An insider’s guide on how to conquer Colonial

Posted Sunday, May. 19, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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You won’t see Jody Vasquez’s name on the Wall of Champions. But you will read his name on the list of Colonial’s club champions.

Seven times, in fact.

It might be difficult to find anyone currently around Colonial who knows the course as well as a seven-time club champion, so for any PGA Tour member wanting to make it onto the Wall, it couldn’t hurt to strike up a conversation with Vasquez to tap into his local knowledge, could it?

“On the whole,” Vasquez said in aw-shucks fashion, “they already know the course. It’s not a mystical thing.”

Still, Vasquez said, there are “a lot of little nuances” to playing Colonial.

Colonial members Vasquez and Bill O’Hara, a former Tour caddie, agreed to share their local knowledge for any touring pro. And they did so without hesitating, saying there were no secrets to the course they would keep to themselves.

“I’ll share anything with you,” O’Hara said with a laugh.

In the loop

In addition to playing Colonial “every day, just about,” O’Hara has caddied there. After retiring from his job, he looped for Mark Brooks on Tour in 1995. Last year, O’Hara stepped in to carry the bag around Colonial for Japanese youngster Ryo Ishikawa.

The key to avoiding high scores at Colonial, O’Hara said, is to avoid missing greens to the pin side.

“You just can’t short-side yourself,” O’Hara said. “The greens are so small. If you do miss short side, it’s a tough up-and-down even with an L-wedge if you’re around the green.”

But hit the greens, O’Hara said, and putts are there to be made.

“Colonial greens — I think you can read them,” he said. “They’re small greens and the ball rolls great.”

There is, however, one green where both O’Hara and Vasquez say it is difficult to make putts: the par-3 13th. The hole changed drastically in 2008 as part of Keith Foster’s renovations to the course. Foster gave the green slope toward the lake in front.

“It’s very hard to read,” O’Hara said, adding he has heard plenty of other members say the same thing.

“Putting from the middle back of the green toward the water is really tough,” Vasquez said. “The speed is really tough to wrap your mind around. That putt tends to be quicker than you think.”

Vasquez said the three primary pin placements — front, back left and right middle or back — all create their own challenges.

That sets up what he calls a “defensive” 190-yard shot from the tee.

“You need to go into that hole and accept the fact you’re going to make a 3 unless you make a 15-footer,” Vasquez said. “There are 18 holes on the course, and you don’t need to birdie all of them. That’s a hole where you don’t need to be aggressive.”

Beware of wind

Vasquez pointed to another par-3 that can be tricky — the long, 247-yard par-3 fourth that is the middle hole of the Horrible Horseshoe.

“Standing on 4, sometimes it seems like the wind is left to right when it’s really downwind,” he said. “If the pin is left [behind two bunkers], you don’t want to go at it because the ball’s not going to stay.”

Short, he said, is preferred over long on No. 4, making it crucial to recognize when the hole is playing downwind.

“It’s much easier to get up and down from in front instead of over,” he said. “You can miss the ball three to seven yards short of the green and still have a shot at almost every pin location. But if you’re over, whether it’s three steps or eight steps, it’s difficult because the green goes away from you.”

On the back nine, Vasquez and O’Hara picked No. 16 as a hole that plays more difficult than expected. That’s another par-3 at 192 yards, but its green is more undulated than any other on the course with a severe slope back to front.

“They’re all pretty flat except for 16,” O’Hara said. “It seems like the green doesn’t sit in context with the rest of the greens on the course.”

The typical south wind makes the hole play downwind, creating a difficult shot from the tee because of the amount of spin on the ball off a higher iron. Vasquez said a north wind makes the hole play longer but actually makes for an easier shot into the green because using a longer club creates less spin.

For front pin locations on 16, Vasquez said the spin the pros get on the ball makes it difficult to stop a shot close to the pin. Back and back-right pin placements, he said, are “nightmares.” Anything short of the pin will spin back down the slope, setting up a long putt back up the slope. But shots carrying to the back third of the green will roll off the back of the green, setting up a delicate chip.

Vasquez’s advice for 16?

“I don’t think there is a plan to play 16,” he said. “I think you just sit up there and take your best shot.”

OK, so perhaps that isn’t much of a plan. But still, it’s difficult to argue with Vasquez’s track record at Colonial. And that’s not based solely on his results playing in club championships.

Kyle Reifers made his first appearance at Colonial in 2007 as a champions’ choice. Vasquez is friends with Reifers’ father, and Vasquez walked the course with Reifers and pointed out Colonial’s nuances.

Or, as Vasquez downplayed his contribution, he “pointed out some things.”

Reifer missed the cut that year, but he returned to the tournament in 2012 and — armed with his own experience mixed with Vasquez’s local knowledge — finished tied for 13th in his second time around.

Hmm. Surely it couldn’t hurt the pros to hit up Vasquez for a few tips.

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