The First Tee – PGA Championship by Adam Daly

Fantasy Golf Insider Staff
By Fantasy Golf Insider Staff August 6, 2017 20:05

The First Tee – PGA Championship by Adam Daly

It’s an exciting week at FGI for a couple different reasons: it’s the last Major of the year – because it’s played at Quail Hollow there’s relevant course history (with an asterisk) which is rare for a rotating major, and on a personal note I’m trekking down to Charlotte to compete in FantasyDraft’s PGA Live final and take in my first live golf tournament (and hopefully walk away with a novelty cheque).

This Week

THE COURSE

The first thing to note about Charlotte’s Quail Hollow course is the extensive renovations that were done immediately after the 2016 Wells Fargo Championship:

  • Holes one and two were combined to make a 540-yard par-4
  • A 184-yard par-3 was created as the fourth hole (could play up to 200), and
  • The existing fifth hole was chopped into a 184-yard par-3 and a 449-yard par-4
  • The length of the course was then stretched to 7600 total yards (the 11th was also lengthened by 40 yards)
  • Thousands of trees were removed both to shape holes differently (some more doglegging) as well as to let more sunlight onto the grass
  • The grass on the entire course was changed to a Champion Ultradwarf Bermuda grass. More on this in the course notes below.
  • Added bunkering on the 11th, and the sand in the bunkers has been changed to the same sand found at Augusta.

Those are a lot of changes to take in and so the statistical correlation in the stats section won’t offer a perfect snapshot of what the course is, but it’s the closest possible for a rotating major which is a major win for the more statistically-inclined.

The new scorecard at the course looks a little different than years past given all those renovations, now sitting at a par-71 and a little longer than years past, but a lot of the important aspects of the course have stayed the same. There are still two high-risk/high-reward driveable par-4s (the 8th and 14th, both ~340-yard holes), with every other par-4 sitting above 450 – the 5th is 449 yards, so it counts. As the correlations will later show, that means long irons will play a big factor this week as they have in the past, especially with six total holes on the course above 500 yards (although three are the par-5s).

The three of the par-3s that are the same as last year are, in a word, hard. Over the past three years all three holes have averaged above par (even with a hole in one in 2016), thanks mostly to the tough contouring on the greens. The only short hole where water comes into play will be the 17th – part of the famous “Green Mile” – which is a peninsula green. With a large bunker and water on three sides, the pin position on this green will have a gigantic impact on scoring especially on Sunday.

With only ~50% of fairways hit, Quail Hollow is the toughest test on Tour from the tees and will continue to be even with the removal of trees – the removal was more to shape doglegs on the course rather than ease up on golfers. With the added length the course picked up, that’ll keep driver in play on most holes – there can be exceptions to players who can stripe a 3-wood. What that means for picking winners is that it’s important to choose someone accurate off the tee, because the new Bermuda rough will be thick and tough to get good lies in, and getting too wild into the trees is an even worse proposition.

Bermuda grass in the fairways means the possibility of some awkward lies with the grain of the grass dictating how the ball will sit, and there’s a fair amount of contour and sloping on the fairways themselves. Quail Hollow typically plays firm and fast which will make for some tougher golf overall, and will really impact the approach shots. Those approach shots will typically come from longer distances with QH playing long and the fairways tough, so players that excel with mid-to-long irons will find the most success here.

For a course where the fairways are tough to hit, Quail Hollow actually sees an average amount of greens hit in regulation; this is thanks to their average size and in the past some very receptive grass. With the change in grass type being fairly new, expect landing balls on these greens to be tougher than in the past – beyond all the contouring, tiers and undulation on the greens, new Bermuda grass is extra firm and weather conditions won’t help in that regard. The stimpmeter will be around 12′ to 12.5′, making it even tougher. Golfers have to putt well every week on Tour, but even above average consistency outside five feet is a treasured skill this week.

If the greens are missed, there are some major bunkers to contend with, which will be a struggle given the fast state of these greens. With new sand in place the hope is that the course didn’t botch the bunkers a la Canadian Open 2016, and those with experience at Augusta should feel okay. Play around the green is slightly less impactful this week from a statistical point of view, but will be necessary to win.

STATS

NOTE: Besides all the renovations listed and their impacts, the course switched from rye bentgrass greens to mini verde Bermuda in 2013.

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:

  • Par-4 Birdie or Better %
  • Greens in Regulation %
  • Long Approach (over 175 yards) – this will have to be an amalgamation of the 175-200 and >200 statistics.
  • Par-4 Efficiency Above 450 Yards
  • Driving Distance %

The Golfers

Rickie Fowler ($10700) – In a field this stacked, it’s tough to pick just one of the elite golfers, because they all have win upside (Rahm/DJ), excellent course history (Rory/Rickie) or recent form (Spieth/Koepka). Going stars and scrubs would allow for two of these guys, but with a lot of value plays below the $7500 range available that is sure to be a popular strategy – nailing down one elite player and picking from the 8k range to fill out the lineup might be a tough pill to swallow, but it’ll lead to lower overall ownership and less chance of being duplicated.

All that having been said, Rickie Fowler gets top billing as that elite play this week, although he’ll most likely be the third-highest owned up top (maybe fourth-highest if Koepka is included). Rickie enters the week as the 11th-ranked golfer in the world and is coming off three solid weeks – Bridgestone is still pending so it’s excluded – with finishes of T22, T3, and T5 before his last missed cut at the St. Jude. Fowler also finished T11 at Augusta, and although he’s yet to win a major his track record with high finishes in majors combined with his track record at Quail Hollow are positive signs. In the last six years at this course, the diminutive candidate for BPTNWAM has won (2012), made the cut with mediocre finishes twice, and finished T4 last year.

Statistically, Rickie doesn’t blow the field away in a lot of categories, but he’s above average in almost every aspect of the game:

  • 37th in both Driving Distance and Greens in Regulation
  • 47th in Driving Accuracy
  • 35th in Strokes Gained: Around the Green
  • 46th in Proximity to the Hole
  • 97th in Approaches 175-200 Yards

While not setting the world on fire, those are all important week-to-week categories and help demonstrate how well rounded Rickie is. It’s the areas that are a real focus this week that he shines through:

  • 7th in Approaches > 200 Yards
  • 4th in overall Birdie or Better % (41st on Par-4 BoB)
  • 9th in Strokes Gained: Approach
  • 11th in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green
  • 3rd in Strokes Gained: Putting

In addition to his great overall putting numbers, Rickie has gained the 12th most strokes on firm Bermuda greens, which demonstrates that he’s an able putter on almost any course. CAVEAT: putting is so variable week to week that it’s never good to rely on that, but with such a strong game in getting to the green, even if Rickie putts poorly this week he’ll still be in contention.

Value Picks (Below $7600):

  • Thomas Pieters ($7500): Unfortunately this won’t be a week where Pieters gets overlooked at an excellent price like at Augusta or the Open, after his excellent performance at the WGC Bridgestone (sitting in first place at the time of writing) – as an aside, Firestone CC is a decent comparable course for Quail Hollow.

Pieters still gets his feature in this space for the second week in a row thanks to his excellent iron play which will be so crucial this week, and his ability to absolutely smash the ball off the tee when needed. The real Belgian Bomber (with no offense meant to Nic Colsaerts) sits in 21st in Driving Distance on the European Tour (306.6 yards) and can unload when the course calls for it. His long approach statistics from both 175-200 (29’4”) and outside 200 (48’10”) would put him eighth and 41st in those respective categories were he qualified, and his overall strokes gained on approach of 0.908 would slot him just in front of Dustin Johnson in third place.

Although Pieters struggles a little with his accuracy off the tee, he still finds the green 65.91% of the time (a 9% increase from DA% to GIR%), and once he’s on the greens he’s been lights out. He’ll need to improve on his par-4 scoring to have a chance to walk away with the Wanamaker Trophy, but with the length of these holes and the risk/reward of the two driveable holes, Pieters has an excellent shot this week.

  • Tommy Fleetwood ($8000): He doesn’t technically qualify as being a “value” pick, but this is PGA Championship week so anything goes. The young Brit has had a terrific season both across the pond as well as on the PGA Tour, only missing two cuts in North America (Augusta and Memorial) while picking up a 2nd in Mexico and a 4th at the U.S. Open. On the European Tour he’s won three times – as recently as the Open de France earlier this summer, and has flashed the form to compete on any track in the world.

Although it’s in a very small sample size, Fleetwood has been elite in terms of hitting fairways at a whopping 75.71% – but on the Euro Tour he’s been just as consistent, at 73.7% (12th). He’ll need to take that great play off the tee into Charlotte, because as great as the 26-year old has been, he still struggles with a putter in his hand. He’ll find himself on the greens in regulation fairly often thanks to his long iron play (would rank T27 outside 200 yards), so he’ll need to heat his putter up to give himself a chance to win it all – he’s been fairly consistent outside 10′ but has struggled (at least Stateside) from inside 10′.

  • The Leftovers: With Kyle Stanley and Russell Henley both being written up last week, they’ll be mostly kept out of this space this week. They still both make high-quality plays this week, especially at likely repressed ownership given how poorly both played at the WGC Bridgestone. Stanley continues to be an approach stud while Henley has consistently been a top-10 putter on firm Bermuda greens. With both coming in at excellent price tags and that low ownership, they offer high upside and allow for an extra stud up top.

What to do with Rory: For the course history truthers, there’s no greater play this week than insane-chalk-to-be, Rory McIlroy. He’s won twice at Quail Hollow (both pre- and post-green renovations) and has three top-10 finishes that don’t even include his 2nd-place in a playoff, so this is obviously the track the Irishman loves the most on Tour. Until the last two weeks though, Rory’s form had been atrocious – decent showings at the Open and the WGC Bridgestone may have cemented him back into place as the chalk this week, and he still leads the field in SG: Tee to Green (ever so important). The important thing to do with Rory is take a stand, one way or the other – either go very underweight (assume 30+% ownership) or very overweight – it mostly depends on how strong your personal opinion on form vs. course history falls. Rory has all the statistical plusses and with his history here, even as a proud #TeamFuckCourseHistory member, I believe Rory has to be owned.

The Fade: By popular request, the fade is back for this week but it’s a cheap and easy one. Don’t get cute –don’t play the club pros, no matter how many lineups you build.

Good luck this week and congratulations to 2017 PGA Champion Rich Berberian Jr! You can follow me on Twitter @adalyfrey if you have any questions, and my DMs are always open – only until Wednesday afternoon this week.

Fantasy Golf Insider Staff
By Fantasy Golf Insider Staff August 6, 2017 20:05

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