An elite 30-player cast, made up of five former champions and a host of young guns raring to get going, gears up for four days of battle of talent and skills with emphasis on wits and the ability to endure the challenges that lie in wait at one of the country’s toughest courses.
The P6 million The Country Club Invitational unwraps tomorrow (Tuesday) at the TCC course in Laguna with the winner pocketing a record P2 million prize in what looms to be another survival of the fittest the way it has been on a course that offers lots of high-risk plays.
“TCC is so difficult that it really is your fight with the course. No matter who plays in the tournament, it’s a tough course for all,” said Guido Van der Valk, the last winner of the Philippine Golf Tour’s flagship tournament in 2020. He edged Clyde Mondilla by one on a seven-over 297 total in a wild finish that has marked each TCC Invitational staging.
The past three editions of the event were also decided via one-shot victories, further underscoring its unpredictability. Tom Kim, now a rising star on the PGA Tour, nipped Keanu Jahns on a 290 total in 2019, Micah Shin foiled Miguel Tabuena in 2018, and Tabuena outlasted Juvic Pagunsan in 2017 on a 13-over 301 total in brutal conditions.
“Your whole game needs to be good – driver and long irons because the course is long, short game because no matter how good you play, you will miss the greens,” added Van der Valk, who scored two victories in last year’s seven-leg PGT to emerge one of the marked players in this week’s championship organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
Joining him in the hunt are Shin, 2004 champion Tony Lascuna, 2013 winner Frankie Minoza and three-time titlist Juvic Pagunsan, along with Mondilla, Zanieboy Gialon, Michael Bibat, Reymon Jaraula, Jhonnel Ababa, Lloyd Go, Ira Alido, Joenard Rates, Sean Ramos, Ruperto Zaragosa III, Rico Depilo, Orlan Sumcad, Jerson Balasabas, Gerald Rosales, Jay Bayron, Dino Villanueva, Anthony Fernando, Fidel Concepcion, Albin Engino, Enrico Gallardo, Richard Sinfuego, Art Arbole, Mars Pucay, Paul Echavez and Dan Cruz.
All get the chance to test the 7,256-yard course, whose water-laced No. 18 is long considered as one of the best finishing holes in Asia, one last time in today’s (Monday) pro-am tournament where they will partner with officials and guests of the sponsoring ICTSI.
“We all know that TCC is exacting and it’s a challenge for us. To produce good scores, you have to be good in everything – driving, irons, short game and putting,” said Mondilla, all pumped up to nail the elusive championship after falling short the last two times.
The Del Monte ace has actually won at TCC, producing two clutch shots to check an impending skid and thwart American Nicolas Paez for the Solaire Philippine Open crown in 2019 on a two-over 290 total.
“To win at TCC again, I have to play my best,” he added.
Lascuna, who ruled the tournament in his prime, remains hopeful he’ll be able to get at least a crack at another TCC trophy. But with technology favoring the young, stronger players, the 52-year-old multi-titled campaigner is pinning his hopes on his trusted 3-wood and hybrid in tackling the long course, especially if the winds come into play.
“No one can really predict the outcome because the wind can change each hole’s character in an instant. And while I’ll be giving away some yards off the mound, I expect to compensate for this with my 3-wood and rescue. Hopefully, my putting will also click in all four days,” said Lascuña, who has stayed in shape during the break through regular workouts and training while conducting swing lessons at Manila Southwoods.
He considers TCC’s Nos. 4, 8, 11, 14, 15, 17 and 18 as key holes which require not just solid shotmaking but good judgment.
Bidders will also have to deal with the winds that can be incredibly frustrating to account for, while the fairways can play a crucial roll too with the speed and contour of the greens to have a direct impact on how player can go low in a round.