The First Tee – PGA Championship

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly August 6, 2018 15:27

The First Tee – PGA Championship

The last major of the year, which means a MILLY MAKER and soft pricing over on DraftKings. The tourney takes place in St. Louis at Bellerive Country Club, which hosted a few majors previously (U.S. Open in 1965, PGA in 1992) and some senior events, but the most relevant is probably the 2008 BMW Championship as it had PGA and not senior players (RIP Anthony Kim) and came post-2006 course renovations.

The Course

Bellerive is a long course for a par-70, very close to what golfers would have seen last week at Firestone C.C. in Akron. Also like Firestone, Bellerive has narrow fairways that are lined with trees and well-protected with thick fescue rough and bunkers; water doesn’t come into play on many holes here, but there are three holes where it can have a definite impact.

The course is listed at 7324 yards, with the two par-5s playing just a touch above 600 yards, and half of the par-4s coming above 450 yards. While there are some short, gettable par-4s – including the shorter 7th and 11th holes; in 2008, all the par-4s below 450 yards averaged below par, while all the ones above 450 played above par.

With fairways that should be firm thanks to the summer St. Louis heat, as well as some downhill sloping on certain holes, distance should be mitigated a bit but there will still be a lot of value in taking the longer hitters – as a somewhat comparable course, just look at last week’s leaderboard at the Bridgestone and the length of the top-10 finishers. Lots of bombers, which should repeat this week.

Missing into the rough can be punitive, but play off the tee will mostly be about positioning for a second shot. Having to hack out of thick stuff is one thing, but with a lot of doglegs at Bellerive, it won’t hurt that much if the angle to the pin is fine. Most golfers will have 175+ in to the pin, but with a couple short holes and the abundance of bigger hitters in the field, you should also be looking at the 150- approach shots as well. The ball will sit up a bit more than a typical week, as the zoysia grass in the fairways offers lots of cushion to push the ball back up, which means there won’t be many tough lies if the ball finds the fairway.

If the greens are missed, a par is an incredible score at this course, as the bunkers – and there are a lot of them here, 76 in total including greenside and fairway – are very deep, and were re-constructed in the 2006 renovation. Sand saves will be crucial to avoid crooked numbers.

The greens themselves are expected to be quick, and are bentgrass. The average size is rather large at 7600 sq. ft. but have lots of undulation and tiering in them. As well, the greens have been majorly impacted with the weather this summer; unlike Carnoustie where the fairways were baked but the greens were pristine, the greens here will play extremely firm and fast, making them tough to hold.

 

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 %
  • Approach Shots 150-200 Yards (this is relative to who you’re targeting. This range is for the longer hitters off the tee, adjust to 175-200+ for average-to-short players off the tee)
  • Driving Distance – I use Percentage of Yardage Covered by Tee Shots as a strong measure of this
  • Par-4 Efficiency 450-500 Yards
  • Distance from Center of the Fairway

Top-Tier Golfer

Justin Thomas ($9700): I could copy and paste last week’s write-up of JT here and walk away – his absurd talent on long courses should have him showing very well, a week off of a win in Ohio, and he’s last year’s PGA Championship winner as well.

Statistically, he checks so many boxes:

  • 7th in Percentage of Yardage Covered by Tee Shots, 65.99% – tour average is 62.70% / 8th in Driving Distance (All Drives)
  • 2nd in Par-4 Efficiency 450-500 Yards, 3.942 – tour average is 4.136
  • 4th in Par-4 Birdie or Better, 20.85%
  • 37th in SG: Putting / T5 in Putting Average
  • T17 in Proximity to Hole from the Sand, 8’2”

JT would be my second choice to win this event after Dustin Johnson, but thanks to being $1400 cheaper – although much chalkier – he’s locked in as the number one play this week.

 

Other golfers to consider:

Dustin Johnson ($11400)

Pros: 3rd in Yardage percentage, DJ can absolutely crush the ball off the tee and leave himself short approaches in, which he excels at – he’s 34 under par from 50-125 yards out (4th) and 24 under par from 125-150 (1st). He’s tops in the field from Tee to Green, and after some poor play on approach and on the greens last week, he switched his putter and finished the weekend at -11 to rocket up the leaderboard. He’s a stud.

Cons: His price tag is prohibitive. That’s about the only possible issue with using DJ, beyond his performance at the Open – which would have to be a random aberration.

Value Golfer (below $8000)

Gary Woodland ($7000): Gary can hammer the ball off the tee which will be crucial at this course with the distance being prohibitive to short knockers, and he’s a very strong scorer at these types of tracks – he’s picked up an eagle and double digit birdies in each of his last events (Canadian Open and Bridgestone).

He covers 65.34% of yardage with his tee shots, averaging an All Drive distance of 301.5 yards, and ranks 5th in SG: OTT. For someone with an average driving accuracy – 62.19%, 86th – Woody ranks 15th in Distance from the Center of the Fairway, which is close to the short accuracy players like Ryan Moore (14th) and Chez Reavie (12th). He only hits sand traps (or water) on 3.13% of shots, which is a fine enough number at a course with this many bunkers.

Gary averages just a touch above par on par-4s between 450-500 yards at 4.066 (38th) and hits a birdie or better on 17.5% of par-4s. This would be much improved if his putting was up to snuff, as Gary hits the green in regulation 71% of the time (5th) but only converts birdie putts 29.2% of the time (122nd) – compare that to DJ, who converts a massive 38.36%. That being said, Gary’s worst putting performances have come on fast Bermuda greens this year – he’s slightly below average on fast bentgrass.

 

Kyle Stanley ($7100)

Pros: Fresh off a solo second at Bridgestone, Stanley is a tee to green stud (relative to his price) who gains a ton of strokes off the tee (19th). He’s slightly above average in distance off the tee, but he’s extremely accurate and will avoid landing into the junk on tee shots. He ranks 10th in P4 Efficiency from 450-500, and is better with mid iron approaches which bodes well given his average distance off the tee. Typically a horrid putter – as was demonstrated on a few holes last week – Stanley will put himself into position for short putts often enough, and scores very well on par-4s (18.28% BoB).

Cons: The putting is definitely an issue, and he may see some ownership based on recency bias and his price point. He’s atrocious on par-3s thanks to his bad putting, struggles out of the sand around the green, and ranks poorly in SG: Approach – but that’s partly due to not missing the fairway often.

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

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly August 6, 2018 15:27

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