Appleby & Kapalua A Tight Fit

Left: Stuart Appleby celebrates Mercedes-Benz Championship victory #3, last January. (PGA Tour Photo)

Three-time consecutive Mercedes Benz Championships winner Stuart Appleby has proven he is comfortable on Kapalua Resorts’ fairways and greens- and much to the chagrin of his fellow competitors he will be getting a little more comfortable in the neighbourhood. In fact, “Apples” and his family recently purchased a lot less than a mile from the gate at Kapalua, where they will build a part-time retreat.

“…I got a lot of questions asked about, oh, you should buy property here, you’re the king of Kapalua and all that sort of stuff. I got that for a couple of years and that is about it, and I knew Jim Furyk has been here for quite a long time,” he told the media today at Kapalua Plantation during his past winner’s press conference. “It’s an amazing piece of property. It’s not my home, but it’s become my golf home in a way. Half of my victories have come out of this section of the woods, so it was a no-brainer.”

Looking relaxed and fit (wearing a shirt from the pro shop after a departure from clothing sponsor Ashworth but not having his new gear quite ready yet) Appleby says that he is excited to get the 2007 season underway, with the FedEx Cup clearly on his mind. First of all coming here as defending champion, coming back here is a pleasure full-stop but coming back as defending champion in this event, now being my fourth attempt in a row is exciting. Brings back a lot of great memories, a lot of great golf. Each one is a little bit different because it’s a different number. So I don’t know if this one is any different to the last one, I don’t know anything, actually, I’ve never done this before. Maybe Tiger has more experience in knowing what it’s like but it’s exciting and looking forward to it.”

With the PGA landscape changed dramatically Appleby (like everyone else) is taking a wait and see attitude and he tries to fully understand the new format’s implications. “Everything will be normal. I think everything will be pretty much normal through the year,” he said when asked about the FedEx Cup and what impact it will have on the players, particularly in regards to schedules. “There will be some discussion, but I think the real crux of where the Cup is going to come is the last five weeks of the year when people are trying to make a move and extra pressure will be on and that. Otherwise, it’s just a horse race, get out of the gates, get our position and get going. We’re all going to be trying from every tournament. There’s none of this I’ll try at the end of the year and make my run. We’ll be going as solid as we can.”

As for how he will change his approach, he is not really quite sure. “The schedule is more condensed. We don’t know quite how, sort of how do we position, do I play that event now because I traditionally have or now that doesn’t fit as good because I need to make a run through here. A lot of guys are certainly looking at the schedule more intently than previous years because of the condensed period of time. We have to play hard.”

For this week, even in “relaxed Hawaiian mode” Appleby has his eye on the big prize, in hopes of joining just a handful of players who have won the same event on the PGA Tour in 4 consecutive years. He says he can’t quite be sure why he does so well here each January but alludes to the fact that as an international player, he normally only hangs his clubs up for a few weeks in the off season. In fact, Appleby played competitively until just two weeks before Christmas. He did take some time off, but not so much as to feel rusty. “I haven’t hit a lot of balls coming into this event three, four days of balls. Flying here, hit some balls yesterday. It has not been intense practise but still feel pretty fresh.”

Fresh enough for win #4, no doubt. It would be surprising not to see him in the mix this weekend.

And whether he hoists another trophy ever again at the Mercedes-Benz Championship, the “King of Kapalua” will always feel at home on Maui.

Literally.