The First Tee – Charles Schwab Challenge

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly May 20, 2019 19:52

The First Tee – Charles Schwab Challenge

This Week

What is it about this event that causes it to have the worst names every year? This year, the tournament at Colonial is named the Charles Schwab Challenge, but it’s previously been named the DEAN & DELUCA Invitational, the Forth Worth Invitational, and the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. If you couldn’t tell, this event is an invitational which means a slightly smaller field than normal, around 125 golfers this week; historically the cut comes above par – it’s been +1 three times, +2 and +4 in the past five years – and the winner is typically in the mid-to-high teens.

The Course

The Fort Worth Invitational takes place at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth which is a par-70 course that plays at 7,209 yards. One of the two par-5s here is short (565) and very easy (-0.4 to par on average), but the second par-5 is a long one (635) that doesn’t see much in the way of scoring – last year it saw only one eagle and played at -0.127.

Overall, this course plays pretty tough, with half of the par-4s playing outside 440 yards (only two of which average below par) while the other half still offer a challenge, as golfers stick driver in the bag here which always mutes scoring. The driver stays away thanks to the incredibly narrow fairways which average just 27 yards across at the 300 yard mark, and even still only 56% of fairways get hit here. Beyond just the narrow fairways, Colonial is a course designed to maximize the impact of the wind, which means paying special attention to the weather.

Missed fairways aren’t a total nightmare here in terms of hazards (not much beyond some thick rough and scattered trees), but so many of the holes here dogleg that getting the right approach angle in will be vital to finding success as the greens can be very tricky and it’s easy to short side the ball here. Typical approach shots would be in the 125-150 range, but really just look for overall approach numbers (strokes gained) as this is a tough course to fit into distance buckets.

One of the reasons the greens here are so tricky is their size: at only 4400 square feet on average these are some of the smallest on tour, but they have a ton of tiering and undulation which can feed the ball into the greenside bunkers; the greenside bunkers themselves aren’t anything special in terms of toughness but finding them removes a birdie opportunity. The other thing to consider with the greens here is that four of the holes have water by the greens, so poorly-struck or measured balls could easily get wet. The greens should be quick and firm, weather-dependant.

The Stats

The Strokes Gained stats to focus on in order (not including Tee to Green):

  • Approach
  • Off-The-Tee
  • Putting
  • Around the Green

Counting stats to focus on in order:

  • Par-4 Birdie or Better %
  • Bogey Avoidance
  • Putting Outside 10’
  • Proximity to the Hole from the Rough
  • Par-3 Scoring

Top-Tier Golfers

Rickie Fowler ($10500): While his history here isn’t spectacular – three finishes of T16 or better but also a T38, T54 and missed cut – Rickie’s game statistically sets up very well for the setup at Colonial, and he’s yet to miss a cut this season while picking up a win (WMPO) and four other top-25s in ten tries.

Although he’s only 40th from tee to green this season, Fowler’s hitting it long (294) and hitting greens (68.87%) and most importantly given his (relative) struggles from tee to green, he’s making putts: he ranks 10th in SG: Putting, 13th in putts from 10-15’ and 32nd in three-putt avoidance. That’s helped him to the fifth-best par-4 Birdie or Better percentage / a scoring average of 3.96 on par-4s, and he’s also been dynamite on the par-3s with a BoB% of 16.15% and a scoring average of 3.00. The main concern with Rickie this season has been his lack of accuracy off the tee, but he’s still gaining 0.291 strokes/round off the tee so he should be fine.

Jason Kokrak ($8900): Kokrak is another golfer with a mixed history here, missing the cut in two of the five times he’s played here since 2013, but the 2019 version of Kokrak is something he’s never been before – he’s missed zero cuts this calendar year and has finished in the top-25 in ten of 13 events played which is elite.

He’s managed to have such a great year with incredible play from tee to green (16th), thanks to solid play off the tee (+.530 SG/round) and elite play on approach (+.905 SG/round, 7th). His putting has been up and down – he would’ve finished tremendously well last week if he could’ve figured out the Bethpage poa – but he’s still gaining strokes every week there and should do well on the faster bent greens. He lacks distance off the tee which explains his poor par-5 numbers, but at a course with only one long par-5 that should be fine; his par-3 and -4 numbers are fantastic, 16th– and 24th-best respectively.

 

Value Golfer (below $8000)

Abraham Ancer ($7600): His approach game hasn’t been anything to write home about at a dismal rank of 118th this season – actually losing strokes per round on average – but he’s been so good off the tee thanks to his accuracy that he’s still been hitting greens in regulation even if he’s not always putting himself into “the best” positions. That’s part of how Ancer’s been so strong on the par-4s, where he ranks 11th in Birdie or Better %, with a scoring average of 3.97. Ancer’s a poor putter but this course should fit his eye well as a shorter, more accurate hitter: he finished T52 last year in his course debut, and he had two rounds in the 60s.

He’s coming off a T16 at the PGA Championship last week and has picked up four top-25s this year in 14 events, with only five missed cuts.

 

Jim Furyk ($7300): Furyk has played this course a whopping 21(!) times, so he should have an idea of how to get around at Colonial; he’s only missed five times and has seven top-10s, but it’s of mild concern that his last good finish (a solo 4th) came in 2012 – since then he’s finished T31, T51, T66 and a missed cut. While it’s vaguely concerning that he’s missed three straight cuts, one of those was Bethpage which doesn’t suit his game and one was team play at the Zurich so it’s not as bad as it could be; beyond those recent events, he’s had a phenomenal year on tour with six top-25s and a solo second at TPC Sawgrass.

Jim leads the PGA in driving accuracy with a massive 75.35% rate, and although he’s losing strokes off the tee thanks to his complete and total lack of distance (he ranks 208th), he’s 13th in SG: Approach and is hitting 70.06% of greens in regulation and has been playing very good golf although not scoring much. Jim ranks a poor 131st in BoB% but he averages 3.07, 3.97 and 4.61 on par-3s, -4s and -5s so he’s been good at avoiding the bogeys.

 

You can follow me on Twitter @adalyfrey and good luck this week!

 

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly May 20, 2019 19:52

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