The First Tee – John Deere Classic by Adam Daly

Fantasy Golf Insider Staff
By Fantasy Golf Insider Staff July 10, 2017 18:04

The First Tee – John Deere Classic by Adam Daly

This week is yet another trip to a TPC course with a very weak field – most of golf’s elite are across the pond at the Scottish Open in preparation for Royal Birkdale – which means diminished prize pools on DraftKings and lots of high scoring golf on an easy course. Congrats to Xander for his big win last week!

The Course

That “easy course” is TPC Deere Run, designed by D.A. Weibring and located in Illinois, and it runs at 7,268 yards as a par-71. It’s got an average cut line of -2.05 and last year’s cut was -3 with Ryan Moore winning at -22, which is where the “easy” part comes in. To put it simply, the way to win at Deere Run is to put the ball in the fairway and putt well for four days – not the easiest thing to maintain, but distance doesn’t matter and approach shots from the fairway lead to great proximity across the board so there’s not much of an advantage there. There will be a small premium on wedge play, with more than 20% of approach shots coming from 50-125 yards.

Being a par-71, there are four par-3s ranging from 158 to a long-ish 226, and three par-5s that all play remarkably easy. There were 30 eagles made on the three combined holes last year (although only one was made on the 596-yard 10th), and they absolutely must be scored on at a birdie-fest course. There are only four par-4s that play above 450 yards, and three of the four holes play above par, which makes them the only spot where distance could be a factor – escaping those holes with a par or birdie (especially the 503-yard 9th which featured only 43 birdies) would make for a huge advantage the rest of the way.

Although there are strategically-placed bunkers in the fairways, the fairways themselves are slightly above average width and are lined with pushed-back trees that will rarely be a factor unless tee shots get errant. What that does for golfers is gives them lots of opportunities to pick their spots in the fairway to set up their second shot, which has led to a ton of greens in regulation (~70%). Missing the fairway will come at a cost, as the Kentucky bluegrass can stand up to 3” and will result in a terrible line for a second shot depending on the dogleg.

Once on the slow (sub-12’ on the stimpmeter) bentgrass greens, golfers will have to deal with lots of undulation and tiered greens – this is the one aspect of the course that could be considered difficult, although typically slower bentgrass levels the field a bit in terms of putting. Putts outside 25’ are rare here, which speaks to how easy the approach shots in are. The hardest part of the large-ish greens (~8000sq. ft. on average) is narrow openings, so leaving anything short will be costly.

Avoid historically bad putters at all costs, as some past winners show:

  • Steve Stricker (2009-2011, 61st, 22nd, 3rd SG:P respectively)
  • Ryan Moore (2016, 32nd in SG:P)
  • Jordan Spieth (2013, 2015, 60th and 2nd in SG:P respectively)

The worst overall putter in the last eight years was Brian Harman who won in 2014 and had a season-long putting rank of 75th by strokes gained.

Much like last week, there will be lots of bonuses up for grabs – AU70 is in play even on a par-71 just because the course is so easy, and on a birdie track the 3BIR will be in play. Targeting scoring golfers that give strokes back with bogeys isn’t the worst idea on a site like FantasyDraft where position doesn’t impact the scoring that much, and don’t be surprised if there are some Top-30 golfers that end up out-scoring the Top-10 based on more birdies and eagles.


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

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

Counting stats to focus on in order:

  • Birdie or Better %
  • Good Drive %
  • Greens in Regulation %
  • Approach Shots 50-125 Yards
  • Par-4 Birdie or Better %
  • One-Putt %

The Golfers

Kevin Kisner ($10400) – With a middling success rate at TPC Deere Run (two top-35s, two missed cuts), the course history play would be to ignore Kisner this week. Fortunately for Kevin, he’s having his best year on Tour with six top-6 finishes and 16/19 made cuts – including last week at the Greenbrier, which might (fingers crossed) help guide people towards someone like Daniel Berger instead.

Kisner fits the model for this course almost to a tee, as a shorter hitter that finds a lot of fairways (12th) and excellent proximity/strokes gained numbers on approach. He doesn’t excel in the shorter approach range, but he’s still sticking the ball an average of just under 19’ from the pin, and with overall good putting numbers he’ll be able to stick some birdies.

After finally getting his first win, look for Kisner to try and keep that going at a birdie-fest which is exactly where he plays his best. The “choker” label was shedded at the Dean & DeLuca, and this par-4 stud should be able to post a score of at least -16 over four days which may not end up winning but will be a great DK score and necessary in a winning lineup in a weak field.

Brian Harman ($10900) – Guaranteed to have some chalk behind his name, this past champion has had some great form this year which showed itself to a worldwide audience at Erin Hills with a T2 finish to go along with his earlier win at the Wells Fargo. Those two factors along with the overall weakness of the field means Harman will probably be the chalkiest player this week, but he also has some of the highest win upside both statistically and based on his past performance in Illinois: three top-25s (including that win in 2014) to go with two missed cuts in five total tries.

Harman is having his best year on tour yet, smashing his previous career earnings and currently sitting in 11th in the Fed Ex Cup standings, and that shows in his overall play this year:

  • 94 Birdies per Round (22nd)
  • 8th in Strokes Gained: Putting / 11th in One-Putt %
  • 99 Par-4 Scoring Average (15th)
  • 45% Birdie or Better % (24th)

He does struggle a bit on approach, but a lot of that comes from hitting out of the rough where he struggles immensely. He’s not the most accurate off the tee at only 62.52% of fairways hit, but with the width of the fairways and the lack of distance needed, he should be able to club down and pick his spots better than some of the other courses he’s played this year. Lock him in and let him get to the green where he really shines.

Value picks (below $7500):

  • Gonzalo Fdez-Castano ($7000) – Having a rough year off the tee (191st in Driving Accuracy %), all the Spaniard has to do to compete here is get himself to the green in regulation – once on the green, Gonzalo is basically a wizard with the putter, sitting 1st in One-Putt % and 5th in SG: Putting. With the wider fairways and easy approaches, he makes a great value play who can make birdies with the flat stick – at $7000, he’ll have sub 3% ownership with no history here and more popular plays like Luke List/Smylie Kaufman in the same range.
  • Cody Gribble ($6500) – The king of the fall season, this PGA rookie has been cold as of late with only two made cuts in the last eight events (T48 at the PLAYERS and T41 at the Dean & DeLuca) but it’s been his driving accuracy that’s held him back. Gribble can score at will on easy tracks (39th in birdie average/25th in Par-4 BoB%), mostly on the strength of his putter. Gribble has hit 40.71% of putts for One-Putts, avoids three-putting at an elite clip, and although he ranks low on the 50-125 approach distance he’s still putting the ball within 25’ which is all it will take him to score. If he keeps it in the fairway, he’ll be a contender here.
  • Steve Wheatcroft ($7000) – Three for four in made cuts – including a T8 in 2015 – Wheatcroft is one of the few value picks that has both course history and stats on his side, if not the greatest recent form. Wheatcroft has only made six of 13 cuts this season, but finished T10 a month ago at the St. Jude Classic. Wheatcroft is the classic shorter hitter that finds a ton of fairways (67.96%) and can putt the lights out, currently sitting 15th in SG: Putting. He’ll typically struggle getting from tee to green thanks to a poor long approach game, but he’s average from short distances and when combined with his play on the greens and fairways hit, he makes a great value play at low ownership.

Good luck this week! You can follow me on Twitter @adalyfrey if you have any questions, and my DMs are always open

Fantasy Golf Insider Staff
By Fantasy Golf Insider Staff July 10, 2017 18:04

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