The 22nd annual Barracuda Championship is underway at Old Greenwood, marking the first time the Tahoe Mountain Club is hosting the tournament after 21 consecutive years at Montreaux Golf and Country Club in Reno.
Play began Thursday on the par-71, 7,390-yard course, bringing some of the top up-and-coming players to the region.
“It’s nice to be playing in my home state of California,” Sahith Theegala said during a Wednesday press conference. “I’ve always loved the Tahoe and Reno, Truckee area.”
Theegala, who was a member of Pepperdine University’s nationally top-ranked team, received a sponsor exemption to play in the tournament. Theegala was Pepperdine’s first National Player of the Year. In his final collegiate year he won the Southwestern Invitational, Alister Mackenzie Invitational and the Australian Master of Amateurs. In four playing seasons over five years, he ended with the best scoring average (70.61) in Pepperdine history.
He said that after his first couple of PGA events, he’s beginning to settle in and find his groove.
“I’m transitioning pretty well. I feel like my game is coming along pretty well, and I’m starting to get really comfortable being out here, and that was a big thing … the first couple of weeks I was too excited,” said Theegala.
“Just the first couple of weeks, seeing guys like Rory, DJ, Brooks. Seeing them in person it’s like, ‘Wow, I grew up watching these guys, and they’ve been dominating and all of a sudden I’m competing against them’ … the star-struck part of it definitely took a little bit to get over.”
scoring system offers go-for-it payoff
Coming into the event, Theegala said the layout at Old Greenwood along with it being the only event to use the Stableford scoring format, suits his style of play.
“I’m a cutter of the ball so this course really sets up well for me because I can hit 12, 13 cuts off the tee, which is awesome,” said Theegala.
“Pretty much every par-5 is reachable and a couple of drivable par-4s, so it’s definitely exciting.”
Under the Stableford format, instead of counting the total number of strokes taken, a Modified Stableford involves scoring points based on the number of strokes taken at each hole.
For example, a player receives eight points for a double eagle, five points for an eagle, two points for a birdie, and zero points for par. Players lose a point for a bogey and three points for a double bogey. Once a player has taken two strokes more than par, they may pick up their ball as three points is the most each golfer can lose on a given hole.
The format is designed to incentivize risk taking due to potential for large payoffs by knocking in an eagle or double eagle.
Will Gordon played in the Barracuda Championship last year under a sponsor exemption and finished in a tie for 31st place.
“I think it was my first PGA Tour event, and I was in the mix going into the last day, late in the third day, and I think that provided me a lot of confidence moving forward,” said Gordon during Wednesday’s press conference. “I tell (tournament director) Chris Hoff that all the time, that he gave me a great opportunity early to help me set up the success I’ve had this year. This format sets up really nice for me, so continuing to be aggressive, and just knowing that birdie outweighs a bogey this week is kind of an exciting opportunity to play free and really enjoy yourself.”
Gordon said the course at Old Greenwood lends itself well to the Stableford format, adding that the layout provides more options to be aggressive than in previous years at Montreaux.
“Yeah, I think out here, like I said earlier, off the tee here, you want to kind of hit more drivers out here and be a little bit more aggressive off the tee, and I think that provides a little bit more opportunity,” said Gordon. “There’s a couple drivable holes here, too, and Montreux had one of those, but out here you’re kind of off the tee able to kind of dictate how you want to play it a little bit more than Montreux. Montreux kind of had everybody hitting to similar spots, so I think this week is just going to be a really exciting fit for the Stableford format.”
‘BALL GOES FOREVER UP HERE’
Another top collegiate player who received a sponsor exemption, Peter Kuest, also teed off, making his Barracuda debut.
“The course looks awesome,” said Kuest during Tuesday’s press conference. “It looks really cool, tree-lined and the ball goes forever up here, so it should be really fun.”
Kuest finished his award-winning collegiate career at Brigham Young University as a PING First-Team All-American, and is one of the most accomplished golfers in school history with 10 tournament wins. Kuest also recorded the best single-season stroke average in school history with a 69.42, beating his own record from last season (69.79). He was a final watch list honoree for the Haskins Award, named the Ben Hogan Award October Golfer of the Month as well as West Coast Conference Golfer of the Month for September.
He capped off his final collegiate year winning the William H. Tucker Intercollegiate, Saint Mary’s Invitational and finishing as a runner-up at the Nick Watney Invitational. Kuest also made his professional debut at the Travelers Championship and is now playing in his fifth PGA event.
“I’ve kind of gotten behind in tournaments at the start and trying to have to catch up in events,” he said. “So this week hopefully I can start making birdies early and then just keep it going and just keep the foot on the gas and just have fun. That’s what I’m trying to do each and every day is have fun and learn and see what happens.”
62 PGA TOUR WINNERS TO TEE OFF
While players like Kuest are just beginning their PGA careers, other more established players are looking to further their position in the FedExCup points race.
Second-year player Lanto Griffin, 32, comes into the weekend as the highest ranked player in the FedExCup standings, sitting at No. 10. The winner of the Barracuda Championship earns 300 cup points, and given the changes in the schedule with the U.S. Open and other tournaments, there’s a chance to earn a spot into the U.S. Open with a top-10 finish this weekend.
“I won’t be thinking about it on the course so much,” said Griffin on qualifying for the U.S. Open. “I’ll be thinking more FedExCup — my main goal right now is to get as high as I can going into East Lake. If I can somehow be in the top 10 and get 3-, 4-, 5-under par starting that week, that’s my main goal, and then my second goal is the Wyndham Rewards, obviously, and then the U.S. Open.”
Starting this season, players are vying for a chance to be part of the new Wyndham Rewards Top 10 — a $10 million bonus that will be split between the PGA TOUR’s FedExCup top-10 regular season finishers.
“I want to come out here and have some fun, prepare for the PGA next week, try and get some feels and try and get into a little bit of a groove with my swing since I’ve made some changes,” said Griffin. “And if I play great, obviously I’ll be happy, and if not, hopefully I found something this week that’s going to lead me into the PGA next week down the road.”
Other notable players include Si Woo Kim, Martin Kaymer, Sebastian Munoz, and 2011 FedExCup champion Bill Haas. The field includes 62 PGA Tour winners, accounting for 127 wins.
The winner of the tournament will receive $630,000 as part of a $3.5 million purse. The first player to post a double eagle on the 12th hole in each round will receive a $100,000 charitable donation in his name. Half of the money will go to local charities and the other half will be directed to a nonprofit of the player’s choice.
Players will tee off at 8 a.m. for the final two rounds of play. Though the tournament is closed to public attendance due to COVID-19, The Golf Channel will provide coverage of the event.
Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. Contact him at email@example.com or 530-550-2643.