The First Tee – Zoso Championship

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly October 21, 2019 15:19

The First Tee – Zoso Championship

This Week

The Zozo Championship is a new event this season, and is taking place on a course that most haven’t yet seen – Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club. Narashino was built in 1965 so it’s not a “new” course, but it’s new to us and there’s unfortunately not as much information as most weeks. This is a 78-man tourney with no cut so birdies are huge, and just a gentle reminder that it’s in Tokyo so make sure not to miss lock!

The Course

Narashino is a par-70 that plays at 7041 yards, and one of the interesting features here is that there are two greens on most holes; this is a quirk because (apparently) the golf courses have “hot weather” Bermuda greens and “cold weather” bentgrass greens (the PGA will incorporate both greens on the par-4 fourth but otherwise ). Another quirk is that the par-70 has ten par-4s, three par-5s and five par-3s, so it’s not the typical PGA par-70 where par-4 scoring is so key.

The three par-5s here (#6, #14 and #18) all play outside 550 yards, with the 14th passing 600 yards – scoring holes, but don’t expect many eagles here. The par-3s are all below 200 yards and are very straight-forward, these are the holes where strong iron players will really separate themselves from the field. The par-4s have a pretty wide range in terms of yardage, with five of them playing above 480 yards(!) while the rest are below 405.

Off the tee, golfers will mostly be pulling irons from the bag given the fairways are very narrow and are all surrounded by thick trees. The rough is cut fairly low and there’s a bit of undulation in the fairways to roll out, but between the fairway width, trees, the odd water hazard (five of them) and some strong doglegs, the safe play will be irons on basically every hole. Naturally the longer hitters will have an advantage (think Gary Woodland), but the shorter hitters with supreme accuracy (think Collin Morikawa) should do quite well as well.

There aren’t many fairway bunkers here, but there are loads of interesting greenside bunkers thanks to the double greens. The greenside bunkers are deep and very irregularly-shaped and should pose a problem for errant approach shots. Those approach shots will be hit into smaller-sized bentgrass greens that don’t have a small amount of undulation and are multi-tiered; unfortunately there’s no information available on the speed of the greens.

Most approach shots will be in the 150+ buckets, so looking at the players who succeed with the wedges won’t be too helpful.

Comparable courses/events:

Colonial (Charles Schwab Invitational) – Very narrow fairways, very small bentgrass, and tight scoring should be similar to what’s seen at the Zozo this week. Also a par-70 with similar yardage as here, Colonial is all about iron play and keeping it in the fairway much like Narashino will be.

Hamilton G&CC (Canadian Open) – A par-70 that’s just below 7000 yards, Hamilton has small bentgrass greens and very narrow, tree-lined fairways. It’s a shorter setup overall, but the putting and play off the tee should be very similar at both courses.


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:

  • Approach Shots: 150-175 Yards, 175-200 Yards
  • Driving Accuracy %
  • Par-3 Scoring
  • Greens in Regulation %
  • Proximity from the Sand (or Scrambling % if you want to go a bit more basic)

Top-Tier Golfers

Gary Woodland ($9500): On a course with less-than-driver off the tee, Woody is always a strong consideration thanks to his length and success when clubbing down; last year, Woodland ranked 19th in SG: Off the Tee with an average distance of 296.5 yards, and 64.12% of yardage covered by his tee shot. He wasn’t the most accurate, hitting the fairway 62.44% of the time (95th), but he sees a marked improvement without his driver.

Woodland is a strong player with his irons on approach, as he gained the 20th-most strokes last season and got to the green in regulation (a nice) 69% of the time, good for 28th on tour. He really excelled from 150-175 yards out, ranking sixth relative to par and 31st in proximity, and outside of 200 yards there was nobody with better proximity – he was a sticking it a full 6’ closer than the average Tour golfer.

The major bugaboo as always is putting: 130th in SG: Putting, 139th in One-Putt % and 129th in Three-Putt Avoidance. He was a miserable 181st when putting inside 10’ (85%), and he cost himself a ton of bogeys; he made putts when they counted though, as Woodland was fifth in converting birdie or better putts – a 35.06% clip.

Woodland is nails on par-5s, strong on par-4s and passable (at least scoring-wise) on par-3s, although he ranks much better when looking at BoB% than looking at actual scoring. Woodland isn’t bogey-averse thanks to the bad putter, so while his 3.06 par-3 scoring average could be a real negative, he should be able to get to the greens effectively and it’ll just be up to the flatstick.

Collin Morikawa ($9100): Mr. Effective off the tee so far, Morikawa has yet to miss a cut and in twelve events played has a win, a second and three more top-25s. He finished T14 at the Canadian Open (a comp. course) which is always nice as well.

Statistically, Morikawa sits:

  • 6th in Driving Accuracy % / 29th in SG: OTT
  • 2nd in Greens in Regulation % / 4th in SG: APP
  • 19th in Approaches from 150-175 / 1st in Approaches from 175-200
  • Par-3 Scoring Average of 2.98

Those numbers are all from a small sample (32 rounds), but are a good representation of the style of golf Morikawa plays. That style should be very effective this week, so load him up.


Value Golfer (below $8000)

Caution: this week’s article was written before prices were released so the “value” may end up cresting the $8000 range; made assumptions based on past pricing.

Emiliano Grillo ($7500): Consistently one of the best on tour at positioning his ball off the tee, Grillo last year sat 27th in Driving Accuracy % (68.13%) and 23rd in Distance from the Center of the Fairway which helped him gain the 20th-most strokes off the tee even as he struggled with his distance (115th on all drives). That play should keep him in great spots – and out of the many trouble areas – which will let him use his fantastic approach game to get to the green; Grillo ranked third in SG: APP last year and got to the 34th-most greens in regulation.

The Argentinian’s proximity from the key buckets (150-175, 175-200) was fantastic, ranking seventh and 32nd respectively – although his scores relative to par didn’t pop, given Grillo’s poor putting. That poor putting will definitely lead to some bogeys and missed birdies this week, as Grillo lost a massive 0.633 strokes putting last season which was a huge drop-off from the previous season (although that good putting season is now a huge anomaly).

Grillo loses strokes around the green as well, and has poor scrambling numbers thanks to the bad play ARG combined with the bad putting. That’s a large part of why his scoring numbers are so poor relative to his Birdie or Better numbers: 30th in Par-3 BoB% (15.71%) but 70th in Par-3 Scoring (3.04) and 133rd in Par-4 BoB% but 139th in Par-4 Scoring – the par-4 numbers are both horrific, though. Expect him to take advantage of the par-3s this week and use his steady play to make good numbers on the par-5s, even without good distance off the tee.

Grillo finished 19th at Colonial and even in a down year had five top-25s and only five missed cuts.

Abraham Ancer ($6700): Ancer is basically “Grillo Lite”, as he struggles with distance but is supremely accurate. He gained the 10th-most strokes off the tee last season thanks to ranking 10th in driving accuracy – and 82nd in all drives distance – and even in a year where his approach game took a step back from the year previous, he still managed 18 made cuts (to nine misses) which included eight top-25s at a solo second at the Northern Trust. Ancer finished T58 at Colonial which isn’t an ideal number, but a made cut at a comparable course is always a plus.

Although he doesn’t pop in every key stat for this week, there are some big plusses in Ancer’s play:

  • 3rd in Proximity from 150-175 (9th relative to par)
  • 10th in Accuracy %
  • 8th in Par-4 Scoring / 23rd in Par-4 BoB%
  • 50th in Scrambling %
  • 24th in overall Proximity / 17th in Proximity from the Rough


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

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly October 21, 2019 15:19

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