The First Tee – RSM Classic

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly November 18, 2019 22:54

The First Tee – RSM Classic

This Week

The last full field event of 2019 is upon us, as the swing season wraps up for most of the tour with the RSM Classic, which takes place on St. Simons Island in Georgia. Winning scores here range from -14 to -22 with the cut typically below par. Hurricane Dorian did hit the course this September, but there was basically just debris and minimal trees downed, so looking at past years for course history is fine.


The RSM Classic is hosted at the Sea Island Resort and is played on two of their courses – the Seaside Course and the Plantation Course – although the more important is Seaside given it sees three rounds vs. the Plantation’s one. Given the Plantation Course is much less important, a quick summary: a very short par-72 at 7058 yards, Plantation is the easier of the two courses and isn’t nearly as impacted by the weather as the Seaside Course can be; Plantation is inland and better protected from the elements. The greens are small Bermuda but pretty straight-forward. Bombers can find success here by hitting irons off the tee and taking shots at the four par-5s. (note: Plantation was re-designed by Davis Love after last year’s RSM Classic but the course isn’t drastically different and not worth concentrating on much)

Seaside is a completely different setup: a par-70 at a touch over 7000, this is more like a links-style course so it’s definitely important to check the weather ahead of time – if the winds get up, this easy course can really show some teeth. If they don’t, this course can get ripped apart by the highly-skilled tour players and it’ll be a huge birdie-fest.

Tee shots will be hit into wide fairways with few trees, and beyond positioning there isn’t much to be concerned about. Typically, golfers club down here since distance at this course isn’t much of a factor, with the average distance off the tee over the past five years coming in at 275 yards. The fairways get hit at a great rate (75%+) due to driver staying in the bag.

On approach, golfers will be hitting into large Bermuda greens, which is why the historic GIR% here is very high (73%+). Typical approach shots will be coming from the 125 to 150-yard range, but the greens have lots of undulation and slope away, so proximity to the pin isn’t usually very close. Missed greens can be a real nightmare – usually one of the toughest courses in terms of Scrambling% – but given how rare that is (relatively speaking), Scrambling doesn’t have to be a focus. Putting well here is crucial, as one-putts are exceedingly rare (one of the five hardest ever year) and the overall putting average is in the 1.67-to-1.69 range.

Comparable courses/events:

Waialae CC (Sony Open) – A par-70 that’s a touch over 7000 with Bermuda greens, Waialae is also open to the elements and is usually a high-scoring affair. Scoring average is comparable at both courses.

Sedgefield CC (Wyndham Championship) – Slightly smaller greens at Sedgefield but also a par-70 with Bermuda and the same scoring averages.


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

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

Counting stats to focus on in order:

  • Par-4 Birdie or Better %
  • Proximity to the Hole from the Fairway
  • Approach Shots: 125 – 150 Yards
  • Greens in Regulation %
  • One-Putt %

Top-Tier Golfers (Above $8000)

Russell Henley ($8500): Henley’s had a mixed bag of success here, missing the cut once and finishing 65th, but also picking up finishes of 10th, 6th and 4th. Henley has always had more success putting on Bermuda greens, which is helpful for this course, and partially explains some of his success here – he finished 16th, 8th and 26th in SG: Putting when he had his top-10 finishes.

Last year was a horrible year for Henley, ranking 57th in SG: Tee to Green and a horrendous 162nd in SG: Putting, but that year was an aberration compared to most years when he’s average-at-worst in those two categories (70th/72nd in the 2018 season). Henley is usually strong with his irons, and even in his blowup year last season that still bore out, as he ranked 42nd in SG: Approach while hitting 68.1% of greens in regulation.

Henley lacks distance off the tee – 149th last year – but is deadly accurate, which works out extremely well for short courses. That also explains why his par-5 scoring is so bad (4.65), but he more than makes up for that with his excellent par-4 scoring (4.00); Henley picked up birdies on 19.3% of par-4s last year which was good for 16th, and that’s exactly what’s needed at the Seaside Course. Henley is also a Georgia native who repped the Bulldogs in college, so he’s very familiar with the grasses.

Adam Hadwin ($9600): Mr. President’s Cup has horrible form at this course – a MC and a 70 – and should see incredibly-low ownership given his price point, but he rates out very well for this course statistically:

  • 55% GIR% (2019) / 73.61% (2020)
  • 39th Birdie or Better% (2019) / 45th (2020)
  • 59% Par-4 BoB% (2019) / 22.5% (2020)
  • 1% One-Putt Percentage and 45th SG: Putting (2019) / 38.8% and 12th (2020)

Hadwin’s one of the best putters on tour which will put him a step ahead of the competition this week given how tough putting at Sea Island is, and while putting can come and go, Hadwin’s putting has been consistently so strong throughout his career that it would be less likely to regress than a scrub putter suddenly putting like god.

Value Golfers (below $8000)

Adam Long ($7800): A short course with a bad field is perfect for Adam Long, who’s entering the week fresh off a T2 in Mexico. Unfortunately, Long missed the cut here last year in his only attempt.

In the 12 measured rounds played this year – which is admittedly a very small sample – Long ranks 18th in SG: Tee to Green (40th Off the Tee / 18th Approach) and has hit 69.9% of greens in regulation. Long’s typically a bit more accurate than his current 66.5% would have you believe, and his proximity to the hole from the fairway is a fantastic 27’10” (16th); given how many fairways Long should hit here, that bodes very well.

The main issue with Long beyond the lack of distance is his putting, which last year ranked a horrific 170th while he lost 0.369 strokes putting per round. That obviously bit into his birdie numbers quite a bit, but this season as his putter’s picked up a bit (107th in SG: Putting), his scoring has picked up in a big way. Long excels on par-4s and is a perfect fit here.

Austin Cook ($7800): Statistically, it’s a little ugly looking at Cook’s 2019 season, and while 2020 looks much better, he’s only played in 14 measured rounds. That being said, Cook’s game fits the prototype of what’s needed to succeed here: accurate off the tee, a stud putter, and much better on par-4s than on -3s or -5s. Last year, Cook hit 70% of fairways and had incredible proximity from 125 – 150 yards out (31st), and good proximity in general (45th). He scored on 22.6% of holes and had a strong birdie average of 3.94.

In the two times Cook has played this course, he’s finished 11th (great!) and won it (even better!), but his form has been fairly iffy this year which explains the price point. He’ll no doubt see some ownership being below $8000, but he should still have a good four days in Georgia.


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

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly November 18, 2019 22:54

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