The past couple of weeks have seen high scores on Tour and it made me think of the issues the USGA and the PGA Championship have had over the past few years whether it be super low scores or the 3rd round debacle at Shinnecock.
By looking at these courses and the data it's pretty simple to see...scores rise when the course is firm and there is an ample supply of rough. But in order to not make the course a debacle like Shinnecock and Chambers Bay were, there's an issue...particularly with the USGA...in getting the course to play firm, but fair.
Usually what occurs in the US Open is that the course plays way too firm and then almost nothing holds the greens, even quality strikes from the fairway or tee box. The other issue with the US Open is that since it is a big field, firm greens tend to get very bumpy due to the foot traffic. I think in this case the USGA may be better served narrowing the fairways, lengthening the rough and firming up the fairways while keeping some softness of the greens.
This week the Tour plays their largest purse event of the year, The PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass.
I was just at TPC Sawgrass today. As a fan (and golf statistician), I tend to prefer the experience at the Arnold Palmer Invitational as that is the ultimate in fan-friendly tournaments outside of The Masters. API is a very casual experience where you can get right close to the players and can easily walk to different holes and watch tee shots and incoming approach shots. It's sorta like going to Wrigley Field and Sawgrass is more like going to Dodgers Stadium.
The best thing that happened to The PLAYERS Championship was moving it from May to March. Moving it to March means more ideal weather where it can easily get into the 90's in May. The course is more difficult to keep in tip-top shape in May (many of the greens get killed by the heat) and it's unlikely that there will be significant rainfall in March whereas May is when those infamous summer Florida storms of the century tend to occur.
The course is in immaculate condition. It's playing much softer than Bay Hill and PGA National. I'm sure that people will give the Tour flak for 'softening up the course', but with some rain the past couple of days and then the humidity being at 70-80% and the winds under 12 mph there's not much that could be done.
TPC Sawgrass is a unique design because almost every tee shot is a dogleg and they have an equal amount of dogleg rights as they have dogleg lefts. I'm not a big fan of players trying to actively work the ball both ways on their shots and in reality it does not occur that often. But the doglegs both right and left mean that the players have to hit it very straight. This is not a course for the Bubba Watson's and Brendon de Jonge's of the world that hit large curving tee shots.
The other unique part of the design is that the front nine is very driving oriented with difficult drives on #2, #4, #5, #6, #7 and #9. But the back nine is more approach shot oriented with difficult approaches on #11, #13, #14, #17 and #18. To win at Sawgrass, the player is going to have to drive it effectively and do it more with accuracy than power and be able to hit long approach shots well and make some putts and save themselves from disaster.
The final critical hole on the course is the 18th, but everybody wants to talk about the famous 17th hole.
What's interesting about 17 is that it has the closest proximity to the cut on any par-4 or par-3 on the course. But it's the most difficult approach on the course in terms of strokes lost due to the high frequency of shots that end up in the water. typically, about 10% of the shots for the event will end up in the water. However, I did get to witness Tommy Fleetwood have ace the 17th today.
Projected Winning Score: -11
Rory McIlroy +750
Jon Rahm +1,200
Bryson DeChambeau +2,000
Tommy Fleetwood +2,200
Patrick Cantlay +2,200
Sung-Jae Im +2,500
3JACK'S DARK HORSE PICKS
Tyrrell Hatton +4,000
Daniel Berger +6,000
Billy Horschel +8,000
Shane Lowry +9,000