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Cup Runneth Over 🏆

Published 7 months ago • 8 min read

FedEx Cup Fall..?

The first of seven stops on the PGA TOUR's fall schedule is the Fortinet Championship. The top 70 are set from the FedEx Cup playoffs for next season. This fall, the final qualifiers will be determined by their play over events stretching from Japan to Bermuda, Mexico and of course wine country. Napa's Silverado Resort and Spa's North Course is the host for the return of the TOUR. Nestled in the heart of wine country, the par 72 layout measures 7,123 yards.

It is a great time of year for aficionados and pros to visit the area. The temperature all week reaches a high of 80 degrees and the low 50s at night. Perfect for growing grapes, it also helps the grass. The course had a rough, wet winter, but the summer has been dry and the sun shining. The North Course is in impeccable condition and should play just as the TOUR would like. The breeze only reaches eight to 10 miles per hour in the evening and if the weather presents any challenge, you can find it in the humidity levels. Heavy air causes the ball to carry and with nine par 4s under 435 yards, distance can be an edge for contenders.

Unlike the BMW PGA Championship, the Fortinet has only two Ryder Cup players competing. The DP World Tour flagship event has all 12 European team members in the field. A conversation for another newsletter, Justin Thomas in search of some success and two-time defending champion Max Homa are the US players who have made the trip to Napa. Homa's a hero here, but JT has five starts at Silverado and three top 8 finishes.

The field of 156 players will be cut to the low 65 and ties after 36-holes. Four of the top 50 in the OWGR are competing. Not quite the test the Euros are facing at Wentworth with 15 of the top 50 fighting for the premiere DP title. That strength of field for the Fortinet has led to some surprise winners. In the last five years, the average winner's pre-tournament odds are +9900. Seven of the ten champions held odds of +5000 or greater. With four par 5s, difficult par 3s, and a collection of birdie friendly par 4s it is no surprise in that same five year stretch the average winning score is 17 under par.

Tournament organizers have made a significant change to the scorecard for 2023. Ten holes have been changed or renumbered. What was a mundane finish, now gives us three par 5s in the last seven holes and the North Course's signature par 3 (hole 11) on 17. When reading content all week make sure you are following experts using the correct routing. The new course scorecard plays “in order” for holes one through seven. Holes eight through 13 have been replaced with 12 through 17. Hole 14 is now number eight, and 15 through 17 are holes nine through 11. The closing hole still remains number 18 on the scorecard.

If you have played Silverado's North Course, here's what the scorecard will look like for the 2023 Fortinet.

  • Front nine: 1-7, 12-13
  • Back nine: 14-17, 8-11, 18

I love the changes as scoring will be more volatile and the seventeenth hole was a mundane par 4 now replaced by an exciting par 3. The North Course has two holes where water does catch you eye and both are par 3s on the back nine. Fifty-three bunkers cover the landscape with only 10 to face off the tee. Trees frame the tight fairways at Silverado and the small greens (average size 5,400 sq/ft). The California combination of Poa annua-bentgrass greens cover the surfaces. There's certainly a skill to putting well here as witnessed by two repeat champions (Homa, Brendan Steele) in the last seven years.

Who has the grapes to start the fall qualifying series with a big win? I love the combination of new names, active fall stars, and journeymen wine lovers who attend this event. Each of them has seven events to get inside the top 55 and earn a PGA TOUR card for 2024. At the risk of sounding very corporate, starting this Thursday every shot counts...

Fortinet Championship on TV:

  • Thursday - Friday 10:00am - 9:00pm (ESPN+), 6:00 - 9:00pm (Golf Channel)
  • Saturday 6:00 - 9:00pm (Golf Channel)
  • Sunday 6:00 - 9:00pm (Golf Channel)
  • Complete details on​
  • All times EDT.

Fortinet Championship starts in...

Count down to 2023-09-14T12:00:00.000Z

How to Max out your chances

Max Homa and Brendan Steele have won back-to-back Fortinet Championships in recent years. The two solid strikers keep the ball in play, possess speed, and an excellent wedge game. Those keys are what it takes to contend in wine country. Follow up with a hot putter and you'll max out your chances of winning.

The average cutline for the Fortinet over the past ten seasons is one (1.3) under par. With an average winning score of 17 under par in that same period, those numbers tell you birdies are very important, but also this course can trip you up. Whenever you see a spread like that birdies and bogeys are prevalent. A true "birdiefest" would have a historic cutline of five under par and an average winning score of 18 to 20 under par. Keeping the cutline near par means Silverado requires some bogey avoidance.

These are some of the tightest fairways on TOUR. That being said, the North Course carries the distinction of being in the bottom five for difficulty after missing the fairway. The recent winners aren’t all meeting in Reno for the World Long Drive Championship, but they can all move it. Power off the tee is a common theme and one I'm paying attention to. At 7,100+ yards, you shouldn't need much power, but it factors in. The average par 4 is 410 yards, and the average par 5 just 560. The par 3s represent three of the toughest four holes.

The proof really comes when you look at the gains of the last ten winners. Strokes gained off the tee (SG:OTT) leads the major categories for largest average gain. Followed closely by approach and the putter, players are attacking this course all four rounds. The approach window is centered around the wedge game. Forty-eight percent of approaches are played from 150 yards and in. The TOUR average for the same range is 35%. Bang the driver down there and wedge it close.

The formula for getting to Sunday with a chance to win comes down to hitting 56+ GIRs (of 72) and having 32+ of those iron shots in birdie range. You'll need to convert just over 20 of them with you putter and you'll be in position to grab the trophy. For a "regular" PGA TOUR venue, it really takes a well-rounded game to win in Napa. Ball striking reigns and you better bring a “warm” putter. A comprehensive dive on par 4 scoring, GIRs gained, and one of my favorites good drives gained all lead us down a road toward a medium sized list of contenders.

To further narrow the field for our outright picks, I believe scoring on par 5s consistently takes scrambling skill. Most players only research the around the green stats when short game pops up. Scoring on a short par 4 or that close third shot on a par 5 is the same skill set. You are just hitting the shot to make birdie instead of save par. I threw in scrambling skill and short game (combination of putting and ARG). When you run a model and weigh those categories as scoring rather than saving, it narrows the field of contenders.

I'll wrap with putting. Eight of the last ten winners had multiple stroke gains with the flatstick. Only one player (Grillo) did not and his total of 15 under par reflects it. The average winning score over the last four years is over 18 under par. Midrange putts can be made at Silverado and that's the final factor needed to win. It can be a challenge to decide who will carry over their form after two weeks off. In reality, a majority of the field has been off since the Wyndham wrapped on August sixth. Course history comes into play as well as past September starts.

Seven fall events is not a long time to decide 55 qualifying spots. Players will not play all seven. Our outright card exemplifies the skills listed above and a sincere sense of urgency. Once you've tasted the top shelf, drinking average cellar stuff just won't work. I won't be surprised if we see known TOUR players winning this fall. The top 70 was a tough cut and many great players must earn a spot. They know how to win and will in this autumn schedule.

Outright winners - Fortinet Championship

Only six players in this field competed in the BMW Championship and Cam Davis was one of them. The young Australian star has three top 10s in his last four starts and the ball striking has been elite. An excellent wedge player, he’s ranked second SG:T2G and scores often on par 4s. His blend of power and finesse is perfect for the North Course. Fourteenth in bogey avoidance and ninth in BoB%, another complement of talents suited to this setting. Davis doesn’t have to play in this event, and he chose to come. That tells me he feels a win in his near future.

Andrew Putnam is a west coast kid. Born in Washington and a three-time All American at Pepperdine. He now resides in Arizona and is another one of the six players who competed in the BMW Championship. Silverado is a great fit for his wedge game and putter. Putnam’s weakness comes off the tee. The lack of penalty for missing the fairway on the North Course is huge. He’s navigated nine straight cuts and with his west coast roots can putt these greens. Truth is, Putnam can really putt any greens, but this week he’ll feel at home and contend come Sunday.

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