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Read The Line

How to be a PLAYER 😏

Published about 1 month agoΒ β€’Β 9 min read

THE 50TH

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FL

For over a year, we have been saying, "if Scottie Scheffler could putt, he would win everything." The defending champion of THE PLAYERS Championship just buried the field at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Even Tiger Woods never successfully defended his title(s) at TPC Sawgrass, but Scheffler looks very tough to beat. You'll hear an abundance of coverage stating this is the 50th Anniversary of the PLAYERS. It's true and in that time, no champion has ever defended,

The largest elite field of the season (144 players) have converged on Ponte Vedra Beach for the PGA TOUR's Superbowl. We have $25 million dollars in purse money with $4.5 million dollars going to the winner! The top 65 and ties get a chance to compete over the weekend for the title. I'm on property all week and love this event. Genesis at Riviera has an LA vibe, Bay Hill always hits close to home, but for the PGA TOUR this is the flagship and the layout looks impeccable. The players are treated to a major championship style event and the course is by far one of the most entertaining on TOUR.

THE PLAYERS starts in...

Count down to 2024-03-14T10:30:00.000Z​

THE COURSE

A great betting friend of mine calls it the "eject button." That moment at PGA National or Bay Hill in recent weeks where a player just ejects himself right out of the tournament. Need an example, how about Sam Burns starting Sunday on the first hole with a triple bogey. Good-bye Sam! The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass keeps everyone on tilt. Double bogey (or worse) lurks around every shot. That sounds like hyperbole, but just watch. The par 72 Pete Dye (1980) scorecard measures 7,275 yards.

Fifteen holes have water in play and the course has 92 bunkers. Golf fans know most of the holes by heart. Having played and walked it several times, I can say with absolute certainty, the Stadium Course is the most visually intimidating design here in the states. Dye's creation takes the trouble and elevates it off the tee into your vision. He then sinks the fairways away from sight down into the swamp. The combination creates an atmosphere of questioning your golf resolve.

The Stadium Course sits about one mile from the Atlantic Ocean. Conditions change every day while the routing spins you like a child on a merry-go-round. For example, each of the par 3s play in a different direction. Be precise in your approach strategy. The average green size is just 5,500 sq/ft. With wind and the elements in March, a springtime edition can be very different than the previous Mother's Day version. I bring that up for a very important reason. Watch your research, from 2007 to 2018 the event was played in May. Since 2019, the event has moved back into mid-March.

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Course conditions

​TPC Sawgrass (Stadium Course)​

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"How to watch?"

​Coverage times​

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Real-time weather

​Ponte Vedra Beach, FL​

Since the move back to March, the average winner's pre-tournament odds are +1800. Each of those four winners are major champions. Scheffler, Cam Smith, Justin Thomas, and Rory McIlroy are true "players." The May test had far more variability in the warmer and less windy climate. Whether the field played in May or March, the cutline was above par. Over the last four years, the average cutline is +1.8 over par. Over the last 20 years it drops, but just slightly to +1.5 over par. In the last 20 years, the cutline was only under par twice!

The forecast for this week looks good. Temperatures are predicted to rise into the 80s each day and there is a small chance of rain on Friday night and late Sunday afternoon. The coastal wind will be in the mid-teens, but I think the bigger challenge is the changing wind direction each day. This is a very target-oriented test. Start guessing about your game in this ever changing landscape and you won't see the weekend.

I have a couple of PGA observations from walking around. The place is firm. Ponte Vedra Beach hasn't received much rain over the past month. Tournament officials and the agronomy team have this place right where they want it. The rough might be as bad as Bay Hill. Definitely worse than PGA National and most of the venues they have played in 2024. The greens look really good. The Poa Trivialis we see here, at TPC Scottsdale, and other venues is really smooth. I classify it more like bentgrass than west coast Poa. I've spoken to a couple putting coaches and they were the ones who categorized it that way.

The average winning score over the past four years in March is 15 under par. The winners make an average of 23 sub-par scores on their way to winning. That's a greater BoB% than the May editions. Which is interesting, when you look at the history, March is easier than May when it comes to sub-par scoring. Rye grass overseeded rough is far easier to predict performance than Bermudagrass. As a result, I'm weighing BoB% over Bogey Avoidance; the opposite of last week.

This is the first monster purse FULL FIELD event of the year. It has a very major-like feel and it should. Double the field size and it just gets crowded everywhere. Combine that sense of congestion with a bunch of 100-1+ winners in 2024 and everyone is paying attention in the practice area. This is the last true test before Magnolia Lane and based upon the start, many of the elite players have plenty to measure before the Masters.

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Read The Line recap πŸ—žοΈ

Scottie Scheffler won the 2023 PLAYERS with superb ball striking. He gained +17 strokes on the field T2G. He won by five strokes and was flat in strokes gained putting. Pretty scary considering his performance last week at Bay Hill. Let's hope he gives the field a chance this week.

THE PLAYERS

When it comes to handicapping THE PLAYERS, for most of this conversation, I will be referencing the four March editions (2019-2023). Looking through the data, results, and reviewing the leaderboards it is easy to notice there's quite a difference between the two tournaments even when they were played at the same venue.

  • The most consistent player trend over the last four years is iron game performance. The four winners gained an average of seven strokes on the field with their approach accuracy.
    • The range(s) where players gained the most strokes on the field were 175-200 and 200+ yards. Listen as everyone calls this a "short" course this week. By being accurate from long range, you pick up more of an advantage on the field than with a wedge.
    • A couple short par 5s and long par 3s are why this makes perfect sense.
    • It's "THE PLAYERS", everyone hits it close from 125 yards. If they don't, we aren't worried about them anyway.
  • In order of influence over score, putting is next. Overseeding with Poa Trivialis creates a very smooth surface. One with little to no grain. Certainly nothing like Bay Hill or PGA National. I won't filter for any agronomy this week.
    • Approach putting plays a role at TPC Sawgrass. These greens have incredible shelves, slopes, and swales in. between the various sections. Two putting is an art form here.
    • Cam Smith is the best putter in the world, and he won here and St. Andrews in the same year. It wasn't a coincidence.
    • If Scottie's stroke is truly fixed, he'll know after this week.
  • So many memories of THE PLAYERS involve great short game shots. Remember Scheffler's chip-in on eight last year to change the momentum of his round. I have put more emphasis on around the green than off the tee. The greens are small and get smaller when you consider all the sections.
    • The last four winners have gained nearly five strokes on the field in bogey avoidance.
  • Hit the fairway, there's some really healthy rough to contend with if you don't. Plenty of players in this field will do it. Many will even take less than driver to ensure a safe landing area. Rory's driver gets mitigated on a course like this. Bay Hill was a great spot to let the shaft out.
    • Driving accuracy at the Stadium Course is equal to the TOUR average and the average distance is a couple of yards below that standard.
  • You can separate on tough courses with par 4 scoring. After complete T2G play, SG:Par 4 comes next at the top of my list.
  • The second most popular approach range where players make significant gains is 75-100 yards. When I see that, I always add scrambling into my research. Players that can pitch the ball and score from short range (under 100 yards) always stand out in majors and tough tests.

Watching player preparation validates all of these March trends. These guys are hitting far more long irons than one would think for a 7,200 yard course. This is why being on-site is so valuable. By observing the world's best on the range, you can really see what to pay attention to on paper. Look at last week, we knew the skill set. Not all guys can perform every week, but by being around the players, we will always contend and win more often long term.

Outright Winners - THE PLAYERS Championship

Only four players have finished in the top 25 the last two years at THE PLAYERS, Max Homa is one of them.

  • Homa's last two starts at THE PLAYERS: thirteenth and sixth.
  • Max is another that putts very well on Poa Trivialis. His ARG and putter at Bay Hill were very good.
  • Homa is a patient player. His style of ball striking fits a very positional course like Quail Hollow, Riviera, and TPC Sawgrass.
  • He has gained +4 strokes (average) on approach in three starts here.

Will Zalatoris is healthy again. Many will mention his new swing in this comeback, but I'm more amazed by the putter transformation.

  • Zalatoris has gained +1.8 strokes (average) on the greens over his last three events.
  • Will is one of the few ball strikers who can keep up with Scottie Scheffler. He gained nearly two strokes at API inn combined approach and OTT.
  • Zalatoris's successful major record is well documented. He led the API by five strokes at one point last week. He didn't win, but he definitely learned from that moment.

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