The drama of professional golf moves back to the west coast. Early 80s television used to connect Los Angeles and Puerta Vallarta with a weekly cruise along the coast in the Pacific Princess. The two cities are joined again as the PGA TOUR's next stop is the Mexico Open at Vidanta and the LPGA tees it up in LA. Just the second official edition of this open championship on the TOUR, our defending champion is none other than world's #1, Jon Rahm.
Joining Jon Rahm is Tony Finau. They are the only two ranked below 50+ in the OWGR. The rest of the 144-player field are a who's who of betting favorites while the "designated" take the week off. The top 65 and ties will play the weekend and compete for the $7.7 million dollar purse ($1.386 million for first).
Our host venue is the Vidanta Vallarta course designed by Greg Norman. One of the longest layouts these men will play on the PGA TOUR, the par 71 scorecard stretches over 7,500 yards.
The course plays long. With five par 3s, this collection of 4s and 5s test the very best for length.
- Two of the par 5s measure over 600 yards.
- Five of the par 4s measure over 475 yards!
What sounds like a possible resort birdiefest course at first, held its own in the first year of competition. Rahm won at 17 under par and the cutline was one under par. Jon was the favorite, but the final top 10 had five players with pre-tournament odds of +8000 (80-1) or higher. Strength of field plays a role, but in the end a very specific skill set played out as the most important indicator. More on that in the outrights breakdown.
Those who made the trek south of the border will be rewarded. After three straight weeks of weather challenges, we officially have resort weather. Temperatures will peak every afternoon in the mid 80s. No rain is in the forecast, and you can plan on a decent afternoon breeze everyday around 3pm. Vidanta Vallarta sits about one mile from the Pacific coast. A nice southwest breeze will catch everyone's attention with a PM tee time.
The course presents several headwinds as well. There are more bunkers (106) than trees. Although it is bombs away from the tee box, twelve holes have water in play. Our average green size is 7,000 sq/ft which is very fair considering the number of long approaches. On those greens, we will see seaside Paspalum grass. In fact, the course is covered in it. Not much rough at 1.5", but this resilient strand is very sticky. We'll favor players who have shown previous success. These greens did challenge the field as players made less than the TOUR average for every length putt over five feet.
We won't complain this week about Rahm's low odds or the lack of firepower in the field. Set your course for adventure as there's a good chance one member of this field gets his first PGA TOUR win. That would make two weeks in a row and an exciting lead up to May and our next designated event in Charlotte followed by the PGA Championship in less than a month!
Mexico Open on TV:
The Mexico Open starts in...
Length really matters
Vidanta Vallarta has more 200+ yard approach shots than any other venue on the PGA TOUR. It is nearly double the amount of the TOUR average. Over 7,500 yards at sea level, this course plays longer than it looks on the scorecard. Most betting boards feel Rahm is headed toward a fifth win, but closing out another victory will be tough when this venue doesn't require a well-rounded skill set. Let's look at last year's top 10 finishers to figure out who can compete with the world's #1 this week and possibly take him down.
- There are double digit long iron approaches on this course. Precision from over 200 yards is put at a premium. This showed last year as the top 10 gained an average of four strokes on the field on approach. The greens are approachable, so good shots will be rewarded. Last week presented a similar set of iron shots for the field. Don't be surprised when you see a couple of those contenders on our card.
- Eight of the top 10 from a year ago were inside the top 50 in driving distance on the PGA TOUR. Top 50 might not sound like much, but that equates to 306.5 yards! Length really matters here to compete over 72-holes. We are leaning on longer players.
- To further that point, strokes gained off the tee was the second biggest gain by the leaders last year. The top 10 averaged a gain of almost four strokes on the field. Greg Norman was one of the greatest drivers of the golf ball. He knows how to reward his ego. Creating a course that measures your ability to drive the ball would be right in his wheelhouse.
- The top 10 from a year ago did not need their short game. Five of them lost strokes around the green. Conversely, not one in the top 10 finished with negative strokes gained off the tee.
- Here's the point about Jon Rahm, guys can hang around the leaderboard here. Bogey avoidance doesn't have nearly the impact as making birdies. Now Rahm makes them more than most, but the point is if you are a birdie machine you can contend. Create birdies from over 200 yards and you'll really start to differentiate yourself from the pack.
- Only one player in the top 10 lost strokes putting last year. I mentioned it earlier, the greens allow less than the TOUR average. Get the putter going and you have another element that will keep you close to the leaders on Sunday afternoon.
I don't say this often, but leaning on length off the tee and long iron play will get you close this week. Throw in a lukewarm putter and I bet your chances of winning are better than you might imagine. Certainly, better than Jon Rahm's odds!
Outright winners - Mexico Open
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Hooray for Hollywood
Only Hollywood could come up with a name like the JM Eagle LA Championship presented by Plastpro. Just a great reminder how important the Chevron sponsorship really is. To have an enormous company like Chevron supporting the LPGA and creating a world class event like we experienced last week is incredible for women's golf. Much like the sponsors, venues change as well. Even though this is listed as a new event for the LPGA, we have been to the host, Wilshire Country Club before. From 2018 to 2022, WCC and its storied 100+ year history was the venue for the DIO Implant LA Open.
Played just a month ago across town at Palos Verdes Golf Club, the previous editions at Wilshire crowned some serious champions. The average winning score in those four years was 14 under par. Past champions include:
- 2022 - Nasa Hataoka (-15)
- 2021 - Brooke Henderson (-16)
- 2019 - Minjee Lee (-14)
- 2018 - Moriya Jutanugarn (-12)
That's a walk of fame list. Nestled in the valley beneath the Hollywood sign and Griffith Observatory, Wilshire was established in 1919. The par 71 layout covers 6,447 yards of varied terrain. This is a ball strikers paradise and unlike last week where everything was oversized, this canvas is tightly wrapped in central Los Angeles. I love this golf course for a couple of reasons. It will test every aspect of each competitor's game. Players are required to keep the ball in play as a lengthy barranca weaves through Wilshire and comes into play on 13 different holes.
Should you stay out of that waterway, good luck avoiding the 125 bunkers on the property. Seventeen of the eighteen holes have greenside and fairway sand to contend with. Small greens with an average size of 5,000 sq/ft are the true character of this century old landscape. Seeded with Poa Annua grass they will test your flatstick. The rest of the fairway and rough is covered in Bermudagrass. Although the Los Angeles area has received record rain in 2023, the Bermuda development has been slow. The rough is listed at 2" for the tournament, but certainly won't be consistent from wall to wall due to the recent weather.
The forecast for this week has temperatures in the high 70s and low 80s. There's no rain in the forecast and winds are scheduled to be light hovering around 6-8 mph. This is a welcome change from last week in Houston where unseasonably cool temperatures and wet weather plagued the season's first major championship. Even with the Chevron just days ago, Los Angeles has attracted a great field.
- Eight of the top 10 players in the world are here including Sunday's winner Lilia Vu.
- Twenty-three of the top 30 in the Rolex Rankings will be competing.
- The purse is $3 million dollars with a first-place check of $450,000. This is one of the richest non-major purses on tour.
The field of 144 players will be cut on Friday to the top 65 and ties. The course has shown its teeth as the historic cutline is +2.5. Nasa went nuts on the field last year with four stellar rounds in the 60s and beat the rest by five strokes. This course can create that type of separation if you have one of those weeks. Chances are that the pack of contenders will be tightly grouped and need great ball striking to close it out. Our outrights have been very close since our last win, four events ago. With a great traditional layout, I believe we break through for win #2 for the LPGA this season.
LA Championship on TV:
The LA Championship starts in...
You can see by the level of past champions from this venue what kind of skill set it takes to win. Los Angeles has some incredible courses and WCC ranks right up there. To successfully navigate WCC and contend come Sunday, I believe the secret is in the greens. Take these four steps toward hitting and putting them, and your pick will be better off.
- Each of the past winners have hit a top 10 amount of GIRs. You cannot survive WCC without acquiring as many as possible. Approach shots into the putting surfaces run the full spectrum of skills. Four par 5s and a reachable par 4 make the wedges important. Four more approaches over 175 yards bring the hybrids into play. If you could handle Carlton Woods, chances are you're more than ready for this test.
- Don't miss the greens. Get as many GIRs as possible. The par 3 eighteenth is a perfect example of the treachery that awaits each miss. Steep swales and deep bunkers surround almost every green. At an average of 5k square feet in size; bring the short game along.
- Length and accuracy are key off the tee. To secure more GIRs, you must put the ball in play. WCC's fairways narrow and bend in all the right places. None of them have a flat landing area so getting the tee shot to stay in play is tough. We need a complete T2G player.
- Each green resembles the Hollywood hills surrounding the course. Some are subtle, but most have severe movement. That creates difficult lag putting situations and runoffs. You must go back to Palos Verdes a couple weeks ago to find similar surfaces. Putting is not as important as ball striking this week, but make sure you take advantage when you can. Birdie chances are few and far between.
That's really the rub of Wilshire. A group of players will get to the mid-teens under par. Our outrights will have the ability to make a bunch of birdies to counter the difficulty. They will also be great par 4 players. I keyed on this skill last year and we finished with two outright predictions in the top 3. This course has an extreme quantity of bunkers. I cannot imagine a scenario where you don't find one over four rounds. Survival and scoring from the sand are key. It will either keep a good score going or improve one.
The ladies just finished their first major championship. It was a brutal test of length and long iron skill. Wilshire CC is a more delicate test. Sure, power will serve you well here, but those who always contend on classic courses are the ones I really have my eyes on.
Outright winners - LA Championship
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