The First Tee – PGA Championship

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly May 12, 2019 17:24

The First Tee – PGA Championship

This Week

The PGA Championship has moved to May, and this week will swing into Bethpage Black in upstate NY –the public course with the famed sign stating that “the Black course is an extremely difficult course which we recommend only for highly skilled golfers”. Bethpage has hosted the U.S. Open twice (2002 and 2009) as well as the Barclays (now Northern Trust) in 2012 and 2016, so there is a slight amount of history available.

Some notable changes in the course setup this year are some green contouring and slope changes, and widening the fairway at the 18th. Beyond that, expect the rough to be thinner than at the U.S. Open.

The Course

Ed. Note: was working off the wrong scorecard, there are a couple updates made to reflect the proper yardage and par

Bethpage Black is an A.W. Tillinghast design, and is a very long par-70 that will play a touch above 7450 yards this week. There are only two par-5s which is a change from the Barclays setup, as the 524-yard 7th is converted to a par-4; the par-5s are listed at 517 and 608 yards, and historically the shorter hole will play about half a stroke below par so it’s important to take advantage on that hole.

Seven of the twelve par-4s play over 450 yards, so distance will be a big factor here although the five remaining par-4s play relatively simple comparatively; players that are efficient at long holes will need a long look heading into this week.

From the tee box, golfers will be looking at very narrow, tree-lined fairways with fairway bunkers placed strategically in typical landing zones; the average width of the fairways is just a hair over 26 yards across, so accuracy is obviously important – beyond the fairway bunkers (that are encircled by fescue), the rough is dangerous here even if it’s not “US Open”-thick.

Approach shots here are obviously as important as they are any other week, but golfers will be hitting into fairly flat greens in terms of tiers and will need high balls in to try to hold the green – there’s undulation obviously, but not much, and they slope front to back which could easily push the ball into the brutal greenside bunkers. The poa greens are among the smallest golfers will see this year so that also adds a degree of toughness.

This week could be heavily impacted by weather, as the switch to May should see that lovely New York spring weather move the ball around quite a bit – wind is a big factor at Bethpage, so if the winds are up it’ll be dangerous. Beyond the wind, the course should play fairly soft compared to the hot sun-baked greens of an August PGA Championship so that’s one of the few checkmarks in the “Easy” category, which could maybe have the course see more birdies.

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 %
  • Driving Distance / Percentage of Yardage covered by Tee Shots
  • Par-4 Efficiency from 450-500 Yards
  • Greens in Regulation
  • Scrambling %

Top-Tier Golfers

Tommy Fleetwood ($9200): On both the Euro Tour and PGA this season, Tommy has four top-10s in 12 events and has yet to miss a cut, and he’s 8/12 in top-25 finishes. While his form is obviously extremely strong, Fleetwood wasn’t a member of the PGA when the Tour stopped at Bethpage so he has no recorded course history here – that’s not a huge con, but if course history is your thing feel free to look elsewhere.

There isn’t much that Tommy’s struggled with this season, as he sits a solid fourth in SG: Tee to Green thanks to dominant play off the tee (also fourth) – he’s 68th in Distance from the Edge of the Fairway and 43rd in all drive distance, but 64.01% in percentage of yardage covered by his tee shots which is a better overall metric than just raw distance. His approach game doesn’t have many holes, although he’s only -6 in 52 attempts when he’s sitting in the 50-125 range which doesn’t show a ton of confidence in his wedge – but he’s 17th in proximity outside 200 yards, and has shown a ton of skill with his mid- and long-irons.

The main concern for the Brit will be his putter where he’s struggled in just about any metric: 124th in one-putt percentage, 175th in 3-putt avoidance, and 111th on putts inside 10’. That will be the thing to strongly consider heading into the week, but the other facets of his game make him a very strong option; as well, if the winds are expected to pick up, he’s excellent in tough scoring conditions.

Brooks Koepka ($10400): Brooks does have history here unlike Tommy, but unfortunately it’s not the prettiest: he shot 291 in 2016 to finish T70, which was a smaller field (~120) event thanks to being part of the FedEx playoffs. At the same time, he enters the week in excellent form – at the time of writing, Brooks was on the front page of the leaderboard at the Byron Nelson, and he’s picked up three top-10s in ten events outside of the Nelson.

It was mentioned in last week’s First Tee, but Koepka’s season of poor putting seems to be at an end with two strong performances in a row with the putter, and his week at Trinity Forest (so far) is helping to confirm that. On the season, Koepka’s rated at a dismal 150th on tour in SG: Putting, but look past that – even as he’s struggled on the greens early in the year, he’s still sitting 14th in overall Birdie or Better percentage and 11th in Par-5 BoB%.

He’s an animal off the tee – he picks up a massive 65.76% of yardage with his tee shots (5th) – and although the wide-open fairways of a Trinity or Erin Hills seems to fit him better, Brooks’ natural length off the tee means he can club down and still hit as far as most of the field. There’s only so much to write about him every week, but yet again he’s entering the week with the “forgotten man” vibe he loves so much to use as motivation.

Others of interest: Paul Casey ($8300), Tiger Woods ($11100)


Value Golfer (below $8000)

Corey Conners ($6800): The winner of the Valero Texas Open this year (and Canadian!) has had a horrendous time on the greens this year, sitting 198th in that category, but he’s been so strong everywhere else: 22nd off the tee, 8th on approach, 4th in GIR%, and 1st in proximity to the hole. That approach game will go a long way at a tough course like Bethpage, although Conners is much better on shorter approach shots than on longer ones – he ranks 16th, 9th, 3rd and 3rd on approaches between 50-125, 125-150, 150-175 and 175-200 respectively but then struggles big time outside of 200 yards.

He’s not the longest hitter at only 287.5 on average, but Conners is deadly accurate off the tee (42nd in accuracy but 7th in distance from the edge) and he’s a whopping -66 on 399 attempts when he’s hitting his second shot from the fairway.

The appeal here beyond his skillset is his price tag, as typically the sixth-best golfer in terms of SG: Tee to Green should be priced above $8000; this may mean he sees some ownership, but with so many strong value plays this week thanks to soft major pricing on DraftKings he could still slip through the cracks.

Others of interest: Keegan Bradley ($7200), Webb Simpson ($7600), Emiliano Grillo ($7100), Si Woo Kim ($7200)


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


Adam Daly
By Adam Daly May 12, 2019 17:24

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