Monday, January 17, 2011

Jiyai Shin caddy offers insight into Tanah Merah golf course

2010 HSBC Women’s Champions Caddy of the Year Dean Herden has been the man on the bag as his player Jiyai Shin rose to the very top of the game. The 46-year-old Australian has been on Shin’s bag for every edition of the tournament, 7th in 2008, winner in 2009 and 3rd in 2010.  He casts his expert eye on the subtleties of Tanah Merah’s Garden Course, which is rapidly building a reputation for bringing the very best golf out of the world’s very best golfers. Tim Maitland reports, in Dean Herden's own words.


I love this course! When they design courses these days it all sets up in favour of the long hitters. At Tanah Merah, if you’re long it is still an advantage, but you’ve got to be straight. I love the course because it gives everyone in the field a chance to win. It’s just a great test.

Jiyai’s not long, but she hits it so well and she hits it solid. Ai Miyazato, who won in 2010, is not that long but she hits it straight. Lorena Ochoa, a longer hitter, won with an unbelievable putting display in 2008, but she wasn’t missing fairways. You’ve got to be on the fairway because the ball sits down in the rough at Tanah Merah so much that you can’t get away with being in the rough all week long. You’ve got to be able to control the ball to get on the right spots on the greens and you can’t do that from the rough.

It brings the best out of the best players. All the winners are superstars. Some courses you’ll find also-ran players will crop up and win because they had a good week on the putter and because the course wasn’t that demanding shot-wise: because it doesn’t demand perfect tee shots and perfect shots into the greens.

Tanah Merah has the beautiful aspect that it all starts from the tee and only the best players are going to win around there; the ones with best records.

It’s a great event and great players will always want to play great golf courses and they’ll always want to come back to Tanah Merah. It’s the golf course that really makes the event. HSBC do such a good job, but the golf course is just so tough and so interesting. Every hole’s a little different and there’s a really nice mix. It’s got some fantastic par threes, not super-long, but daunting. It’s always a lot of fun and because it’s beside Changi Airport you get to see the double-deckers taking off too! It’s a hell of a golf course, it really is. Great golf courses bring out great champions by the end of the week and Tanah Merah does a great job of that.

Hole 1 Par 4 401 Yards 367 Metres
It’s a fantastic starting hole: very tough!
Because the fairway is shaped like a bowl it’s very hard to get the middle of it. It’s either going to kick left or right. It’s a very ‘strong’ hole length-wise because it mostly plays into the breeze and your second shot is uphill 5 or 6 yards elevation.

A very tough pin on this hole is a middle-right pin because, when you look at the pin from the fairway, you’re concerned about going over when in actual fact the grain of the green is towards you and it actually holds the ball quite nicely. You have to be aggressive with that second shot, but it’s hard to convince yourself because you can’t see the pin.

With a back pin it’s very important to tell yourself to be long. It doesn’t matter! Be aggressive! So many players make bogey there because they’ve played to the centre of the green when they should have been more aggressive. Being long’s OK because from there you’re chipping back into the grain, so it’s not a difficult chip shot.

The Smart Play: Take you’re four and get out of there. If you can get a four here on all four days you’ve done well. It’s a great starting hole.

Hole 2 Par 4 381 Yards 348 Metres
Number 2 is a wonderful little par four because it has the lake in front of the green. With the tee shot you can’t really reach the water, but visually it’s a distraction. A lot of the time it plays down breeze and then a lot of players start thinking about hitting three wood. The longer hitters – Michelle Wie, Suzann Pettersen – if they got hold of one the water is in range, but only if it’s howling.

For a front pin you can be on either side of the fairway, but the big key is the angle of your second shot to the back-right pin; it’s always a big advantage to be coming in from the left side of the fairway because you’re playing down the length of the green. You can aim at the fairway bunker on the left because the whole fairway slopes and it’s always going to kick right. One of the difficult parts of this hole is that the tee faces a little bit off to the right, so setting up to aim to the left is difficult. It’s got its little idiosyncracies this hole.

The grain at the back-right runs away from you and if you pitch your approach two-thirds of the way on it always releases and runs over the back.

The Smart Play: Be smart! For the back-right pin, you’ve just got to aim at the centre. Don’t get too greedy.

Hole 3 Par 3 140 Yards 128 Metres
Most of the time this is into the breeze and it’s a tough little par three when there’s a lot of wind. Because you’re hitting a short-iron into the wind, sometimes you can hit an ‘up-shooter’ which balloons then the wind hits it and it goes nowhere. If the pin’s at the front when that happens you can easily be in the water. 

The thing I’ve noticed about this hole is that, if there’s the slightest breeze, don’t underestimate it, because once the ball’s above the tree-line it could just hit a wall.

The tree-line at Tanah Merah is a big key. The location right next to an airport means you’ve got to be conscious of the fact there has got to be a decent breeze most of the time.

It’s a tricky little par three; an island green and to a back pin you always find everyone short all day. It’s just one of those pins that looks closer to the water behind than it actually is, so you’ve got to trust the yardage. If it’s 150 to the back pin, stick with it, because the grain on that back part is into you, which is another reason why everyone’s always short.

The Killer Play: To the back-middle pin, play to your yardage and be aggressive. I’ve hardly ever seen any players go long.

Hole 4 Par 394 Yards 360 Metres

I love this hole! It takes two strong shots and the tee shot is so demanding. Long hitters have a problem on this hole because they go through the fairway on the left, where it doglegs. For Jiyai the wide part of the fairway just before the bunkers is a good distance for her off the tee. It’s a must to hit the fairway here. It suits someone who can hit a power fade because you can line up on the left and rip it around the dogleg!

There’s also a down slope at 220 to 240 yards from the tee and if you’re playing a longish iron off that it’s a tough shot.

The green is slightly elevated, probably two or three yards, and it’s a green where in the middle of it, it releases out. The front part of the green doesn’t release, but if you hit the top tier of this green the majority of the time it’ll feed over the back. Mate, four pars in four days here and you’ve done well.

The Big Mistake: Keep away from the fairway bunker on the right: it’s pretty much an automatic bogey. The lip of that bunker is hard and you’re coming from 160 to 170 yards to a narrow green.

Hole 5 Par 5 531 Yards 486 Metres
It’s a long slog and a lot of the time it plays into the breeze. It’s a must to get it on the fairway and hit a decent tee shot because you don’t want to mess around with the bunker 120 yards short of the green. If the hole’s is playing into the breeze you don’t want the pressure on your second shot being to have to carry that bunker.

A couple of times Jiyai has been in the position when it’s been howling into the breeze and she didn’t quite get her tee shot away and it’s an eerie feeling to be staring at that bunker – it’s a nasty thing to look at – because you don’t want a long third shot; you really want to be getting to about 80 yards from the front of the green.

It seems like a basic-looking straightaway par five, but it’s a must to get your tee shot away. That makes every shot after that much easier.

The tough part is you can’t see the base of the pin; it’s just that elevation for the third shot that’s nasty… maybe four or five yards up. You see so many players land at the front and spin off the front.

Par’s definitely a good score.
The Big Mistake: Not getting your tee shot away.

Hole 6 Par 4 415 Yards 379 Metres
It play’s tough. It’s a narrow fairway and the bunker on the right just seems to gobble them all up. There’s a massive row of trees on the left and the tee actually faces those, so it’s hard to get angled correctly on the tee. A lot of players will over-compensate and push it right into that trap. Again it’s a must to hit the fairway.

Missing left is actually the better mistake. At least there you get a chance of getting some sort of shot towards the green. For some reason, if you miss right, you just can’t. I don’t know why.

If you do find the fairway it’s still a tough second shot. It’s quite undulating and you never seem to get a comfortable position for your feet; your stance is either uphill or downhill, which makes the second shot that much more difficult. Jiyai will usually have 170 or 180 left so we’re hitting quite a long club in there; a hybrid or the seven wood. There’s a down slope that gives the longer hitters an advantage and they could be coming in from 120-130 yards with a seven or eight iron.

A tough pin on this hole is the back one, because it’s a long shot made even longer and the green’s hard. It’s a very undulating green that slopes away on each side and you have to aim at the spine in the middle of the green.

The Big Mistake: Missing the fairway. When Jiyai Shin won here in 2009 the key was driving it straight. That was a big advantage for us; massive!  

Hole 7 Par 4 384 Yards 351 Metres
The dreaded seventh! Very nasty! The club choice for the second shot is a tough one, always. There’s not much to the tee shot; most players are committed to laying up short of the bunker on the right, which is a good yardage for us. The normal breeze is right-to-left and slightly into you, off the airport on the right-hand side, and we can hit driver down there and be comfortable. The killer for most players is the second shot, because they buried a massive elephant under the green. It’s a tough shot! At least two of the days they stick the pin at the very back and club choice into those pins is so difficult. It’s always a cross breeze, always floating around between two o’clock, three o’clock and four o’clock and you’re never sure if it’s with you or into you. If you catch the down slope it skids through, but you’ve got to get over that mound on the green if the pin is at the back: otherwise it’s a shocking putt… a horror putt! Once it gets over the hill the grain runs down towards the water.

The Killer Play: It’s just a matter of having the yardage on your second shot; that’s the big key. If you get it right, you’ve got a chance of holing it because it will funnel down to the hole once it gets over the mound.

Hole 8 Par 3 153 Yards 140 Metres
A super hole, it really is. It’s so attractive from the tee. It’s a pleasure to play the par threes around Tanah Merah, because they’re not a great length, but they’re all so attractive. They’ve almost all got water feeding around them and the eighth hole is a classic example of that.

The back-left pin is really tough. Anything left is tough. The green feeds from right to left and there’s the wind factor; it’s a down breeze hole most of the time. It’s a toughie! The green is so undulating that it is important to get near the hole, but nine times out of 10 on the back-left pin everyone finds themselves up on the top-right hand side putting downhill, down-grain towards the water.  It’s a great hole. Length-wise I love it. It’s a good length. Jiyai sometime hits a utility or a good solid six iron for a back pin, seven iron for a front pin. It’s a great little hole, a great little hole!

The Killer Play: Putting down that slope from the right to a back-left pin is not easy, not easy at all. It looks like it’s really, really fast, but in actual fact it’s not! It’s so eerie, it looks so fast, but you have to convince yourself to give it some to get it there.

Hole 9 Par 5 497 Yards 454 Metres
Risk-reward! It’s a fantastic par five! You’ve got to get your tee shot away, but you can’t see it land. You’ve got to get the ball turning over right-to-left (for right-handed players it’s a draw, for lefties it’s a fade) to get full advantage of the length of this hole because you’re hoping it will skip off one of the mounds and get down the hill for you. You’ve got to get the shape right with your tee shot, because a straight tee shot always stays at the top of the hill.

Most of the field will have a chance to at least get to the front edge of the green in two. You’ve got the pond on the left of the green, but the long hitters will definitely be going for it. The water on the left is so daunting; it makes the decision to go for it in two really difficult. The bunker on the right-front of the green isn’t that punishing, so this is a definite birdie chance. If you haven’t birdied it three out of the four days you feel like you’ve missed the boat.

I like the two traps on the right 60 to 80 yards in front of the green. It’s more of an optical illusion, but it makes you think you can’t go too far right. It’s a good hole.

The Killer Play: The shape of that tee shot is so important. It’s a great par five because it is risk-reward and it gets the player deciding to have a crack at it or not.

Hole 10 Par 4 382 Yards 349 Metres
What a par four this is! Fantastic! Bunker left and right off the tee. In Jiyai’s case it’s just a driver down there, but the tough part of this hole is that it’s into the breeze most of the time. You’ve got to allow for the kick from left to right. The fairway’s quite narrow down the left-hand side and you’ve got two bunkers down the right-hand side, which will just gobble your ball. If you get in any of the bunkers you haven’t got much choice; you can’t get on the green in two and you have to half-lay-up and give yourself a full shot for your third because it’s such an elevated green. 

The biggest thing about this hole, watching the players over the years, is the green is more elevated than you think. It reads in the yardage book as six yards up but I always allow 10, which is a full club. It’s very rare that you see people go over the back. A lot of players don’t seem to allow enough [for the elevation] on this hole. There’s a massive slope at the front of the green and if you land anything less than six yards on the ball is coming all the way back down that slope: it’s huge! It can run back 30 yards and leave you a daunting 40 or 50-yard half-chip shot back onto the green. It’s not a very deep green either – only 25 yards from front to back – and you’ve got to be spot-on with the club selection.
It’s a strong par four. If you’re going to have any chance of winning on the Sunday making par is a great
indication that you’ll go on and do something. A bogey gets the back nine off to a bad start.
The Big Mistake: Finding sand anywhere, with your tee shot or your second. The other thing, with the second shot is not allowing enough for the two things going against you; the elevation and the fact that the breeze is usually against you and stronger than you think above the tree line.

Hole 11 Par 3 172 Yards 157 Metres
The big one on this hole is it’s always into the breeze. It’s an elevated tee, probably about half a club up, and it’s just a great hole. This green has a giraffe buried under it and that’s the thing about this golf course, the undulating greens. A front pin is not such an ordeal, it brings the water into play on the left, but if you play to the middle [of the green] you’re fine, but a back pin is always tough. Being into the breeze, the longer hitters are taking up to a four iron, but the shorter hitters are taking a seven wood into a green that you don’t want to be hitting such a long club into.

The water guards everything on the left; if you tweak it even slightly to the left you’re in the water and case closed. That’s it.

Being on the right-hand side for a left pin leaves you a very, very fast putt. It’s very hard to stop it and it usually has a massive break in it.

The Killer Play: Just play the right-hand half of the green. Don’t go left! If you make a mistake right, it’s probably going to be a bunker shot and you can get away with that.

Hole 12 Par 4 384 Yards 351 Metres
A dogleg right and it’s no picnic. If you go up the right off the tee you have a blind second shot. You’ve got to get far enough down there so you can see the whole green and if you block it anywhere slightly right you can’t see the green. Anyway the green is angled left-to-right, so from the right-side of the fairway you haven’t got a lot of room to work with.

It sets up really well of the tee and I don’t see many players having too much trouble getting their tee shot down the fairway, but you’ve got to get the ball on the fairway in a position where you can attack the green.

I find the toughest thing for most players is if you’ve got a back-right pin. There’s a swale that runs alongtwo-thirds of the green on that side and to the back pin the grain is running away from you, so I find a lot of players give themselves too much club and they either tend to go a little long, or they don’t give it enough to carry the slope that creates a false front on the first 17 yards of the right side of the green and leave themselves a tricky little chip shot.

The Big Mistake: You don’t want to get into any of the fairway traps and stay away from the bunker at the front of the green; it’s got a massive lip and I’ve seen a lot of players with their balls plugged straight into that lip. It’s nasty!

Hole 13 Par 5 512 Yards 468 Metres
A memorable hole for some players, like Katherine Hull, who went left here when she was in a position to win in 2009. It’s actually very easy to do what she did because the fairway and the tee set-up left and it’s very easy to hit it straight through the fairway. If you go slightly left into the mounds on the side of the fairway, you’re down onto the cart path and in amongst the mess, which is out of bounds for the members. There’s a tree that hangs over the bunker on the right, but the best line from the tee is straight over the left edge of that bunker.

There’s an opportunity for the longer hitters to get there in two, for the medium hitters they still have to lay up. I always think it’s important to give yourself the best yardage for your third short. If you’re going to lay up, lay up. Don’t get caught in between. You need to make sure it’s 90 yards to a back pin or 80 yards to a middle pin; that right yardage where you can hit a full sand-iron or a full pitching wedge, not a half shot.

The green doesn’t break that much, although it looks like it does. I’ve seen a lot of birdies made there because there are no massive hooks or massive slices on that green. They put the pin at the front a lot and it looks like it wants to break everywhere when you’re looking at the putt, but it keeps a pretty straight line from whatever angle you’re coming from.

The Killer Play: It’s a tough fairway to hit because it gets very narrow around the 240-yard range. I think it’s one of the most demanding drives on the entire course. It’s a key tee shot if you’re coming down the stretch on Sunday.

Hole 14 Par 3 169 Yards 155 Metres
The dreaded 14th! It’s a great par three this, although not everyone likes it because it’s tough to stay on the green. You’d be happy with threes here all week. Club choice is of massive, massive importance on this hole.

The big thing is you’ve usually got the wind coming from right to left and into you. The back-right pin is very difficult because you’ve got to carry the bunker on the front-right, but when you’ve got the right club in your hand to clear all that, if it pitches on the wrong spot everything feeds over the back of the green.

Halfway onto the green the grain starts to run away, this is the big key on this green, because on the front half the grain is back into you and therefore the ball stops quicker.

Any player getting within 20 feet of the pin here has done really well and has hit a great tee shot because of those main points; the grain, the wind and the slopes.

Usually three of the four days they put the pin in the back area. The toughest pin though, is middle left on top of the ridge in the green where you’ve only got about four yards in which to land and stop the ball.

Over the back of this green every year you see a bunch of chip-shot marks; two out of every group of three is over the back and chipping.

The Killer Play: It’s about having the right club. The green’s only 30 deep and it’s so tricky with the grain running away from you and taking you over the back

Hole 15 Par 5 554 Yards 507 Metres
It’s a wide fairway for your tee shot; you can push it as far right as you like and you won’t get in trouble. The second shot is a big key here. It gets very narrow. It bottle-necks in with bunkers on one side and the problem is you’ve got water on the left, which is a tough one. The medium-length hitters have got to lay up to about 130 yards to the front of the green, but the green is 42 yards deep, so, if you’ve got a back pin, you’re looking at around 165 yards for a third shot! That’s quite a long way to a very narrow green.

For the players who get a really long tee shot away, if it’s slightly down breeze, they can have a crack at it. I’ve seen a couple of players do it, but there’s water on both sides and it creeps in all the way along the left, so you have to make sure you have enough club to get all the way up there. I remember one day in 2010 it was down-breeze and Jiyai, who is not a long hitter gave it a good try, even though we couldn’t get all the way to the green, because it was such an advantage to get close to the green.

The Killer Play: A demanding second shot on this hole. That’s the key. Don’t get carried away going down the left side because the water follows the fairway.

Hole 16 Par 4 269 Yards 246 Metres
This is a great spectator hole. Great holes don’t have to be long ones and I love this hole because it is risk-and-reward. You can give it a crack and have a go off the tee. With no wind they’ll all be trying, but it’s a very narrow entrance to the green and you’ve got to have a tee shot that is spot on! The golden rule is to make sure you carry those traps that are looking at you 220 yards off the tee. 230 is usually the landing point of most players out here and if they slightly miss the tee shot it’s easy for those shots to end up in the bunker. From there it’s a really tough shot and mentally it affects them because it’s such a basic hole and now they’re struggling.

You’ve got a bunker really tight to the green on the right (as you look from the tee): don’t go in there! It’s deep! A lot of players end up with a chip over that bunker. The rough usually cuts right in on that side, so it’s not a perfect lie.

The sucker thing about this hole is that a lot of players are just chipping to it with their second shot and before they know it they haven’t given their chip shot enough because it is one of those awkward half shots.

The toughest pins are on the right hand side: the right pin, 10-to-15 on, in the middle, just over that right-hand bunker. That’s a really tough pin.

It’s just a great hole because you’ve got a ton of spectators behind the green and they’re watching either birdies or bogeys. It really kills your round when you walk off there with bogey!

The wind can shift. It’s not the prevailing wind, but I remember in 2009 the breeze switched and we had to lay-up short of the bunkers and play it as a true par four! That was really different, making that decision when every other day we’d been going for it.

I love it, because it’s short and dangerous!

The Killer Play: Be aggressive! If you’re going for the green and you’re going to miss, miss left. It’s not a difficult shot from there and you’ve got the whole green to work with.

Hole 17 Par 4 395 Yards 361 Metres
A very important tee shot. I’ve seen so many tee shots go into the nest of bunkers on the right. The problem is the tee faces those bunkers, so you have to commit yourself to going up the left enough. A lot of players don’t do it, but you’ve got to commit yourself to whack it up that left-hand side. It’s a daunting tee shot, it really is and it’s not easy.

The designers point tees at hazards deliberately and it’s great. You have to be really aware of it.

There is also a nasty, deep little grass pot bunker out at about 270 yards. Jiyai doesn’t quite hit it out there, but the killer on this hole is all the stuff on the right. If you get in there your second shot gets real messy and if there’s a back-right pin… forget about it! It gives you no chance at all to get near the pin.

The second shot changes completely depending on where the pin is. If you get a front pin it’s a very basic hole: I remember Jiyai when she won almost holed her second shot. I was surprised the pin was there on the last day because all we were doing was hitting an eight or nine iron in.

I love this hole when the pin is up the back: it’s a real tough hole. The pin at the back-right side makes it a totally different hole and once the pin’s back there you can’t mess with the bunker on the front-right of the green, you have to get your second shot right up there. This hole killed Cristie Kerr’s chances of winning last year.
The Big Mistake: Don’t miss right off the tee. Do that with a back-right pin and you’ve got no chance at all.

Hole 18 Par 4 414 Yards 379 Metres
An awesome finishing hole and a daunting tee shot. There’s a lot of stuff that cuts in on the left, visually, while you’re trying to protect yourself from going in the bunkers on the right. You’ve got more room than you think on the left, but the bushes growing on the rocks on the left seem to loom over the shot when you’re standing on the tee.

I’ve seen a lot of girls make the hole look easy, but it’s not an easy tee shot.

When it’s down breeze, and 80 per cent of the time it is down breeze, you can reach the water; so the majority of the field will be worrying about that.

When Jiyai won in 2009 it was into the breeze and lengthwise it was so long! A second shot that was normally 150 yards and a six or seven iron turned into 190 and you’re hitting a three wood or five wood into a three-tiered green surrounded by water, with a back-left pin on the last day. It wasn’t an easy shot, but she hit a beauty! Ai Miyazato hit a similar sort of shot to the same pin to win last year.
It’s not an easy pin position. It’s 43 yards deep, so when they put the pin at the back it’s a totally different hole!

The Killer Play: Happy with par. A lot of players have blown their tournaments hitting it into the right bunkers off the tee.

Credit: Getty Images

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