I don’t like to sit or stand in one spot for very long while watching a golf tournament. I like to move around, walking from hole to hole, trying to see as many players and as many different shots as possible.
I like to get a look at the leaders, to see how they are doing, how they are striking the ball, how they are navigating their way around the course.
I try to spend a few minutes by taking a look at the players who are on the driving range and the practice green.
I make sure to take a lot of notes and try to soak up as much of the event and atmosphere as possible before heading back to the press room and turning on the computer to compose a story.
That’s what I did Thursday during the first round of the Safeway Open, the season-opening event on the PGA Tour’s 2017-18 schedule.
I took time to walk the North Course after arriving at Silverado Resort and Spa in the morning. There is a great look to the par-72, 7,166-yard course, with the set-up and the fairway lines so absolutely radiant and beautiful on a sun-splashed day in the Napa Valley.
It was just perfect – the sunny, warm conditions, the outstanding golf turned in by the players, the tremendous support of the volunteers, the glow and sparkle of a magnificently-designed course and all the challenges it presents.
“This place just makes sense to me,” defending champion Brendan Steele said after opening the tournament with a 7-under-par 65. “The shots just make sense. I know where to be aggressive, where to be cautious and where you can miss off the tee as well as into the greens.
“I think there’s holes where you can be really aggressive and then there’s holes where you have to kind of play strategic. I just have a good understanding of it. So I know where you want to just go as aggressive as you can and then I know where you want to just kind of take your medicine and make sure that you don’t get in the wrong spot.
“For some reason, I’ve just always had a good understanding of this course and it seems very comfortable for me.”
It was in 2011 when Johnny Miller, a World Golf Hall of Fame member and one of Silverado’s owners, re-designed the North Course. It features water crossings, elevation changes, and routing through oak, pine, and redwood trees. Enhancing Miller’s renovation was a complete bunker renovation. There are 24 new tees on the course.
It was a major project that included some tree removal and increasing the yardage from 6,900 to 7,226 yards, adding championship tees and creating more movement and angles to some of the holes, making the course all that much more of a test when it comes to shaping shots.
“All in all, the guys shoot it up, but they don’t shoot 59s, you know,” Miller said Thursday. “It’s a little harder than the average PGA Tour course. The one thing about the North Course – if you’re a really top player, you usually will contend most every year.”
Miller is the tournament host of the Safeway Open and the lead analyst for NBC Sports’ golf coverage.
He was the PGA Tour Player of the Year in 1974 when he captured eight titles. Sixteen of Miller’s 25 PGA Tour victories were between 1973 and 1976, including his two career major championships – the 1973 U.S. Open and the 1976 British Open Championship.
He was a member of victorious U.S. Ryder Cup teams in 1975 and 1981, and U.S. World Cup teams in 1973 and 1975.
“This course, historically, if you look at who has won here, it’s produced champions that are very predictable,” Miller said. “It doesn’t end up with a bunch of no names to speak of.”
Miller won Kaiser International Open Invitational titles at Silverado in 1974 and 1975.
The winner’s circle at Silverado also includes Jack Nicklaus, Kermit Zarley, Ken Still, Billy Casper, George Knudson, Ed Sneed and J.C. Snead (Kaiser); Miller Barber (Kaiser, Anheuser-Busch Golf Classic); Tom Watson, John Fought, Ben Crenshaw (Anheuser-Busch); Emiliano Grillo and Sangmoon Bae (Frys.com Open).
Silverado was also host to two PGA Tour Champions events, The Transamerica and Napa Valley Championship presented by Beringer Vineyards.
The North Course, originally designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., puts up a defense with its length and the slope in its greens. The green complexes are guarded by well-positioned bunkers.
“It’s a very classic golf course,” said Zach Johnson, who opened with a 68. “I liked it the moment I stepped foot on it. You can’t fake it around here. It’s right out in front of you. There’s maybe a couple lines on some tee shots and perhaps even a couple approach shots where you’ve got to pay attention to the greens and slope. But once you see it for the first time or even twice, which I was able to, I think you can get pretty acquainted.”
This is the fourth consecutive year of the PGA Tour at Silverado, which has a long history of having hosted professional tournament golf, dating to the late 1960s.
The five-year agreement with Safeway as the title sponsor runs through 2020. The event is part of the FedExCup schedule.
“It has always been a nice course, but it’s better now than it’s ever been,” said Miller, who is a golf course designer. “There’s no doubt about that. There’s a lot of little things that we did that I thought definitely brought it up from where it was even in the days that I won.”
The star in this week’s 144-player field is Phil Mickelson, a World Golf Hall of Fame member and the winner of 42 PGA Tour events, including five majors. The California native has won 11 times in his home state and he tied for eighth at last year’s Safeway Open, his first appearance in the PGA Tour’s season-opening event.
“I talked to Phil (Wednesday night) and he really thinks for sure he will contend on Sunday,” Miller said. “I could tell by the way he was talking that he knows there’s a decent chance, that if he gets it going, he could win here and break that drought.
“He is a huge talent.”