The First Tee – US Open

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly June 10, 2019 23:28

The First Tee – US Open

This Week

The third major (already!) is upon us, and will see golfers going back to California to play Pebble Beach. While Pebble hasn’t hosted the U.S. Open since 2010, it does get two rounds every year at the AT&T pro-am, so players will be familiar with the overall setup even if the course has undergone a few changes to be a “better” (read: harder) test of golf.

REMINDER: the cut at the U.S. Open is top-60 and ties, and there’s no “within 10 shots” rule like at Augusta, so roughly only a bit more than a third of the field will make the cut.

THE COURSE

Pebble Beach Golf Links is a very short course – set-up for the Open as a 7075 yard par-71 – that’s wide open to the elements as a coastal course, so scores will see a ton of variance if the weather shifts dramatically over the four days; the USGA will set the course up as tough as possible, but if the weather is calm, the winning score will most likely be in the -6 to -10 range as opposed to the -3 and E when Pebble hosted in 2000 and 2010.

The course has three par-5s that haven’t changed from the 2010 version, when only one of them averaged below par (the 523-yard 6th). They did see 13 combined eagles and are crucial scoring holes, but combined they had a dismal 25.52% birdie or better rate, which is terrible for par-5s; overall, the course had a BoB% of just 12.94% which is supremely tough. Only four of the par-4s play beyond 445 yards (but two of those are outside 500 yards), with three of the par-4s below 400 yards, and three of the par-3s play around 200 yards.

Off the tee, golfers will be looking at extremely narrow fairways – especially compared to the pro-am version of Pebble – the USGA has worked to slice them down by 4-5 yards on average, so accuracy will be at a premium; the fairways will be essentially the same width as in 2010. The possible risks by missing the fairways here are penal: getting wet in the Pacific Ocean on big misses is an obvious danger, but hitting the rough will be costly as well as the rough’s been grown out to be closer to what the USGA likes. While the primary rough is up a bit, the second cut and beyond is a death trap that could cost a stroke or more, so again – accuracy!

The fairways should be running firm and fast this week, and given how short the course is, distance off the tee won’t be a deciding factor as the ball will get some added roll. Approach shots should have straightforward lies if they’re in the fairway, and will typically come in the 125-175 yard range; the approach shots will be hitting into incredibly small greens (~3500 sq. ft. on average) that have been shaved down, so missed greens will incur maximum punishment.

The greens themselves are poa annua and should be lightning quick, and again will be nothing like what was seen at the pro-am; there are some greenside bunkers that, given the speed of the greens, could cause problems, but it’s more the shaved-down edges that slope away from the green into tall fescue – chances are good you saw Patrick Cantlay’s video of his ball disappearing just nine paces off the pin. The poa here is particularly bumpy, and golfers playing late in the day will have a particularly tough time of it as always. Staying below the pin is crucial for any misses as well, as there’s typically so much slope back-to-front that chipping downhill is incredibly tough.

Comparable courses/events:

Spyglass Hill (AT&T Pro-Am) – Obvious similarities are coastal, grass types, length – but time of year and the easier Pro-Am setup make this an imperfect comparison.

PGA National (Honda Classic) – Extremely tight fairways, impacted by wind in a major way, and thick rough on misses. Larger poa greens, but lots of sloping on them similar to this week.

Muirfield Village (Memorial) – Bent/poa course with small greens and less-than-driver off the tee. Narrow fairways with thick, penal rough.

Torrey Pines (Farmers Insurance) – Rewards good tee shots more than most courses, although distance is more of a factor at Torrey than it is at Pebble. Small, quick poa greens, and since it’s on the coast, very open to the elements.

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:

  • Distance from the Center of the Fairway
  • Par-4 Scoring
  • Approach Shots: 125-175 Yards
  • Bogey Avoidance
  • Proximity to the Hole from the Rough

Top-Tier Golfers

Adam Scott ($8600): His putting has been very good over the past two years, which is all Scott needs to be considered one of the elite golfers in the world given how good he is from tee to green; on the season, Scott is 7th in SG: Tee to Green and 21st in SG: Putting, which makes his salary laughably bad compared to those around him.

Scott’s not always the most accurate off the tee, hitting only 60.92% of fairways, but he’s long enough (55th) that he can club down to bump his accuracy up a touch, and when he does hit the fairway he’s the 10th-best in terms of distance from the center. Scott’s GIR numbers also don’t reflect anything great – he’s 56th by hitting 67.8% of greens in reg – but he’s gaining strokes with his irons (+.7/round, 15th) and is -20 to par on only 116 approach shots between 125 and 175 yards out. Even better, Scott is averaging -0.169 when he hits the fairway (-50 on 295).

Scott has crushed par-5s this year (4.43, second) and kept his head above water on the par-4s (41st), but par-3s have given him trouble and his three-putt avoidance has been a big negative – he’s only 86.1% on putts inside 10’ – so it’s imperative to know what you’re getting when you roster him, as his putting has been good overall but he’s still prone to horrible misses.

On the year, Scott’s only missed three cuts in ten tries, and six of his seven makes have resulted in a top-25 finish. His lone made cut that came outside the top-25 unfortunately was at Pebble Beach, and he also missed the cut here back in 2010 with a 77-73. In U.S. Opens, his history has been mixed: five top-25s including a T4 and T9, but also eight missed cuts.

Francesco Molinari ($9000): Another non-American who excels from tee to green but whose week is decided by the putter, Molinari has had an up-and-down time at U.S. Opens in the past: when he makes the cut, he finishes between 23rd and 29th, but he’s only made the cut five of nine times – and he missed in 2010. That being said, Molinari of 2018 and 2019 is a different beast, having only missed one cut this year (at the Heritage) while winning API and coming T5 at Augusta; he’s got no history at Pebble beyond the missed U.S. Open cut.

Statistically, Molinari doesn’t rate that highly, but he’s missing his Augusta shotlink numbers and also his performance at the Match Play isn’t reflected in the stats. On the season beyond those events, Molinari doesn’t show well in some key categories (61.7% GIR, 74th SG: Tee to Green are big examples) but last season he hit 70.24% and ranked second T2G so he’s shown he has the talent level.

His putting is consistently bad, year over year, but Molinari should see next-to-no ownership and has shown he can conquer tough courses in the wind.

Others: Paul Casey ($8300), Brooks Koepka ($11600), Jason Day ($9100)

 

Value Golfer (below $8000)

Chez Reavie ($6900): With an average tee shot of just 278.8 (172nd), there aren’t many courses where Reavie is in play, but a sub-7100 yard par-71 fits the mold very well with only three holes that play ‘too long’. Reavie makes up for his short distance by being very accurate, with the second-best driving accuracy (74.55%) and the best distance from the center of the fairway (20’10”, 4’1” better than average) – at this course, avoiding the brutal rough will be key.

Reavie is a positive player with his irons, gaining 0.488 strokes/round on approach (26th) and hitting 68.06% of greens in regulation (46th), and he’s a very good -24 on approach shots between 125-175 yards – he does struggle outside of 200 yards, but only ~33% of his approach shots come from that range and this course specifically should see shots from closer than there. The main concern for Reavie is his poor play in tight (100th in Scrambling, 133rd in SG: Around the Green) and on the greens (82nd in SG: Putting).

He’s a very good par-4 player, and makes birdie or better 22.31% of the time which is a very good number at his price point considering the events he’s played this year; he missed the cut at Colonial, but has five top-25s in 13 stroke play events including a T3 and T4 at the Sony Open and WMPO respectively. He didn’t play here in 2010 but has made five cuts (one top-25) in ten tries in the pro-am format, and has gone three made to three missed in the U.S. Open with his best finish a T16 at Erin Hills.

Matthew Fitzpatrick ($7400): The Brit has yet to miss a cut at a U.S. Open, going 4-for-4 with his best finish a T12 last year at Shinnecock, although he did miss the cut at the Pebble Beach pro-am this year; that was his only missed cut on the season, and including the Asian PGA Tour and the Euro Tour, Fitz has picked up four top-25s in 12 events played.

Fitzpatrick is a lot like Reavie off the tee, sitting 40th in accuracy (66.42%) but second in distance from the center of the fairway (21’0”), and he gains the 29th-most strokes off the tee on average with +.441/round. Unfortunately his iron play has been a bit disappointing this year, ranking 61st in SG: Approach and hitting only 63.53% of greens in regulation, but his overall proximity is fine (61st) and he really shines on par-3s.

He’s not much of a birdie-maker thanks to some inconsistent putting, but he should put himself in position often enough for birdie looks.

Others: Emiliano Grillo (should be late added), Danny Willett ($6800)

 

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

 

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly June 10, 2019 23:28

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