Tuesday, September 29, 2020

What To Look For: 2020 Sanderson Farms Championship

Hudson Swafford wins the Corales Puntacana Club & Resort Championship:

That makes for Swafford's 2nd career victory on Tour.  Unfortunately, Corales Puntacana does not have ShotLink so we cannot further dissect his victory.


The Tour heads to it's second 'alternate field event' with the Sanderson Farms this week:

The Sanderson Farms Championship has been a tournament on Tour, under different names, since 1994.  In 2014 the event moved to the Country Club of Jackson, a John Fought design.

Fought supposedly designed the course with a Donald Ross flavor to it.  Ross designs are known for usually making the golfer use every club in their bag which calls for some lay-up tee shots.  But most of the stress is on approach shots and short game around the green when the greens are missed.

The course gets decent, but nonplussed reviews from Tour players I've talked to.  Statistically it does stress longer approach shots and tee shots.  Since they started playing the event at CC Jackson the winners have been Nick Taylor, Peter Malnati, Cody Gribble, Ryan Armour, Cameron Champ and Sebastian Munoz.  So the winner's of the event haven't exactly become premier Tour players, although Champ and Munoz show a lot of promise.

The final critical hole is the 331 yard par-4 15th hole.

This is a reachable driving hole.  You will get a lot more players laying up off the tee in the first two rounds than one would expect, but the the play is to go for the green and the target should be the center section of the front left part of the green.

Projected Winning Score: -21


Sung-Jae Im +1,200
Will Zalatoris +2,000
Sam Burns +2,500
Doc Redman +3,000


Adam Long +3,500
Emiliano Grillo +5,000
Lucas Glover +6,000
Tom Lewis +7,000
Jhonattan Vegas +10,000
Will Gordon +11,000


Wednesday, September 23, 2020

What To Look For: 2020 Corales Puntacana Championship

 Bryson DeChambeau won the US Open with a dominating performance on Sunday:

Here's how my picks finished at the US Open:


Dustin Johnson +800 (t-6th)
Jon Rahm +950 (t-23rd)
Justin Thomas +1,200 (t-8th)
Collin Morikawa +1,600 (MC)
Webb Simpson +2,500 (t-8th)
Daniel Berger +2,800 (t-34th)
Patrick Cantlay +2,800 (t-43rd)


Tony Finau +3,300 (t-8th)
Tyrrell Hatton +4,000 (MC)
Brian Harman +25,000 (t-38th)

A lot has been made out of DeChambeau only hitting 41% of the fairways, but that was actually higher than the field average.  So when some people discuss that Bryson 'played the math correctly' the main factor was that he not only hit the ball further, but didn't lose anything to the field in terms of accuracy off the tee. 

But where the math really played out in Bryson's favor had more to do with the typical penalty for missing the fairway at Winged Foot.  Unlike a TPC Sawgrass or a Harbour Town where missing the fairway could result in a shot in the trees or a shot that ends up in a hazard, the penalty for missing the fairway at Winged Foot was very deep rough.  But it was deep rough for anybody who missed the fairway and the field missed the fairway the majority of the time.  Combine that with a low standard deviation in hit fairway percentage (meaning that there wasn't a large variance in fairways hit throughout the field), Winged Foot could favor long hitters if they could somehow manage to find only 19 fairways for the entire week.  

When they missed the fairway, they were no more likely to take a 2-shot penalty than the shorter hitters in the field.  And thus the longer hitters were gaining considerable strokes on the field when they found the fairway while losing minimal amount of strokes when missing the fairway.

I had Bryson as the 12th best pick for Winged Foot. He was hurt a bit by his short game around the green play and short game around the green was a factor at Winged Foot.  Even for Bryson who may have had the best performance of his career around the green.  But when he was hitting it so long and still finding more fairways than the average player in the field and putted well, he was using the Power-to-Putting Principle perfectly to a tee and it provided him with a great advantage.  And since Bryson's biggest weakness is from 100-150 yards (188th last year) and Winged Foot didn't feature many of those shots the course very much played into his hands because he allowed it to do so.


The Tour is playing an alternate field event this week with the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship in the Dominican Republic.  Graeme McDowell won the event last year.

Corales Puntacana is a Tom Fazio design playing to 7,600+ yards for the tournament tees.  I haven't heard a lot from the pros on how they feel about the course, but usually Fazio courses are well received.  The other part of Fazio's designs is that he doesn't put himself in a box in terms of what he favors unlike other designers (Nicklaus stresses approach shots, Dye stresses the tee ball, Donald Ross stresses iron play and short game, etc).

The wind will likely play a major factor here and thus the course is about keeping the ball in play off the tee, hitting quality approach shots from long and short distance and because the average GIR % to winning score is low, there are plenty of important short game shots around the green.

The last critical hole on the course is 501 yard par-4 18th hole:

Most players in the field will play the hole like this off the tee:

A Bryson DeChambeau or Cameron Champ type could play it like this:

Of course, the direction of the wind will impact everything on that tee shot which is why it's the last critical hole on the course.

Projected Winning Score: -20


Will Zalatoris +1,200
Luke List +3,300
Charles Howell III +3,300
Henrik Stenson +3,300


Brian Stuard +5,000
Branden Grace +5,000
Kyle Stanley +6,600
Rob Oppenheim +10,000
Akshay Bhatia +10,000
Bill Haas +15,000


Wednesday, September 16, 2020

What To Look For: 2020 US Open

 The US Open comes to September and the return of Winged Foot:

The club was founded in 1921, by a group largely made up of members of The New York Athletic Club, and opened in June 1923. Winged Foot's name and logo are taken directly from a sculpture in the lobby floor of the New York Athletic Club in Manhattan.[3]

Winged Foot was designed by AW Tillinghast and is just another masterpiece in his collection of designs.  The West Course will play to 7,447 yards...but at a par-70.

The feedback I've received from the players is that they respect the course and it's a great course, but they wouldn't want to play it more than once a year due to the incredible difficulty.  And the course conditions are not ridiculous either.

The big thing about the course as like Bethpage Black, the fairways are very narrow.  They usually run about 67-70 feet wide.  A typical PGA Tour stop will have most fairways at 84-90 feet wide and on the LPGA it's closer to 90-99 feet wide.  Combine that with heavy rough that makes getting from tee-to-green very difficult.

But then you have the wicked greens which they renovated back in 2017 as shown in the video above. Making the +5 over par winning score in 2006 look very optimistic.

I get into debates with golfers on what courses and what conditions favor certain types of players.  Typically, dry and firm courses favor short hitters and soft courses favor the long hitters.  But, as with anything in life, there's always exceptions.

For instance this year Muirfield Village was so firm and fast, but it still favored long hitters.  The reason being was that many of Muirfield Village's fairways were so wide that it was still easy for a long hitter to find the fairway either with the driver or laying-up.  And then they could use their ability to produce more spin with longer approach shots to their advantage. 

But the other part of the equation was that there were some holes at Muirfield Village that had such a low hit fairway percentage that finding the fairway off the tee was more luck than predictable skill.  And thus even short, but accurate golfers were still finding the rough and thus the advantage went more to the longer hitter.

From gathering data at Winged Foot the course is more biased towards the latter scenario.  One can benefit by having superior driving skill, but much of the time the ability to find the fairway will come down more to luck, particularly if the course gets firmer.  If the course gets softer, then better drivers of the ball who do it thru accuracy, will be at the advantage.

Having said that, this is a 2nd and 3rd shot course.  Lots of greens are likely to be missed and those that can avoid missing greens are at an advantage, but that advantage can be taken away if they cannot get up-and-down when they do miss greens.  And my theory is that this even will likely be won by a player that is better than the tour average in Strokes Gained - Putting.  

Putting is the least reliable metric when it comes to projecting a winner on Tour.  But the courses where putting skill tends to carry over into tournament play are places like Pebble Beach and Torrey Pines...both very undulated green complexes just like Winged Foot.

The final Critical Hole will the the 498 yard par-4 16th hole, appropriately labeled 'Hells Bells':

It's a dogleg with a fairway about 72-feet wide with a tree on the left that helps block the green.  Golfers are forced to hit driver for the most part.

Projected Winning Score: +1


Dustin Johnson +800
Jon Rahm +950
Justin Thomas +1,200
Collin Morikawa +1,600
Webb Simpson +2,500
Daniel Berger +2,800
Patrick Cantlay +2,800


Tony Finau +3,300
Tyrrell Hatton +4,000
Brian Harman +25,000