The wind kisses the ocean, bringing a misty breeze to the shores of Kapalua in Hawaii, at the break of dawn. The idyllic island also ushers in the New Year on the PGA TOUR, with a celebration of its champions. The Sentry Tournament of Champions is only open to the winners of the previous season and will only feature 42 stars this week. Justin Thomas is the defending champion, having unseated Xander Schauffele last year.
Schauffele was inches away from a title defense, but with two putts to win on the final green, he stumbled into a three way playoff against Thomas and Patrick Reed. He would have missed the bus in 2021, but the Tour offered a ticket to Hawaii not only for the winners last year but also to everyone that made the TOUR Championship in 2020.
Under the shadow of COVID-19
After enduring a bout of COVID-19 in December, Schauffele is eager to put the nightmare behind him with a strong showing again this week.
“I tried to walk up a few holes today just as a test. Definitely not in great shape, in all honesty,” Schauffele told the TOUR. “So, I’m kind of in a weird place physically. But mentally, I can fake it until I make it. I’ll have to fall back on some good memories from the past couple years.
“I don’t know how she (his girlfriend) got it. We traced everything. No one around her got it. My family didn’t get it. So, it’s a weird deal. It’s a bit scary just because there’s so much unknown facts about the whole COVID process.”
While COVID-19 continues to haunt the world, there isn’t anything particularly unknown about the Plantation Course in Kapalua. Thomas has been on a good run, having finished no worse than T12 in five starts for the 2021 season. A new putting coach has been added to his team and if they can work together to iron the chinks on the greens, he could turn even more formidable. But in a tournament of champions, it will take mighty effort from Thomas to hold off potential invaders.
Will Dustin Johnson dominate?
The chief threat will perhaps be Dustin Johnson, who had a stellar 2020, pocketing the FedexCup before fitting into a perfectly tailored Green Jacket, his second major title. But Johnson takes his time to warm up and it will be interesting to see which version of the unquestionably supreme golfer turns out in Hawaii.
Jon Rahm has joined the stable with Schauffele at Callaway. It will get very interesting if he can dial his best so early after making the switch. After a lean season in 2020, the action cannot come any sooner.