The First Tee – Greenbrier

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly September 9, 2019 18:57

The First Tee – Greenbrier

This Week

*extremely The Rock voice*: FINNNNNNNALLLLLLLLLLY, the PGA has come BACK! To WEST VIRGINIA!

Kicking off the fall season, the 2019-20 opening event is “A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier” and will be the first time that the event has taken place in the fall; it takes place at the Old White TPC and beyond skipping last year thanks to schedule changes, it also got cancelled in 2016 thanks to flooding.

The swing season always brings some interesting golfers into the mix with very small statistical sample sizes or whose stats come in much tougher tournaments, so stat rankings that would normally be laughed at will still be worth looking at.

The Course

The Old White TPC is a par-70 listed at 7292 yards that sees golfers uncork off the tee and winning scores in the mid-teens, but it’s not the birdie-fest it once was – over the past five years, it’s got a birdie average of (3.54, 3.24, 3.48, 3.09, 3.23)/5 which is perfectly in the middle of Tour courses.

Golfers can usually pull driver here thanks to the width of the fairways (~34 yards across on average), and that’s really been increased over the past two tournaments as the course lost some trees after the 2016 floods damaged the course: the average driving distance was 310.5 and 304.3 in 2018 and 2017, compared to 289-293 the three years previous. Expect this to be a bomber’s paradise, which means looking at long hitters and good wedges; in addition to the large fairways, there aren’t many hazards to be concerned about (water can come into play on three tee shots) which is another factor in such long tee shots.

Seven of the par-4s here play below 450-yards (which includes three under 400) and two very scoreable par-5s although they’re longer at 570 and 615 yards. Most of the scoring will be done on the back-9 as it’s got the short 10th and both par-5s, so don’t get discouraged through nine holes. The par-3s here are the real killers (229, 179, 236 and 208 yards) with the average par-3 score sitting between 3.09 and 3.11 the past two years and very few birdies getting made – so strong par-3 players should be a consideration.

Approach shots shouldn’t offer much trouble – the course shouldn’t be dried out thanks to September weather which is a change from previous tourneys and means balls won’t bounce off hard greens – but the small and slow bentgrass greens do offer a tough test with the putter. There’s a lot of undulation and sloping on these greens and one-putting is rare, only 35% last year (10th-hardest); the greens are the only major defense this course can put up, so good putters should be the other target.

Comparable courses/events:

Sedgefield C.C. (Wyndham Championship) – Scoring’s a little easier at the Wyndham but Sedgefield is also a par-70 with bentgrass greens, and is ~100 yards shorter than at the Old White TPC. Golfers don’t hit driver as much at Sedgefield thanks to tighter fairways, but putting is very comparable in terms of inside 10’ and one-putt %.

TPC Boston (2017 Dell Technologies Championship) – Similar length with six par-4s below 450, two longer par-5s and very tough par-3s. Fairway widths are comparable, greens are small and bentgrass although faster in Boston. Weather should be similar as Boston in late August should be pretty close to mid-September West Virginia.

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 %
  • One-Putt %
  • Approach Shots: 50-125 Yards
  • Driving Distance
  • Scrambling

Top-Tier Golfers

Viktor Hovland ($10900): Coming off a T2 at the Boise Open on the Korn Ferry Tour a couple weeks ago, Hovland has shown what made him one of the most decorated college golfers by missing zero cuts as a professional (five in a row on the PGA, two on the KFT) and finishing 16th or better in all but one of them; he also finished solo 4 at the Wyndham at what should be a comparable tournament.

He only played 29 measured rounds on the PGA, but in the events that were tracked he has superstar numbers from tee to green. He gained 1.058 strokes per round off the tee and .947/rd on approach, hit a whopping 73.61% of greens in regulation and averaged the sixth-highest birdies per round (4.36). The only place he struggled was around and on the greens, but he only missed 105 greens so that is a tiny sample and the putting will be hit and miss for him.

Hovland is long off the tee (25th on all drives) and was absurdly accurate at 75.4% of fairways hit – good reminder he played some junky courses and fields but that’s similar to the swing season – while shooting -64 (-0.150) when he hit the fairway. He excelled on par-4s but was also above average on the -3s and -5s.

Joaquin Niemann ($9700): Niemann had a lot of helium when he popped onto Tour last year with five top-10s in 18 events, but he fell off the radar for most of 2019 until a T5 at the Travelers got him back on track – after that tournament, he picked up another T5 (Rocket Mortgage), three more top-25s, and a T30 and T31 in the FedEx Cup playoffs. Niemann also played the Greenbrier in 2017 as an amateur and came back in 2018, finishing T29 and T5 respectively, so he’s shown the game to succeed here.

Statistically, he hits most of the boxes for success:

  • 35th off the tee / 30th in all-drive distance
  • 25th on approach / 25th in approach shots from 50-125 yards
  • 8th in par-4 scoring (3.98) / 29th in par-4 BoB% (18.79%)
  • 06% of greens hit / 23rd in SG: Tee to Green

The main areas he struggles are on and around the greens, as he gains only 0.18 strokes/rd around the green (102nd) and loses 0.170 strokes/rd putting. His one-putt percentage is absolutely dismal (129th) which can hurt his scoring, but he does avoid three-putts and as he puts it so consistently into good positions he’s worth betting on.

 

Value Golfer (below $8000)

Sepp Straka ($7600): A big-time birdie maker, Straka made the top-125 last year but missed the cut at the Northern Trust but overall had a great season: five top-25s including a solo third at the Barbasol and 12 made cuts, and his end of year went well with a T26-3-12-T39 run at the John Deere, Barbasol, Barracuda and Wyndham before the MC in the playoffs.

He ranked 51st in SG: Tee to Green thanks to strong play off the tee (28th SG: OTT) and on approach (45th SG: APP), but his average putting and dismal play around the green held him back slightly. Straka’s a pretty long golfer off the tee – 22nd in overall distance, 46th on all drive distance – and his proximity to the hole is pretty good with an average distance of 35’5” (T50). Unfortunately he’s not great with a wedge, but his short irons have been good – he ranked 140th from 50-125 yards, but 4th from 150-175 and 47th from 175-200.

For someone that’s a poor putter (148th in One-putt percentage, 87th SG: Putting), Straka’s birdie numbers are unreal: 12th overall in BoB% (23.92%) and 10th on par-4s (19.79%), and T41 on par-3s (15.36%). That alone makes him worth the risk at a deflated price in a poor field.

 

Beau Hossler ($7300): Hossler is one of the golfers with poor stats, but his good finishes came in the tournaments with comparable fields: he’s coming off a T25 and T2 on the Korn Ferry Tour which helped him get his full card on the PGA, and he’s picked up a T35, T26 and T34 at the Barracuda, John Deere and 3M Open; his best PGA finish came back in February at the Genesis Open (T15) but he’s an incredible putter and he crushes par-4s which is perfect for this track.

Hossler’s 184th ranking in SG: Approach will probably scare most people off, but he was slightly above tour average in terms of GIR (67.00%, average is 66.03%) and he was -37 (-0.201) on approach shots between 50-125 yards, which was good for 29th. He’s pretty long off the tee – 31st on all drives at 293.2 – and his poor accuracy shouldn’t be a factor with the wide fairways here; the main concern with Hossler will be longer approaches as he struggles with mid-to-long irons but those shots should be rare.

He ranks 18th in P4 Birdie or Better % at 19.21% and 54th in overall BoB% at 22.42%, and hit a massive 90.22% of putts inside 10’ last year (7th) and was 10th in SG: Putting.

 

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

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly September 9, 2019 18:57

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