By Dave Shedloski
As a way to give back to the game of golf and to his hometown of Columbus, Jack Nicklaus founded the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide in 1976. From its inception, it has been one of the premiere events on the PGA TOUR.
No less than Clifford Roberts, co-founder of Augusta National Golf Club, saw in the Memorial Tournament an event that set itself apart early. “Jack, you have an opportunity to do in four years what it took us 40 years to do,” Roberts told Nicklaus. “Everything about this operation bespeaks quality.”
Well, 40-plus years later, the Memorial Tournament still bespeaks quality. The 42nd edition of the Golden Bear’s event returns to the only venue its ever known, Muirfield Village Golf Club, with 120 of the game’s best players vying for $8.5 million.
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The field, always strong, includes all of the top 10 in the FedExCup standings, including Dustin Johnson, who tops the list and also is No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking. World No. 3 Jason Day now makes his home in the Columbus area and is a member of Muirfield Village.
CBS Sports on-course reporter Dottie Pepper takes a look at what to expect at this venerable invitational and who might receive the winning handshake from the Golden Bear at week’s end.
You know Muirfield Village from your play in the 1998 Solheim Cup. What makes it such a great layout?
The piece of land, for starters, is magnificent. The elevation changes are fantastic. And then you get to the routing. It’s brilliant. There’s space to play. Space for people to be out there. They have managed some tree issues. There are some great water features that have become integrated. It’s a great walk.
This week’s field features six of the top 10 in the world and all of the top 10 in the FedExCup standings. Perennially this event has had a strong field.
The golf course is probably in the top five they play all year. It’s a major quality golf course, and they have a major quality field. Position on the schedule doesn’t hurt. And how can you say no to Jack? It’s a hard thing. This field is pretty awesome.
Despite bringing in such top talent, we’ve seen surprise winners the last few years. What do you make of that?
It doesn’t play into anyone’s hands. It’s a testament to some changes made and how the golf course is designed. You have to get the ball in play. If anything, while they have lengthened the golf course, it didn’t help the bombers. It doesn’t reward [the] driver on every hole. You have to hit a shot.
How important is this event in terms of preparation for the U.S. Open?
It’s really important. You know the greens are going to be crazy fast, and it’s a pretty quintessential but old-style U.S. Open-like golf course. If you were going to prepare for the U.S. Open, it would be hard to not put the Memorial on your schedule.
Is this the week for Jason Day to get a win, being his home course?
Seemed like he started to find his form at the Byron Nelson. It wasn’t a great defense of his title at Players, but he started to come around in Texas. But it’s hard to play at home. You almost need another person to handle all the other stuff you have to deal with. It helps this week that he played well in his last start. He has a lot of positives to draw on.
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Who do you like for favorites and dark horses?
It’s kind of hard to ignore Dustin Johnson. And Jon Rahm. He plays well seemingly every week. I would put J.B. Homes in that group if he drives it as well as he did for the first three days at The Players. For dark horses, Patrick Cantlay is someone to keep an eye on. I would stay in the Cs and put Bud Cauley in there. He’s been very good lately. Lucas Glover is starting to get it turned around, and he’s a pretty good mudder, if the weather turns a bit to the rainy side.
Journalist and author David Shedloski of Columbus, Ohio, has been covering golf since 1986, first as a daily newspaper reporter and later as a freelance writer for various magazines and Internet outlets. A winner of 23 national writing awards, including 20 for golf coverage, Shedloski is currently a contributing writer for Golf World and GolfDigest.com and serves as editorial director for The Memorial, the official magazine of the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio. He is the author of three books and has contributed to three others, including the second edition of “Golf For Dummies,” with Gary McCord. He’s a fan of all Cleveland professional sports teams, the poor fellow.