Obviously I started off well in the fall. I’ve struggled as of lately, I’m not going to deny that. I’ve been changing a few little things in my swing, the way my body’s been working,” said Swafford, who won his maiden title at the 2017 CareerBuilder.
“I kind of wanted to get some speed in the offseason, kind of reiterate on what Rory said, and it kind of hindered my short iron play. I’m trying to just get back to basics. I just hadn’t been comfortable putting pencil to paper.
“Seeing a lot of good stuff in practice rounds, been playing well at home, but did some good stuff this past weekend and starting to get a little bit more comfortable and ready to go. I’m looking forward to my defense.”
Swafford hopes the memory of career win No. 2, and the “good vibes” of Corales’ ocean views are what kick his game back into gear.
“It was great to win the “Straw Hat,” the title of “King of Corales” and Masters invitation, but my game needs tweaking right now,” said the 2011 University of Georgia grad.
“Obviously, from the scores I’ve been shooting my swing is off. With good vibes coming back here, hopefully things will turn around. What I like about Corales is the ocean views tend to take you away from your game.”
A field of 132 players will aim at first place check of $540,000 from the $3 million purse.
The golf stage in Punta Cana is set over the next four days to determine the new “King of Corales” and who will wear the winner’s “Straw Hat.”