Eagle Point and Wells Fargo delivered the goods this week with an excellent tournament and course to boot.  Eagle Point filled in beautifully for Quail Hollow, what an awesome golf course that saw a few names one might not have expected to see late on a Sunday leader board…and of course DJ was right in the mix after narrowly making the cut on the number and surging all the way back for a late clubhouse lead.  That lead was matched by Patty Perez and his heavy metal locks of hair making a Sunday charge that saw the other Patty (Reed) falling sharply off the pace Sunday.  Look out though, it does appear Reed has found some game again, after a cold spell.  Meanwhile, Smylie, Noh and Tway made some noise and let everyone know not to count them out.  Rahm continues to do Rahm things, physically dominating golf courses and in the process sparking a rivalry with DJ that is sure to take us back to the yester-years of Tiger/Phil duels.  Golf is in a good place as the young guns are making waves and a name for themselves early, but all that firepower wasn’t enough to best the diminutive lefty in Brian Harman who was red hot and poured in a career defining putt on 18 to snatch victory away from DJ & Perez.  Great job by Harman to hang tough and play his game!

As the Tour says goodbye to its one year host in Eagle Point, the players are looking forward to well, The Players and the annual challenge that is TPC Sawgrass.  Each year every facet of a golfers game is tested around this tough Pete Dye designed par 72 track, that received a face-lift of sorts after the close of the 2016 Edition that are sure to heighten both the fan and player experience this year with regard to scoring and watch-ability.  Before we get to far into the changes, TPC Sawgrass is located just a few blocks off the ocean in sunny Ponte Vedra Beach, FL.  Home to some prime real estate along Florida’s 1st Coast, TPC Sawgrass is also situated on the same property as the PGA Tour Headquarters (more appropriately the PGA Tour HQ is situated on the TPC property).  I was fortunate enough to call Jacksonville home for many years and even more fortunate to have attended this tournament quite a few times and played here as well.

Little known fact about TPC Sawgrass and DFSJimmie….The Players is home to 2 Dye designed courses.  The Famous stadium course that you will see this week on tv and it’s (less famous but equally as tough) sister course, Dye’s Valley.  I have not yet had the experience of playing the island green 17th of the Stadium BUT….I did record my only Hole-in-One on the 5th at Dye’s Valley!

There you have it, my singular claim to golfing fame right there!  My name is on a tiny plaque in the clubhouse with all the more talented & famous people that have made a Hole-in-One on the property.  Jason and I will be on site Tuesday & Wednesday this week, maybe they will let me sneak in to take a picture? (I doubt it) But more importantly shoot us your player and course questions this week @tourlevelclubpro and we will keep a look out for players you are on.  Now that I am done basking in the past glory of my accomplishments…let’s try and help you accomplish a better understanding of Sawgrass and on the right path to GPP glory this week!

A typical Dye design that streaks back and forth across the once swampy marsh land tucked into the dense, mature vegetation along the fertile inter-coastal grounds, lies TPC Sawgrass and it’s newly laid Tif Eagle Bermuda greens.  A 7,215 yard tactical golf, assault ground requiring precision from tee to green with plenty of imagination necessary for the golfer hoping to hoist the crystal this week.  No two consecutive holes face the same direction here at Sawgrass (not a coincidence) which will keep the players on their toes adjusting the normally windy and changing conditions of Florida’s coast.  A tight and tactical course that requires less brute strength in favor of accurate drives and players that can think 3 shots ahead.  As we get into breaking down TPC Sawgrass this week you will start to get a sense of the type of game that is required to succeed here.  Hint, there is not perfect formula or game type that has historically won here, as you will see below…that was kind of the point.

TPC Sawgrass has long been fabled as one of the fairest and toughest tests of all around skill, holding true to the foundational design rules set forth to Dye by then Tour Commissioner Berman.

  1. Course must not favor any particular/singular type of game.
  2. Must require the precise execution of a variety of shot shapes/types.
  3. Large viewing mounds & central hubs for fans.

Dye heeded those rules and delivered a spectacular golfing amphitheater that will stand the test of time.

Win/Cut Chart

Speaking of time, let’s look at how this course has played over the years, and take a quick peek at what we might be expect this year with the Win/Cut Chart

In keeping with the wishes of Commissionar Berman, Dye sought to create a golfing test that epitomized risk reward golf and duly punished any less than committed efforts to attack the course.  As you can see the course has played remarkably similar the past eight years with regard to the cut line being right about Even year in and year out.  Not matter the cut line, the course can play anywhere from easy to brutally difficult depending on the conditions and set up that year.  What is nice about TPC Sawgrass from a stats perspective is the level of consistency each year regarding the cut line and the relative diffciulty rank our tour.  It give me a greater degree of confidence about course how the course has played in the past and how much additional weight we can lend to that this year versus others.

So the biggest change to Sawgrass came to the par 4 12th hole.  Previously this hole did not have a clean sight line to the pin and was not considered a scoring hole because of this.  Players were forced to take a very conservative play off the tee and then hope to get a short iron close, suffice to say this hole was the definition of boring as far as a Pete Dye course is concerned.  So they livened it up a bit by taking away all the trees, brush on the left, adding a big bunker players need to clear if they are going to go for the green and then a big pond to catch any one that drifts a bit too far left.  With a clean line of sight, expect plenty of folks to go for this green a couple of days if the pin is in the right spot.

That said, the drastic change to 12 will yield quite a few additional birdies and undoubtedly several eagles as well!  This change alone could impact the field average by a full stroke over past years.  This could be the year we see a 3 under cut line due to the 12th hole!

Let’s move on and dig into the scorecard to see where players are going to be making their birdies this week.

The Card

Finally after a couple of weeks of less than a full complement of data for the Euro event and then a new course last week, I am glad to see a familiar spreadsheet and the extra data it provides!  Digging into TPC Sawgrass it is fairly easy to see that this course on initial inspection sets up like most other par 72 courses because the par 5’s jump off the page since with the amount of green in their columns.  They also stand out as the only holes that will see the field knocking out birdies at a 30% or better clip historically (add 12 to that list this year).

There are only 5 holes that play under par consistently each year and those are the ones we are going to start with.  As we have already determined they are the par 5’s as the only grouping of holes to collectively play under par at 4.7 strokes and the newly renovated par 412th, so what is it going to take to score on them this week?

Starting at the very reachable 2nd, golfers will need a birdie to set the pace of their round and likely to cushion against the inevitable bogey lurking often only a few holes away at the 5th.  Get a drive in play between the trees, favoring the left side and blast the 2nd up close.  Almost all the players can reach this in 2, the challenge will be the wind direction as players want to ensure they don’t miss left.  The mounding can turn this birdie opportunity into a disappointing par or bogey easily with a tricky up and down.  Not only will players be looking to set the tone of the round here, they also can ill afford to miss a precious scoring opportunity at Sawgrass, where over 40% of the field will score.

Navigating through the front nine is treacherous with holes 3-8 accounting for +.58 strokes, while the 9th combined with the 2nd historically have played AT -.55.  Basically, you need to score on the par 5’s to offset the bogeys around TPC Sawgrass.  The 9th is one of the more strategic par 5’s in the world with water dictating the tee shot on the right and long, in play for any tee shots that drift even a bit right ( as the creek cuts off the fairway diagonally).  Still a very scoreable hole, just don’t expect a lot of guys to go in 2 here.  Missing the green on the right is no picnic due to the mounding which creates extremely awkward lies, with a large tree that guards the sight line to the green as well for the appropriately placed tee shot.  Adding to the difficulty of going in 2, is the narrowing fairway as it closes in on the green.  A difficult long approach indeed.  Most players will lay back to a good number after taking a 3 wood off the tee and hope to hold a wedge close for a birdie here.

The 11th and now 12th only get the party started on the back nine at TPC Sawgrass.  The 11th is a great hole that will see good sand players hitting away for the green and letting the big bunker that wraps almost all the way around catch their mis-hits.  You can approach this hole is many different ways, depending on the pin position and wind each day.  Short enough for most to reach should they choose to try, but with enough danger to keep even the big hitters honest is they aren’t positioned properly off the tee.  While the bunker catches most errant shots, plenty find the water right past the green and bunker as well. Seeing birdies at a close to 40% clip, players finding pay dirt here will surely be fired up to attack the brand new 12th.

Getting the full treatment, the 12th is a brand new hole for this years edition.  For the players, very little will be similar as the hole present completely different with the trees removed, bunker, and water.  What used to appear claustrophobic from the tee box, now looks wide open and inviting.  Surely by design to lull players into a false sense of security, encouraging them to pull the big stick and try to attack!  The long bunker on the left forces a good carry for players taking the aggressive line to the green, with water tight to the left…don’t let it leak!  The bailout is right to some aggressive mounding and a daunting chip back towards the water and a shaved bulkhead that will do little to prevent and careening ball from getting in the drink.  I am very excited about this new hole and it will give the players plenty to think about this week!  Truly a hole that could see a good shot rewarded with a makeable eagle putt or a poor shot punished with a double or worse.  The new 12th is sure to be a player and fan favorite in it’s debut year.  It should also change the way the card looks just a bit.  Previously, this hole saw roughly 1/4 of the field score in a very conservative way…I don’t expect anything close to the same this year.  Look for the field to hit 40% in birdies made with the eagle opportunities to increase to 2-3% as well.  This singular hole will reshape the scoring environment for the tournament.

Finally the par 5th 16th starts the closing stretch of holes, you know the stretch that Ricky blistered after his family had left for the airport early to claim his 1st Players victory…ya that stretch.  The 16th can set a player up for a solid closing run, but first they need to hit a baby draw to the center of the fairway to even think about going home in two here.  With a big tree that guards the left side and water on the right, approaching 16 with the intent of scoring is not as straightforward as the near 45% birdie rate would have you think.  A daunting second shot that cannot be blocked right and a sliver of fairway as it narrows is left to run it on.  Daunting or not, players will need to be looking to catch fire on the easiest hole on the course.  A clutch birdie here builds confidence for the treacherous 17th ahead.

The holes most likely to cost players a stroke this week are the 14th and 18th.  The 14th is traditionally the most difficult hole on the course, playing 0.29 strokes over par and claiming a bogey for nearly 1/3 of the field.  The drive is ideally a cut that works just past the dogleg but avoids the right side miss (big hill) to set up an approach that calls for a draw into a well guarded green.  Narrow sight lines and small landing spots on this green make for a very difficult hole each year.

Finally the 18th will claim plenty of bogeys as well.  Very exposed to the wind, and requiring a driver due to the length, players often take a difficult angle over the water or get a bit ahead and tug one slightly, only to watch it drift left and witness a watery close to end their round on a sour note.  A big boy hole that requires players to focus completely in order to close out their rounds and the chasing pack on Sunday.  This is the hole where Hal Sutton famously exclaimed, “Be the right club today” as he went on to win his 2nd Players title.  Either way the 18th is a carnage hole that will see risky shots as players chase the last birdie, unfortunately they turn into bogey or worse at of 30%.

 

Key Stats

Finally, a key stats chart!  It seems like an eternity since we have seen one of these but I am glad we finally have some good data to access our key stats for the week.  Again, one of the nice things about The Players is the consistency year in and year out they provide in course set up and difficulty, it makes for neat and clean charts like the one above.

As you can see by a quick cursory glance, and the big red plus sign in the middle of the chart…that driving distance is completely unnecessary to success at TPC Sawgrass.  So we are going to be ignoring that from the start.  Generally, when we see a course where driving distance is not important, accuracy becomes significantly more important but its not quite that cut and dry around Sawgrass.  While we certainly see that driving accuracy is more important than distance, it isn’t terribly relevant with regard to the other stats.  The driving stats that appears to be most important here is Good Drive %, and again only marginally so when compared to the other stats available.  If you are going to be weighing any driving stats this week, I suggest you use GD% but do so sparingly.

Moving on to what is important to success here, on the right strokes gained against field average shows up again this week as does scoring average.  Not a huge surprise, and both can be considered for your models this week.  Getting into the par 3/4/5 stats, par 4 jumps out as the most important of the 3 while par 5 is the least important….huh?  Keep in mind, these stats are reflective of what it takes to finish highly on a leader board or win a golf tournament, not score DK points.  That said, the par 5’s are obviously important as we just discussed and correlate strongly to where Draftkings points will be scored they aren’t however where this tournament is won and lost with regard to the rest of the field.

With close to 35-45% of the field scoring on par 5’s, the players that finish high on a leader board not only scored on those par 5’s with everyone else but found a way to add a birdie or two more on the par 4’s or even more importantly avoid a bogey.  You might have already noticed that birdie or better % is historically just as important as bogey avoidance at TPC Sawgrass.  In a tournament that plays close to par, making a birdie and avoiding a bogey are often the same thing as far as your spot on the leader board is concerned. Not so much in DK scoring but in real life golf, maintaining par wins golf tournaments at TPC.

One stat that you won’t be weighing but should take note of is the bright green of Fed Pts.  Not predictive of anything other than to say that the elite golfers leading in fed ex points so far this year are likely going to be the ones dominating the top of the leader board come Sunday, with a few less than elite golfers mixed in.  Something to keep in mind as you are building lineups this week.  This is not a hot take by any stretch but just nice to be reminded of and to keep in mind.

Moving on to the left, the green column for DKPG par 72 jumps out  midway across and this is where we see the significance of par 5 scoring with regard to amassing big DK points.  The fact that Par 72 scoring is so much more significant than 70 or 71 speaks to the importance of making a birdie on the par 5’s this week.  Something that sticks out to me for the winner that is usually not included in my stats is Sand Save %.  There are plenty of places to bail out around TPC into a bunker, and while playing from the bunkers is not exactly a winning strategy…playing well from the bunkers can certainly help around this track if you are holding off a chasing pack.  Good sand player should feel comfortable getting it up and down out of the many bunkers around here.

The last significant stat that I am going to be focusing on this week is strokes gained approach.  TPC Sawgrass is very much a 2nd shot golf course, the only problem with that is you have to avoid all the trouble off the tee first to even realize an opportunity on your 2nd shot.  Players than can appropriately place it on the correct side of the fairway will need to flex their approach skills this week.  The challenge with the often and firm greens here is it decreases the already small landing zones for the players.  Players are forced to hit certain areas of the green based on the pin placement in order to get it close, missing the preferred landing spot on the green will results in a missed green or a probably 3 putt.  Players hitting their numbers and placing shots correctly into greens will find the most success here.  This is the most important stat in my model this week!  The new Tif Eagle Bermuda greens this year will likely exacerbate this annual challenge, mainly because new greens tend to play very firm the first couple of years until the root structures are fully incorporated.  New greens also tend to have superintendents err on the side of caution as well will hot and dry weather recently, look for the crew to let them stay a bit shaggy during the practice rounds and then roll and cut them Wednesday or Thursday night.  Either way, I have a hunch the greens will be firmer than past years in terms of the amount of bounce players get on the first hop but a bit slower in terms of speed (at least during the 1st round).  The tournament is looking to stay away from the Slick Green Saturday from last year when players were having difficulty soling their putters.

All in all we have covered a lot of stats but this week favor form and solid ball strikers that know how to manage a golf course.  Bombers beware around here, good course managers in good current form should have a good week around here.  Suddenly Adam Scott comes to mind after his late charge on Sunday at Eagle Point!

Core Stats

  1. SG Approach
  2. Birdie or Better %
  3. SDFA
  4. Bogey Avoidance

Satellite Stats

  1. Par 5 Scoring
  2. Par 4 Scoring
  3. 125-150 yards
  4. Good Drive %
  5. Sand Save %

Weather 

For the first time in week’s, we are looking at a relatively clear and not quite so foreboding a forecast.  Let’s hope that it holds!!!

Pre-Cut

Thursday and Friday are looking great with Thursday being the better of the two days.  Thursday will see very light winds of 7, and gentle gusts of 12 mph with temps in the low 80’s working into the 90’s by afternoon.  Hope these boys are ready for some swamp golf…it’s hot and humid down here in Florida!

Friday the winds pick up a bit to what is considered normal for this tournament and region of the state.  Steady at 15-18 mph and gusting up to 23 mph.  The trees will guard against some of this wind but the removal of the trees on 12 and the addition of the pond between 6 & 7 means they are left quite a bit more exposed than in the past.  Wind could have a larger affect on player decisions on these holes.

Post-Cut

Saturday is basically a mirror image of Friday with steady winds of 15-18 mph, gusting to 25 mph but generally weakening as we move into the afternoon.  Currently Sunday looks perfect, light low breezes of 5-7 mph and little to no gusting.  A perfect set up for these guys to go low and close out what is sure to be another exciting edition of The Players.

We will be updating the weatehr forecast in The Yardage Book as well as covering all our picks in the Winning Element each week.  Jason and I both will be on site this week, be sure to reach out and get with us on players you need us to check out and anything you want to know while we are on the grounds!

As always, Best of Luck this week!