Warmer, sunny days mean shirtsleeves, new strategies for Match Play golfers

2014-02-19T00:00:00Z 2014-02-28T20:35:41Z Warmer, sunny days mean shirtsleeves, new strategies for Match Play golfersBy Ryan Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Cameron and Carson Kuchar returned to Dove Mountain this week expecting snow.

Their father’s fine with the sunshine.

“I think the rest of us are awfully happy to see proper Tucson weather, what everyone comes here and lives here for,” said Matt Kuchar, the defending WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship winner.

“Weather like this.”

Match Play’s first round will tee off this morning at The Golf Club at Dove Mountain with a Tiger- and Phil-less field and an uncertain future. But at least it will be nice out: Forecasts call for temperatures in the high-70s and clear skies, perfect golfing — and golf-watching — weather.

It’s quite a change from a year ago, when snow forced a delay on the first day of competition. By the time fans had thawed out, the tournament’s two most recognizable players — Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy — had been eliminated, and the future of Arizona’s premier golf event put in jeopardy.

Winter weather in the desert is notoriously tricky to plan for. The first year of Match Play competition here featured a low of 38 degrees and high of 72.

Rain marred the 2011 tournament, and snow froze out fans and ruined rounds a year ago. Kuchar’s kids, in town for the event, remember it as much for the snow as their father’s performance.

Weather is “the X-factor” when planning a golf tournament, said Gerald Goodman, Match Play’s executive director.

Match Play officials and the tournament’s ticket-selling arm, the Tucson Conquistadores, try to sell as many tickets as they can in advance in case rain, wind and snow are in the forecast. Walk-up attendance hinges almost entirely on the weather: Locals and visitors alike are more likely to spend $50 on a ticket if they know there’s going to be sun.

Match Play’s golfers prefer the sun, too, even though it adds a wrinkle to their already meticulous preparations. Heat, coupled with the course’s elevation of between 2,300 and 3,200 feet, can play havoc with projected distances. Balls travel “maybe half a club, (or) a club” farther when it’s warm, McIlroy said.

“It definitely flies farther, especially in the afternoons when it heats up,” he said. “And obviously this week, it looks like it’s going to be pretty warm the entire week.”

Jim Furyk, a former Arizona Wildcats star who will face Chris Kirk today, said the length of his drives will “depend on the weather.”

“If the weather is cool in the mornings, it might be 5 percent less. If it’s really hot, some guys are going to see 10 percent (more distance),” he said. “If you’re a really high, long hitter, you’re going to get more out of it. … I think in elevation, the temperatures make an even more drastic difference between your short and your long, if that makes sense.”

The key, golfers say, is to take advantage of long holes — the drivable, par-4 No. 15 is a favorite — without falling in love with the added distance. McIlroy said the tournament could come down to chipping, while Hunter Ma-han said he’ll navigate the course carefully.

At least it should be a pleasant walk.

“It’s nice to be wearing a T-shirt,” McIlroy said. “I don’t have to wear any sweaters or mittens.”

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