Wednesday, February 27, 2019

What To Look For: 2019 Honda Classic

The Tour returns to PGA National in Palm Beach to play 'The Bear Trap.'

PGA National was built in 1981 and has five different courses (Champion, Fazio, The Squire, Palmer and The Estate).  The Tour plays the Champion course each year.  Generally, I've heard good things about the Fazio course.

The Champion course is a Jack Nicklaus design.  Many people think it's a driver's course or a bomber's course, but it's a Nicklaus design and true to most of Nicklaus''s an approach shot course.

I used to come to PGA National for practice rounds, but between lousy parking and the lack of pros there for the Tuesday practice round, it wasn't the most eventful practice round to go to.  This is because the pros were coming from LA the previous week and many of them live in the Jupiter/Palm Beach area and would rather practice at their home club on Tuesday than play there.

The general consensus is that the players do not hate PGA National, but they are not in love with it either.  It's a difficult track and if the weather is not cooperating, it can create a miserable experience.  But, it's in tip-top shape, it's close to where so many players live and it will usually do crowds of 50,000+.

While 16, 17 and 18 get all of the accolades for being The Bear Trap, none of those holes are 'Critical Holes' at PGA National.  The final critical hole on the course is the par-3, 16th hole.

Part of the reason for the 15th being a Critical Hole is the water.  But the other part is that the green is fairly flat and tends to have a high make percentage putting wise.  It's not uncommon for a player to find the back bunker, hit the bunker shot to 8-feet and make the putt for par.  The only issue is that the back bunker can provide some awful lies from time to time.  But this is a classic hole where Tour players would be smart to play for the middle of the green and either drain a long putt for birdie or 2-putt and come away with par.

Having said that, the 6th hole is one of the holes with some of the highest deviations of scores on Tour.  It doesn't get talked about much because it's on the front nine, but it's something to pay attention to.

It's the toughest driving hole on the course, 3rd toughest approach and the 3rd toughest green to putt on.  If that pin is in the back right location...'fuhgetaboutit.'

Projected Winning Score: -10


Justin Thomas +500
Brooks Koepka +1,200
Gary Woodland +1,800
Cameron Smith +2,500
Billy Horschel +3,300


Luke List +4,000
Emiliano Grillo +4,000
Alex Noren +4,000
Byeong Hun An +5,000
Chesson Hadley +15,000


Wednesday, February 20, 2019

What To Look For: 2018 World Golf Championship - Mexico

The first WGC event of the year takes place in Mexico City at Club de Golf Chapultepec.

The big talk of Club de Golf Chapultepec will be the change in elevation as it nears 10,000 feet above sea level. I documented the effects that the elevation at Club de Golf Chapultepec had in 2018 Pro Golf Synopsis.

So expect the ball to go far and players having some issues with distance control on approach shots which means some very important scrambling opportunities need to be converted.

The course is generally well liked by the Tour players which means it's not that difficult.

Projected Winning Score: -15


Justin Thomas +900
Dustin Johnson +1,000
Brooks Koepka +1,800


Hideki Matsuyama +2,800
Patrick Cantlay +3,300
Webb Simpson +3,300

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

What To Look For: 2019 Genesis Open

The Tour comes back to one of my favorite Tour stops at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, California.

Riviera was built in 1926 and designed by William Bell and George Thomas. I’ve always felt that Bell goes a bit unnoticed as he built numerous excellent designs like Rancho Park, Industry Hills, Balboa Park, Bel-Air Country Club as well. Perhaps because his designs were almost exclusively out West, he doesn’t get the notoriety that a Donald Ross or Alistair MacKenzie receive.

I’ve always been fascinated with old-school Los Angeles as well as old-school golf architecture and LA is chock full of old-school designs which just endears me to the area even more. Unfortunately, the courses in good shape in LA are almost all very private.

This is a course that from a design perspective is applauded by the Tour players. They did make some renovations over the past 10 years that helped the long hitters a little more and thus the shorter hitters were hurt by that design. But, the course can get a little crusty and that tends to shift the favor back towards the short, but accurate hitters.

The problem with Riviera has always been the conditioning. It is often in pristine shape, but it also has it’s occasional years where it’s in bad shape. I’ve seen times where players hit 160 yard approach shots into the green and it takes 1 bounce higher than the flagstick. And if you go on YouTube and look at some old LA Open videos, you can see some pretty rough years conditioning wise.

As far as the course goes, expect a lot of talk about the infamous 10th hole

I studied the hole years ago and the numbers at that time dictated that the best play was to go for the green on the front and middle pin location. Then lay-up towards the left bunker when the pin was in back (as shown in the diagram above).

The problem is that the conditions at Riviera change. Generally, if the course is really firm that is still the best way to go because if you end up either in or behind the right bunker, you’re screwed. But if the course….in particular that green….is softer, the better play is to just go for the green all 4 days.

This is not a popular opinion with many…but, I just don’t think it’s a good golf hole design. Mainly because ‘luck’ is too big of a factor on the hole. Players can hit good shots off the tee and on approach shots and make triple. Others can hit weak shots and make birdie.

But, as far as the hole design itself, it’s very rare. I’d rather watch this hole design than a bad hole design like #18 at Houston which makes the hole impossible. And since Riviera is so well designed it doesn’t make #10 so bad. But more importantly, I’m ‘okay’ with #10 because Bell had something that old-school designers have that new-school designers lack…he understood the importance of the ebb and flow of designing holes. #9 and #11 are pretty much as straight and standard of a hole as you can find. #9 is a difficult hole and #11 is not an easy birdie par-5. They are also not holes where you see a big deviation in score. Thus, #10…where there is a great deviation in score and is a very unusual hole….fits in nicely here even though I don’t think it’s a very good design.

The other thing about Riviera that doesn’t get talked about much is that it’s a great preparation for the Masters. Time and time again, players that have won at Riviera have generally done well at Riviera. Mainly because it features a lot of long approach shots like Augusta. Augusta’s greens are generally bigger, but the Riviera greens are firm enough and small enough that they generally require higher ball flights like Augusta requires. And while the Riviera greens are nowhere as fast as Augusta’s, they have a lot of break to them which tests the skill of the players with the flatstick.

Projected Winning Score: -12


Dustin Johnson +850
Justin Thomas +1,200
Jon Rahm +1,600
Xander Schauffele +2,200
Phil Mickelson +2,200
Paul Casey +3,300


Rafa Cabrera Bello +6,600
Jason Kokrak +8,000
Abraham Aner +10,000
Harold Varner III +12,500


Wednesday, February 6, 2019

What To Look For - 2019 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am

The Tour comes to Pebble Beach for the 78th AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

Pebble Beach is the last of the events played on multiple courses for the season which makes Richie3Jack a happy man. They are continuing to play Monterrey Peninsula CC and SpyGlass as part of the rotation for the event.

One of the real gems in the world of golf is Cypress Point. The event used to play Cypress Point, but stopped due to Cypress Point not having any black members at the time. The course considered expediting a process to include black leaders, but balked due to trying to handle prospective members that had been on their 7-year waiting list and would be leapfrogged in the process.

However, Monterrey Peninsula is a fine replacement with stunning views. And that’s what will be talked about mostly this week…the stunning views of the area. Meanwhile, every time this year I get calls from old friends about a friend of mine that got drunk and stole a bunch of the flagsticks and tee markers at Pebble Beach about 20 years ago, only to be caught by police later on.

Generally, the pros really love playing here due to the course designs. But, they are averse to playing in the tournament because of the unpredictable weather in Pebble this time of year. In fact, this week the highs are only supposed to be in the mid-50’s. Combine that with 6-7 hour rounds playing in the Pro-Am it can shatter this week and next week at Riviera for a Tour player.

The course is mostly about putting, wedges and mid irons. The putting part is tricky because it does fit better putters as Pebble has the lowest make percentages, by far, on Tour. This is due to the massive slopes and slow, bumpy greens. However, there are some below average putters that have course knowledge and gain an advantage due to their course knowledge. And if the greens are in really bad shape, then that swings the favor back to the poor putters. However, from what I’ve been told the greens are in pretty good shape, by Pebble standards, this week.

While the 18th is an iconic hole, it’s not a Critical Hole. The last Critical Hole on the course belongs to the par-5, 14th hole.

The graphic doesn’t do the hole justice. The tee shot is uphill to a plateau. Even today’s bombers have a difficult time reaching the green in two shots as between the climate and the uphill tee shot, the ball goes nowhere off the tee. That also usually leads to very uneven lies on the 2nd shot. There are also overhanging trees up by the green and the green is a difficult one to putt on. Every single shot on this hole is tricky.

It ranks the 3rd most difficult driving hole, the most difficult approach shot hole and the most difficult hole on shots around the green. It’s average in terms of Putting, but remember that Pebble has the lowest make percentage greens on Tour. Average make percentage on Pebble is a very low make percentage on other courses.

Lastly, Ho-Sung Choi will make his PGA Tour debut. He is at 350/1 odds

I’ve stayed mum on Choi because I don’t think my opinion will be a popular one. However, I am a bit torn on this one as I perceive Choi as more or less a gimmick and I don’t know if that is good or bad for the game of golf.

I’ve seen swings of Choi just a few years ago where he didn’t do all of the goofy theatrics after his shot and thus, the gimmicky nature to his game. He’s also a shining example of how the OWGR continues to screw over PGA Tour players for other non-PGA Tour players and events, in particular the Tours over in Asia.

However, I don’t see irreparable harm being done and if it gets people interested in watching the game, then that’s a positive. I guess I just wish so many people were not enamored by new shiny objects that appear in front of them on the internet.

Projected Winning Score: -15


Dustin Johnson +550
Jason Day +900
Jordan Spieth +1,800
Patrick Cantlay +2,200
Tommy Fleetwood +2,500
Phil Mickelson +2,500
Matt Kuchar +2,500
Adam Scott +3,000


Sung-Jae Im +5,000
Robert Garrigus +35,000