First played in 2017, the CJ Cup is one of the newest additions to the PGA Tour. The host course is usually the Nine Bridges Golf Club which is located on Jeju Island in South Korea, though has switched to Shadow Creek, Nevada in the USA for 2020.
One of the big, long running topics in golf over the last few years is the idea that the PGA, European and other tours around the world will eventually merge to form a global tour. The PGA Tour has certainly been increasing its reach in recent and now has a fully fledged Asian Swing which begins with the CJ Cup and is followed by the Zozo Championship in Japan.
The $9.5 million prize fund ensures a top quality field takes part with the first three tournaments won Justin Thomas (twice) and Brooks Koepka, who have five majors between them.
|Shadow Creek Golf Course||Las Vegas, Nevada||7,527 Yards||$9,500,000|
Las Vegas is the home of gambling in America. Every year millions of people flood to Sin City in the hope of striking it rich; but to get the rewards, you have to take the risks. It is fitting, therefore, that there is a significant amount of risk and reward at Shadow Creek Golf Course, this year’s host of the CJ Cup (after travel restrictions meant that a return to South Korea was off the cards). The par 72 layout ends with a par three sandwiched in between two par fives; this could well result in a late change of fortune as a world class field of 78 competes for their share of the sizeable $9.5 million prize fund on Sunday.
Before players can start worrying about how to close out the CJ Cup strongly they first have to get themselves into a strong position. At Shadow Creek that is best achieved by controlling iron play. This exclusive venue was designed in 1989 and then significantly renovated in 2008 by Tom Fazio. He was granted a huge budget by Steve Wynn, a hotel and casino owner in Vegas. He used the resources available to him to create an oasis in the desert. This is no typical desert track: it has lush fairways which have some serious undulations. As good as the field is this week, they’ll all be tested by tricky lies even on the shortgrass. As such, those who are able to deal with the challenge by modifying their delivery should come to the fore.
The other reason why approach play should be vitally important is the lack of experience that the players have on the greens. It is easier for caddies to work with players to come up with lines off tees and into greens than it is to get to grips with the intricacies of unfamiliar greens. Therefore, even the best putters are unlikely to have much of an advantage but those who hit their approaches closest to the pins certainly will. The importance of power might also be limited as the course is at altitude so even the shortest hitters in the field will find they are hitting scoring irons and even wedges into most of the par fours whilst the par fives should be reachable in two, more often than not.
CJ Cup Recent Winners
|Year||Winner||To Par||Winning Margin|
|2020||Jason Kokrak||-20||2 Strokes|
|2019||Justin Thomas||-20||2 Strokes|
|2018||Brooks Koepka||-21||4 Strokes|
About the CJ Cup
The CJ Cup, which is officially known as the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges, is a relatively new tournament on the PGA Tour, with the first edition having being played in October 2017.
The event is held at Nine Bridges Golf Club on the picturesque Jeju Island in South Korea, a highly rated course that is both beautiful to look at and rewarding from a playing perspective. The island features fascinating and beguiling volcanic features, including the Manjanggul Lava Tube – the 12th longest in the world.
Thomas Wins Two of the First Three
CJ Group – a South Korean holding company – have sponsored the tournament since the start. The first three CJ Cups each had an American winner. The first edition of any new tournament on the PGA Tour is one to remember, with the inaugural CJ Cup in October 2017 being no exception. Kentucky ace, Justin Thomas, moved to third in the world after a thrilling playoff win on Jeju Island.
The new event attracted plenty of interest worldwide, and Thomas put on a show for the South Korean fans at Nine Bridges, and indeed those who had made the trip there from further afield. Thomas was pushed close by Australian Marc Leishman, eventually getting the better of the former Rookie of the Year in a playoff.
Two years later, Thomas sealed his second win in three years in South Korea. However, he did not need a playoff this time around, as Thomas finished two strokes ahead of New Zealander Danny Lee – who was born in Incheon, South Korea – to win his second CJ Cup. That was the 11th PGA Tour win of his career, and though at the time of writing Thomas has only one major to his name (the 2017 US PGA Championship), it’s surely only a matter of time before he adds to that.
Koepka Runs Out Winner in 2018
In between Justin Thomas’s two triumphs, Brooks Koepka was crowned the 2018 CJ Cup champion with an impressive victory on Jeju Island. After the triumph, Koepka moved to the top of the World Golf Rankings.
Koepka had a superb tournament in South Korea, hitting 21-under to win his first CJ Cup. Gary Woodland tried his best to make life difficult for Koepka, but the Florida man pulled clear to take the win by four shots. “Everything I’ve done this year has been working. So I don’t want to change anything, just keep improving. I’m so excited right now, you have no idea – I can’t wait to play again,” said Koepka after his impressive victory in South Korea.
At the time of writing, Brooks has added two more PGA Tour titles to his list of honours since. In May 2019, Koepka beat Dustin Johnson by two strokes to win the US PGA Championship. A couple of months later, the American won the WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational, seeing off Webb Simpson by three strokes in Memphis, Tennessee.
Nine Bridges – A Top 100 Course
Regarded by many as competing with Japan’s Hirona Golf Club to be the top golf course in Asia, Nine Bridges certainly punches above its weight on the world stage too. Consistently picked as one of the world’s top 100 courses by golf magazines and websites, it is up there with the likes of Royal Troon, Sunningdale and even Royal Birkdale in many lists.
The course is split into two sections, with nine holes making up the Highland Course, and nine holes being designated the Creek Course. Both nine-hole courses are very picturesque, with volcanic features, with the Creek Course featuring dry stream and volcanic walls, contrasting with the wide grasslands of the “Scottish style” Highland course.
There are plenty of challenges for players, with at least 110 bunkers scattered through the 18 holes, many of which are particularly steep. Though in general there is plenty of space in which to play an attacking game on the course, hence the low scores this tournament has produced in its short history.