Wednesday, March 31, 2021

What To Look For: 2021 Texas Valero Open

 Billy Horschel won the WGC-Match Play:


And client Joel Dahmen got his first PGA Tour victory at Corales Puntacana.


A big congratulations to Joel and his team including teacher Rob Rashell for all of their hard work and dedication and making my job very easy.  I look forward to continued success and more victories.  

If you're a Tour player or Tour caddie and would be interested in my statistical services please e-mail me at progolfsynopsis@yahoo.com


***

This week the Tour comes to San Antonio for the Texas Valero Open at TPC San Antonio.


TPC San Antonio has been very good to me as in 2019 I had Corey Conners as one of my picks to win at 150/1 odds.  Then the previous year in 2018 I had Andrew Landry, also at 150/1 odds, as one of my picks to win the event.  I've also had a few clients that have continually performed well at TPC San Antonio.

It's generally a fairly difficult course because of the wind.  Outside of my clients performing well there it's not that well received as a course because of some quirky design features and sometimes the wind and design are not properly matched up.  It's a Pete Dye design and while I don't hate Dye designs I always thought his biggest weakness was creating designs that matched up to typical weather patterns.

But this is very much a ballstriker's course.  Driving has an impact here, but it's more about accuracy, particularly avoiding waste areas, than hitting it long.  From there it's a lot of long iron and short wedge play.

Projected Winning Score: -12

3JACK'S FAVORITES

Jordan Spieth +1,000
Tony Finau +1,200
Corey Conners +2,000
Ryan Palmer +2,000
Sam Burns +3,300
Cameron Davis +3,300


3JACK'S DARKHORSE PICKS

Keegan Bradley +4,000
Sepp Straka +6,600
Henrik Norlander +20,000
Ryan Brehm +20,000


Tuesday, March 16, 2021

What To Look For: 2021 Honda Classic

 Justin Thomas won The PLAYERS Championship


Thomas was 44th on my list of projected winners.  He has not played up to his standards this year with struggles off the tee and from the Red Zone which is unusual for him.  However he got back to his old ballstriking self on the weekend and came away with the victory.

Meanwhile...as the Bryson watch continues...DeChambeau showed some real skill this week on a course that usually neutralizes long hitters.  This was a display of Bryson being patient and utilizing the best strategy for the course by laying up off the tee and taking his chances that he could hit his layup clubs as far as the field average, but much more accurately and then take advantage on the holes he could use the driver.


***

This week the Tour comes back to Palm Beach Gardens for the Honda Classic



PGA National is one of the more well known courses on Tour due to the famous 'Bear Trap' nickname for the holes on the back nine and it is open to the public.  Having said that, most Tour players I've talked to are not a big fan of the course due to the difficulty.

It's generally a tournament that players get into because the Palm Beach/Jupiter area is a popular residence for Tour players.  They can spend Monday and Tuesday working on their games at their home courses like The Bears Club, Old Marsh, The Dye Preserve, etc. and then play the pro-am on Wednesday.  It's also a good sized purse with a good fan turnout.

This is primarily a long iron course.  Even driving the ball well does not gain a lot of strokes compared to long iron play.

The final critical hole is the par-3 17th hole.


The difficult part to this design is the green shape is diagonal sloped to the right.  For right handed golfers the natural shot dispersion is to miss short on shots that miss to the right and long on shots that miss to the left.  The short right miss is the most common miss for righties and that plays 

The hole can play from 148 yards to 178 yards.  If the pin is back right, the players will need to be around 122-126 mph ball speed with ~8,500 rpm of spin.  Typically the issue is they don't generate enough spin on this hole while keeping the face fairly square to the path.  That means the ball will either fly further than they needed or they are hitting open face flares that end up in the drink.

Projected Winning Score: -11


3JACK'S FAVORITES

Daniel Berger +1,000
SungJae Im +1,200
Lee Westwood +2,000
Shane Lowry +2,500
Talor Gooch +2,800


3JACK'S DARK HORSE PICKS

Keegan Bradley +5,000
Dylan Frittelli +5,000
Patton Kizzire +10,000
Tom Hoge +10,000
Harry Higgs +12,500






3JACK

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

What To Look For: 2021 The PLAYERS Championship

Bryson DeChambeau wins the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill:
 


DeChambeau was one of my picks to win as he was at 12/1 odds for the week.  I also got the winning score correct.  I was at Bay Hill on Friday and got to see DeChambeau tee off on the famous 6th hole.  There were about 5 rows deep at this hole alone despite the course being far less busy due to COVID restrictions.  For years I wanted to see a player with Long Driving Distance speed and carry to play Bay Hill because of some many of the doglegs but instead they would put those players like Sadlowski at more restrictive courses like Colonial CC.  Here we got to see a close facsimile and it made for a fun and exciting tournament.

Westwood was 21st on my list of projected winners which was higher than I expected and he came so close to winning.  The weather conditions started to hurt Bryson on Friday as the course started to firm up, but the Saturday rain with the wind shifted the advantage back to Bryson and he won.  And really the shot of the tournament was probably the approach shot on #18 from the right rough.  That area is D-E-A-D.  There were 93 approach shots coming from the right rough on 18 in the event and only 13 of them found the green.  On Saturday, 14 shots came from the right rough and only 1 other player (Patrick Rodgers to 32-feet) found the green.  DeChambeau hit his approach to 18'9".

***

This week the Tour comes to the '5th Major' for The PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass.  I remember it was this time last year that it appeared that COVID-19 was going to be a problem and I went to the Wednesday practice round to work with some clients and they ended up playing the first round anyway, without any fans.  Tommy Fleetwood recorded an ace on the famous 17th hole in the practice round.  I also remember many players being pissed that they were going to play the tournament while the NBA had decided to shut down.

Anyway, last week I discussed how weather conditions can affect what type of advantage long hitters have vs. short but accurate hitters.  And it played out precisely as I discussed with Bryson gaining the advantage when the course softened up from the Saturday rain and the wind picked up.

This week I wanted to discuss how course design can play towards helping long hitters vs. short but accurate drivers of the ball.  This is because Sawgrass is probably the best course on Tour in negating the advantage that long, but inaccurate players can have on the course.

If a designer wants to take out the advantage long hitters have on the course they need to take away where the long hitters have the advantage.

1.  Wide open fairways, particularly on straight away holes

2.  Don't allow for players to carry it over the dogleg (as we saw the advantage Bryson and Rory had on the par-5 6th hole at Bay Hill.

3.  Lengthen the rough on the par-5's (nobody on Tour likes hitting a 3-wood or long club from the rough).

TPC Sawgrass features 7 dogleg lefts and 7 dogleg right holes.  And Pete Dye took away players cutting over the doglegs by either building tall enough trees or by having water too close by with a more obtuse dogleg angle.

Thus long hitters are not getting to use their length to their advantage.  They are either relegated to laying up off the tee on many holes or they have to hit driver too close to the water for comfort.   

The rest of Sawgrass is mostly about longer iron play and short wedge shots.  The 17th hole gets all of the attention and for good reason as it has increased its importance in the tournament over the years.  But the par-3 that plays a larger role in the event will be the 13th

(Click to Enlarge)


This is generally not a difficult hole when the pin location is left, but when it is a front pin location or back right it is very difficult to get the ball close and very difficult to putt to.

Projected Winning Score: -15


3JACK'S FAVORITES

Jon Rahm +1,600
Rory McIlroy +1,600
Collin Morikawa +1,800
Viktor Hovland +2,500


3JACK'S DARK HORSE PICKS

Sung Jae Im +4,000
Corey Conners +8,000
Emiliano Grillo +12,500
Keegan Bradley +15,000
Zach Johnson +25,000
Chez Reavie +30,000




3JACK

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

What To Look For: 2021 Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill

 Collin Morikawa wins the WGC Workday Championship at The Concession Golf Club:


I didn't release picks for the Workday since the Tour had never played there.  But it appeared to be a very heavy approach shot course (I have yet to run the numbers) which is typical for a Nicklaus design.  It also appeared to feature lots of opportunities to make triple bogey or worse.


***

This week the Tour comes to Bay Hill for the Arnold Palmer Invitational.



The API is my favorite non-major of the year.  Not only due to it being my 'home tournament' (it's less than 1 mile from my home golf club), but it's the fan friendliest event I've ever been to.  It's a fairly easy course to walk, they have bleacher seating right behind the driving range (some of the seating is indoors with A/C), the fans can get right close to the players on the putting green and the parking is pretty good.  

For the practice rounds and pro-am, one can park for free just off the 6th hole.  During the event they prefer you park at Universal Studios and take a shuttle over, although I recommend parking at one of the strip malls and taking an Uber of Lyft over.

But Bay Hill is just a good, solid golf course with some beautiful holes and it closes out well with a eagle-able par-5 16th hole, perhaps the best par-3 on Tour (sans majors) in the 17th hole and then the beautiful 18th hole where so many iconic moments have happened.

And it's pretty much a course with 'standard' PGA Tour features.  That's why the weather often dictates the winner.  

A lot of readers ask me what type of conditions and designs favor long hitters vs. short hitters and how to curb long, but reckless drivers have on a golf course.

The answer is basically in the math...

In order to favor the shorter, but more accurate hitter one needs to reduce the standard deviation in driving distance and increase the standard deviation in fairways hit.  I will go into design features next week at Sawgrass that can cause that to happen.  But for Bay Hill we'll talk about the weather.  Because Bay Hills has about average length of a Tour course and average width fairways and about average length rough...when it gets dry the course actually favors the shorter, but more accurate hitters.  The longer hitters have to lay-up more in order to find the fairway and still have issue doing that.  That lowers the standard deviation in driving distance while the standard deviation in fairways hit increases.

But when the opposite happens...the course playing soft...it favors the longer hitters.  Mainly because it's easier to find the fairways and with the doglegs (there's essentially 9 doglegs on the course) the longer hitters gain a sizable distance advantage due to geometry.

Here's a look at the weather for this week (click to enlarge)




So this could be very odd.  It's been very dry and hot by Orlando standards for the past 12 months.  My home club is dry, but not at the 'crusty' stage, yet.  A lot of it depends on the rain on Saturday.  But my predictions is the scores will be a little higher and in the end the course will favor the longer hitters on Sunday.

Speaking of longer hitters, it could be interesting to see how Bryson DeChambeau plays the course.  Particularly the par-5 6th hole which doglegs around the water and plays to 590 yards according to the scorecard.

However, it's 'only' 345 yards of carry from the tee to the front fringe.


A couple of years ago I saw Cameron Champ attempt it over in a practice round, but didn't really come close due to his low launch, low apex height ball flight pattern.  Bryson hits the ball much higher than Champ and if the wind is right and the stars align, he could reach this green in 1 shot and be putting for an albatross.

My prediction is that if the wind isn't a factor, he'll play more to roughly 320 yards carry and put himself roughly 70 yards to the front edge of the green.  However, that will still given him nearly a 160 yard advantage to what would be considered a 'very good' drive and more like 180 yards advantage over an 'average' drive for the field.

Other than that, Bay Hill is a mid-to-long iron play course.  If it gets crusty out there, then shots from 10-20 yards become more important because there is some legitimate difficult on those shots at Bay Hill.  

Most of the Tour players I've talked to really enjoy Bay Hill.  Some don't like it when it gets wet there because it can play ultra soft at times as holes #2, #3, #6, #7, #8 and #11 all sit in a bowl.  But the greens have been some of the best on Tour over the last 5 years since they switched to TifEagle and there's always a good turnout of fans.  Prior to Covid-19, it was also a very festive atmosphere in the houses surrounding the course.

Projected Winning Score: -11


3JACK'S FAVORITES

Viktor Hovland +1,200
Bryson DeChambeau +1,200
Tyrrell Hatton +1,600
Paul Casey +2,800
Francesco Molinari +3,300


Emiliano Grillo +8,000
Keegan Bradley +12,500
Brendan Steele +15,000
Joel Dahmen +20,000
Chez Reavie +20,000




3JACK

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

What To Look For: 2021 Genesis Open

 Daniel Berger won at Pebble Beach last week:


Berger was at 14/1 odds to win and his victory marks my first projected winner of 2021, after very close weeks at Waialae, Palm Springs, Torrey Pines and Scottsdale.  A few years ago Berger was one of my 'Players on the Rise' in my annual GolfWRX column, but had an unimpressive season.  It appears that he's finally starting to rise to the projections I had for him.


***

This week the Tour heads to Riviera CC in Pacific Palisades for the Genesis Open.



This is one of my favorite events on Tour and some year I would like to head out there for the week for the event.  The LA area is a haven for incredible private clubs like Riviera, Bel-Air, Wilshire, Sherwood, etc. and the Pacific Palisades area was recently rated the best place to live in Los Angeles.  

It also marks the end of tournaments played on different courses which means better television coverage and less of a hassle for statisticians like myself.  And another biggie is that traditionally performance at Riviera correlates to performance at the Masters as it's a heavy Red Zone play course that can be difficult to avoid 3-putts on.

This course is considered one of the best on Tour by the Tour players.  The only thing they don't like about the event is the heavy traffic, but with COVID-19 I'm guessing the traffic will be much better.

As I mentioned earlier, this is very much a Red Zone course.  A significant amount of strokes can be gained off the tee by the more effective drivers on Tour who are long off the tee.  Effective drivers on Tour that do it thru driving accuracy are not likely to gain many strokes off the tee.  

The 18th is the last critical hole on the course, but the 10th hole will be the most notorious hole.


The play on this hole should be to hit driver regardless of pin location.  The target is just left of the green.  However, the pin locations do play a major role in how this hole plays.


The middle pin location (#2) and the back pin locations (#1 and #4) will likely play to over par for the event.  For players that miss the green off the tee to the left, if they don't feel comfortable with a flop shot over the bunker to pin locations #1, #2 and #4 they should just chip to the front-center of the green, 2-putt and make par and go to the 11th hole and still gain some strokes on the field.

The problem became about 6 years ago when Riviera's greens were about as receptive as my driveway.  This made the hole play completely different because even trying to chip a ball 20 yards to the front-center of the green was difficult and hitting a flop from the rough to pin locations #1 and #4 was impossible.  In that scenario, players were better off laying up off the tee to locations #1 and #4.

In that scenario they wanted a target that is at the left corner of the left fairway bunker and to hit a shot that is 225-240 yards.  


This is what the golfers that lay-up on #10 should be trying to do.  However, unless the pin locations are at the back-right and the greens are cement hard, the best play is to 'go broadway' and hit driver.


Projected Winning Score:   -13


3JACK'S FAVORITES

Dustin Johnson +550
Jon Rahm +1,200
Rory McIlroy +1,300
Patrick Cantlay +1,400
Bryson DeChambeau +1,400
Xander Schauffele +1,400
Tony Finau +2,500
Victor Hovland +3,000


3JACK'S DARK HORSE PICKS

Cameron Davis +8,000
Corey Conners +15,000





3JACK

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

What To Look For: 2021 Pebble Beach AT&T

The Tour comes to Pebble Beach for the ATT Classic:

 

Due to COVID-19, the Pro-Am will not take place and the event will be played at only Pebble Beach Golf Links and the Spyglass Hill Golf Course.

Like many of the multiple course events, the predictive values are a bit low here.  Generally the Tour pros I have talked to like Pebble Beach, but the weather, the schedule and the Pro-Am are not to the liking of a lot of players.  Playing 6+ hour rounds and catching a cold before you hit bigger purse events like Riviera, the Honda Classic, etc. is not appealing.  However, the course has really improved its conditions over the past 5 years and the greens have been much improved.  Typically Pebble has the lowest make percentages on the greens on Tour, but now it's progessing towards the mean.

Pebble is a shining example of old golf course design theories with the greens being roughly half the size of modern course green complexes with most of the greens having some tilt from front to back which penalizes approach shots that miss long or to the side and very undulated greens with slower green speeds.

It's more of a mid-iron and putting course, although Dustin Johnson has destroyed the course thru superior driving and he just 'gets' the course.  But he's not playing this week as he withdrew for the event.

The final critical hole is the classic 18th hole.

This was designated the toughest driving hole on the course last year.  Tee shots on average were only traveling 266 yards.  Most golfers will try to put the tee shot left of the trees on the right side of the fairway.

It also ranked as the most difficult green to putt on the course.




Projected Winning Score: -19


3JACK"S FAVORITES

Patrick Cantlay +750
Daniel Berger +1,400
Paul Casey +1,600
Jason Day +1,800
Jordan Spieth +2,000


3JACK'S DARK HORSE PICKS

Sam Burns +3,500
Peter Malnati +5,500
James Hahn +6,600
Joel Dahmen +6,600
Mark Hubbard +10,000
Ben Martin +30,000



3JACK

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

What To Look For: 2021 Waste Management Phoenix Open

Patrick Reed wins at Torrey Pines last week.

 


At one point I had picks of Ortiz (125/1), Im (40/1), Hovland (25/1), Finau (18/1), Schauffel (12/1) and Rahm (7/1) all in contention on the weekend. Reed was ranked 38th on my list of likely to win. He has not had an impressive season thus far, hamstrung by awful Yellow Zone (125-175 yards) play (191st) and has been a so-so Red Zone (175-225 yards) player (122nd) along with decent driving off the tee (99th in Driving Effectiveness). But he putted lights out at Palm Springs despite missing the cut and one has to give the guy credit...Reed has an incredible amount of faith in himself as he can play poorly for long stretches at a time and then suddenly catch fire and look like the best player on the planet.

This week the Tour heads to Scottsdale for the Waste Management Phoenix Open.



The Phoenix Open started in 1932 and is mainly known for the 16th hole which is a rather non-descript golf hole, but is one of the most famous holes on the Tour. What started off as a lovefest of golf and booze from Arizona residents turned into a must-go social event in the area with 'stadium golf.' In many ways, I think this prompted the invention of Top Golf and the Golf Shack, massive driving range centers that feature food, alcohol, games and a stadium golf atmosphere.

The course was re-designed in 2014 by Tom Weiskopf. Most of the players I've talked to generally dislike the course and the re-design didn't help matters any. The re-design made the fairways narrower and implemented some waste areas that are in odd positions that are not to the players' liking. However, the re-design gave players who are not bombers a chance to win there as the old design was becoming almost exclusively a bomber's track. Many of the bombers are not playing here due to playing the Saudi International which features exorbitant appearance fees that are too much money for most players to turn down.

TPC Scottsdale is more of a ballstriker's course now, requiring skilled driving, long iron play, and precision on the par-5's is where most of the strokes will be lost/gained. The final critical hole is the 18th.

The 18th is the final critical hole on the course. Most players use driver and have this line off the tee.

The data suggests that laying up with 3-wood is the better play because it takes the bunkers out of play and thus greatly eliminates double bogey or worse. The hole usually plays around 4.03-ish from a stroke average perspective. Players that lay-up off the tee are not likely to make birdie, but a 2-putt par should garner them some strokes on the field. In the end, it's a hole one should use driver if they feel they need a birdie or lay-up off the tee if par is sufficient.



Projected Winning Score: -17

3JACK'S FAVORITES

Jon Rahm +650
Xander Schauffele +1,000
Rory McIlroy +1,100
Bubba Watson +3,300
Will Zalatoris +3,300


3JACK'S DARK HORSE PICKS

Sam Burns +6,600 
Corey Conners +6,600 
Carlos Ortiz +8,000 
Keegan Bradley +15,000 
Wyndham Clark +15,000





3JACK