The First Tee – John Deere Classic

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly July 9, 2018 16:19

The First Tee – John Deere Classic

As the lead-in week to the Open, most of golf’s elite are taking this week off or playing across the pond in the Scottish Open, which means TPC Deere Run will – yet again – have a weak field. The strength of field is about half of what the European Tour will see this week, which means a lot of lesser lights and up-and-comers.

The Course

TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Illinois is a par-71 listed at 7,268 yards, and is another TPC birdie-fest course. Over the past five years, winners at the John Deere Classic have had scores between -18 and -22, with the cut typically sitting around -2 or -3; the worst 72-hole score here since 2014 is +3 (twice.)

Being a par-71, there are four par-3s ranging from 158 to a long-ish 226, and three par-5s that all play easy: there were 30 eagles made on the combined par-5s last year (which was also how many were hit in 2016). Given the short distance of the par-4s – three sit below 400 yards while only four sit above 450 – the most common approach shot in will be between 50-125 yards, which is another factor in making this course such a scoring course.

The fairways here are extremely wide, although the average width listed at 37-yards across (at the 300 mark) is inflated a bit by the fairways at the 4th – that hole is technically as wide open as it gets, listed at a whopping 90-yards across, but there is a tree smack dab in the middle of the fairway. Removing that aberration, the fairways are still in the ~32-yard range on average, which means it should be pretty simple to hit the fairways here; 72% of fairways were hit in 2017. Trees loosely surround the fairways, and the bunkering around the fairways (sometimes in the fairways as well) are the only real impediment in getting from tee to green, beyond a few water hazards and the thick Kentucky rough on missed fairways.

Approaching the green from the fairways doesn’t offer much of a challenge – although with narrow openings to the greens, shots absolutely can’t be left short – as the greens are large (~8000 sq. ft.). Getting the ball to the right level of the green will be the test as there are some tiered greens with lots of undulation, but in general there are so many shots in with a wedge that proximity to the pin is rather short. What that means for this week is that the JDC is essentially a putting contest, with the slow-ish bentgrass greens not offering much resistance to good putters.

 

The Stats

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

  • Approach
  • Putting
  • 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 %

Top-Tier Golfer

Joaquin Niemann ($10400): Although he just secured his Tour card by placing 5th at the Greenbrier, the rookie is showing his stuff tremendously well, and fits the mold of a golfer who should have a lot of success at these birdie-fest TPC courses; he doesn’t have enough rounds to qualify these rankings – only 26 measured rounds – but if he did, he would rate out perfectly for some key stats:

  • 14th in SG: T2G
  • 8th in SG: OTT / T13 in Distance from Edge of the Fairway
  • 2nd in SG: APP / 2nd in Greens in Regulation (72.82%)
  • 20-under par on shots between 50-125 yards
  • 1st in Par-4 Birdie or Better (71 birdies / 22.76%)

The only concern with Niemann is his putting, where he ranks 53rd in SG: Putting but a poor 87th in One-Putt Percentage and 132nd in Three-Putt Avoidance. While it’s a small sample size, Niemann has weirdly struggled from in very close (only 80% makes from 5’) but overall ranks very well on putts inside 10’. Outside 10’ he has been downright awful.

Even though this will boil down in part to a putting contest (as mentioned above), Niemann is well worth the risk with his putting numbers thanks to how electric he has been in every other aspect of the game. His notable finishes this season come at similar courses to Deere Run: Memorial (T6), Greenbrier (T5), Colonial (T8).

 

Other golfers to consider:

Austin Cook ($9300)

Pros: Fresh off sandwiching a T5 (Greenbrier) and a T6 finish (St. Jude) around a missed cut. Very accurate off the tee (although short), Cook is an extremely strong putter and will save par consistently on missed greens. He’s an excellent scoring golfer, averaging 3.91 birdies per round (28th) and excels on par-3s. 40th in overall Birdie or Better % at 21.94%.

Cons: No course history here given this is his rookie year. Ranks 132nd in SG: Approach and is short off the tee, however little that matters this week. Hasn’t been great at hitting out of the sand (although his 125th proximity ranking from the sand is only for greenside bunkers) which isn’t great on a course with a lot of tough bunkering. 23 over par from the rough, so he’ll need to hit fairways this week.

 

Ryan Moore ($10200)

Pros: Only one missed cut here in his career (nine attempts), a past winner, and five top-25 finishes. Deadly accurate off the tee, excellent par-4 scorer. Ranks 13th in SG: T2G which says a lot given his lack of distance, and he’s dynamite with a wedge in his hand. Coming off a T13 at the Greenbrier

Cons: Not long at all, and more of a bogey avoidance player than an excellent scoring golfer – ranks a woeful 124th in overall BoB% and averages only 3.41 birdies per round. His putting tends to hold him back quite a bit, ranking 130th on putts inside 10’. Could see heavy ownership.

Value Golfer (below $8000)

Whee Kim ($7200): With a T3 finish here in 2016 but a missed cut in 2015, Whee Kim’s course history is just a touch inconsistent, and not much to draw on; at the same time however, he was -3 in his missed cut and missed on the number, and actually fits the archetype of someone who could be successful at Deere Run. Judging him just on his stats alone doesn’t give the prettiest picture, as he’s losing strokes both off the tee and on approach, but at a course with wide-open fairways, he should see an uptick.

Kim is actually very strong with his shorter game, and is a combined -33 on approach shots below 150 yards – it’s beyond those ranges that he struggles. With the bulk of the approach shots coming from short, he should have more success this week than on some of the longer tracks where he’s missed the cut this season. Once he’s on the greens, Kim really shines, which is a large part of what this week will be:

  • 24th in SG: Putting (0.495)
  • T16 in One-Putt Percentage (41.37%)
  • 35th from 4-8’ / 15th from 10-15’

While his birdie numbers aren’t great on par-3s and -5s, Kim hits a BoB on par-4s at a clip of 18.26% (38th) and his average approach distance when making a birdie is a short 168.4 – perfect for Deere Run. He should have low ownership given his poor year and given how reliant he is on putting this is a very volatile option, but he has a ton of upside this week.

Chez Reavie ($7500)

Pros: One missed cut in seven tries here, with two top-25 finishes. Reavie sits 41st in SG: T2G thanks to strong play both off the tee and on approach, and is a better putter than given credit for (60th in SG:P). Reavie is always in play on courses where par-4 scoring is important, as he hits BoB at an 18.83% clip on par-4s and averages 3.98. He’s not great from 50-125, but given his short distance off the tee, his most common approach shots will be closer to the 125-175 range where he excels. Remarkably accurate off the tee and hits GIR 68% of the time.

Cons: Extremely short off the tee – 282.3 average over all drives, good for 144th – Reavie won’t take advantage of the three par-5s the same way longer hitters will this week. Much like Austin Cook he’s bad out of the sand, and is awful on approach if he misses the fairway. Missed back-to-back cuts, so very recent form isn’t excellent.

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

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly July 9, 2018 16:19

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