The First Tee – Houston Open

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly October 7, 2019 19:47

The First Tee – Houston Open

This Week

The Houston Open is back on the PGA Schedule after one season off, and this year will be the last year the event is hosted at the Golf Club of Houston (Tournament Course). This event used to precede the Masters and was set up as a perfect lead-in, so that’s a great comparison course this week; given its move to the swing season, the field strength is a little different than years past.

THE COURSE

The Golf Club of Houston is a long par-72 at 7441 yards, but it’s a fairly easy course with the winning score in the mid-to-high teens most years. The cut tends to drift between E and -2, and in 2018 only six holes played above par, so birdie-making remains the biggest factor for success (as opposed to bogey avoidance).

With only five of the par-4s listed below 440 yards and two of the par-3s outside 200, this is a course where length off the tee is important – again, comparable to Augusta – and most approach shots will be coming outside 175 yards. The four par-5s range from 557 all the way up to 608 yards, but are all fairly easy (18 combined eagles in 2018 vs. 8 double bogeys) with the hardest of the four averaging 0.235 below par the last time the event was played here.

While distance off the tee is important, the fairways narrow considerably past the 275-yard marker: the average width at 275 is 33 yards across, vs. 29 across at the 300-yard marker; that 29 yard average is also propped up considerably by the 5th, a 480-yard par-4 that widens from 34 to 44. For that reason, a lot of golfers choose to pull driving irons or woods. Hitting the fairway isn’t crucial as the rough is kept pretty lean, but there’s a lot of water on this course so the safe tee shot is usually the choice here.

Approach shots will be hit into very large, very fast greens that are set to resemble Augusta although without nearly as much undulation. They’re a poa/bent mix and are relatively flat – which means lots made putts inside 10’ compared to an average week – and three-putting is very rare (2.78% last time). It’s a very tough course for sticking long irons – the fifth-hardest course in terms of proximity outside 200 yards – so longer hitters off the tee have a real advantage as they’ll be able to flight the ball high enough to position their ball well.

Missed greens mean either light rough, large greenside bunkers (that are fairly shallow so not a massive concern) or worst-case scenario, water balls. Make sure to check the weather as with so much water on the course, high winds could become a huge factor – especially as there’s not much protection from trees – so there could be a real tee time advantage if wind comes into play.

Comparable courses/events:

Augusta National (The Masters) – A long par-72 with very quick bentgrass greens? Check. Par-5 scoring being a huge factor? Check. Water in play fairly often? Check. The scoring at Augusta is much tougher obviously – there’s about a three-stroke difference on average – but that’s also aided by the Masters field having so many bad golfers.

Muirfield Village (Memorial) – Similar fairway widths, similar set-up in terms of distance (par-72 at 7392 yards). Muirfield has a ton of water and not many trees, and the first cut of rough is very thin at both courses. The greens are comparable when looking at speeds and flatness, and both have bentgrass greens.

 

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:

  • Birdie or Better %
  • Par-5 Scoring
  • Approach Shots: Outside 175 Yards
  • Driving Distance
  • Three-putt Avoidance

Top-Tier Golfers

Scottie Scheffler ($9900): Like a lot of players in the swing season, Scheffler’s stats are a small sample and need to be taken with a grain of salt, but in the 14 rounds measured last year he was an absolute stud:

  • 10th off the tee / 41st in distance
  • 27th on approach / 2nd in GIR %
  • 7th in SG: tee to green
  • T7 in par-4 scoring

His scoring was a bit muted thanks to a poor putter (188th in SG: Putting), but at a course with easy greens that shouldn’t be much of a problem for Scheffler this week.

He’s coming off a tough weekend at the Shriners (74-75) to finish DFL, but he had a T16 and T7 prior. It’s also a fun fact that Scheffler is a Dallas native who played for the Longhorns, so he’ll be very used to the climate and greens.

Luke List ($8500): Entering the week of a T13 at the Shriners, that was the first good week List has had since the PGA Championship back in May – he’d finished T77 at the Northern Trust and missed eight cuts between the sixth-place finish at the PGA and the Shriners. Hopefully that means the start of something good, and playing at the GC of Houston may help jumpstart it, as List has picked up finishes of T27, T3 and T24 (and one MC) here.

List is a known quantity at this point as a tee to green stud who can’t knock a putt in to save his life (so like everyone else ever written about in the First Tee articles…), but he makes so much of that up by dominating off the tee: last year he ranked 16th in SG: OTT with the third-best driving distance (although 182nd in accuracy). That’ll come in handy here where he can use his length to his advantage.

Unfortunately, his approach game suffered last year (along with the regular poor putting) as he finished the season at 112th in SG: APP, but he’s also hit 70.8% of greens in regulation through the swing season so that may be bouncing back.

 

Value Golfers (below $8000)

Doc Redman ($7200): Redman’s been knocking on the door of success this swing season but hasn’t gotten through yet – T42, MC, T52 and T24 so far – but that can basically all come down to his struggles with his putter; in those four events his ranking in SG: T2G was 21st, N/A (MC although he gained 0.964 and the winner gained 2.879), 38th and 16th.

If Redman wasn’t averaging a whopping 0.428 strokes lost putting PER ROUND, he’d be the new Hovland/Wolff/Morikawa etc. to get excited about, because the rest of his game has been fantastic, and he’s scoring at a strong rate (25.79% so far). His scoring rate was similar in the 16 measured rounds he had last year (24.72%), and that’s mostly down to strong driving and good iron proximity with his irons.

Redman has no history here and missed the cut at both Memorial and Augusta in 2018 as an amateur, but was a stud on the Canadian tour and managed a solo second at the Rocket Mortgage Classic last season.

 

Zack Sucher ($6600): Although his sample size is small tiny, Sucher has played well in the first two events of the season (T18 and T24 at Sanderson and the Greenbrier respectively) and was solid in the ten PGA events he played last year, missing only three cuts and picking up a T2 at the Traveler’s. He only has eight qualified rounds this season and only 30 from last season so his stats aren’t official, but in those 2018 rounds he would’ve ranked:

  • 58th off the tee, 21st in distance (2018)
  • 54th on approach, 18th in GIR (2018)
  • 11th in P5 BoB, 4th in P5 Scoring (2018)

There’s a caveat in that he played the easier tournaments so the stats are a little skewed, but they paint the picture of a long hitter off the tee who can get to the greens fairly easily, and his scoring is all down to his putter – he would’ve ranked 98th in SG: Putting last year, but 141st in one-putt percentage. In a field this soft, being priced at $6600 is a big miss and he could easily fly through the cut line.

Good luck this week! You can follow me on Twitter @adalyfrey if you have any questions

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly October 7, 2019 19:47

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