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Read The Line

Over the limit ๐Ÿ’ณ

Published 5 months agoย โ€ขย 10 min read

Compounding interest

The American Express is a really fun event. A field of 156 players competes across three different golf courses for a purse of $8.4 million dollars. Not enough excitement, add in a pro-am field filled with amateur golfers and an average winning score in the 25 under par range. Top this tournament and you take home $1.5 million dollars. Before we break down the format, let's take a quick look at the three courses.

AMEX starts in...

Count down to 2024-01-18T16:30:00.000Zโ€‹

Rounds one, two, and three are played on the PGA West Stadium Course, PGA West Nicklaus Tournament Course, and La Quinta Country Club. The final round goes back to Pete Dye's Stadium Course. Truth be told all three are below the caliber of a modern PGA TOUR venue. Each is under 7,200 yards and all three are in the top 10 shortest courses on TOUR. That's the first reason this event is annually a shoot-out in the desert. The second reason has to do with those amateur partners. Setting the course for a pro-am requires easier hole locations.

Three short resort courses with conservative pins and you have a recipe for plenty of sub-par scores. Another unique aspect of this event is the Saturday cut to the top 65 and ties. Fifty-four hole cuts are not common on TOUR. One extra day to go low before the field gets reduced keeps these guys in a very aggressive mindset. It doesn't matter if you are Scottie Scheffler or Sam Stevens, all of these players can birdie every hole. Forty-two of the 54-holes have a birdie rate over 15%. In a field of 156 players that's a minimum of 23 players birdieing 78% of the holes played!

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โ€‹PGA West & moreโ€‹

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โ€‹La Quinta, CAโ€‹

Birdie or better

It becomes very difficult to separate the field under these playing conditions. With little difficulty the competitors are much closer comparatively. Head to a US Open venue and we get 65s and 80s. At the AMEX everyone shoots under par. That's why longshots tend to contend in Palm Springs. For years it was strength of field as the AMEX lacked star power in golf. That's not the case when 22 of the top 50 in the OWGR show up and a +25000 longshot still wins. We have already had two very good fields in Hawaii and a +20000 winner (Kirk) and +40000 winner (Murray) have already given us two longshot champions.

The top 10 on last year's leaderboard averaged 30 birdies after 72-holes. Wedge proximity is a strong asset as 16 of the 30 par 4s are under 425 yards in length. Creating as many birdie opportunities as you can inside 20' will give you a chance to compete. That's just half the equation, players must also convert with the putter. Over the last five years, only one player (Rahm) gained less than three strokes on the field with their flatstick. Coming in with a hot putter counts in my book and the guys on our card are all hotter than the inside of a closed car in an Orlando parking lot. Had to throw that in since I am in Orlando covering the start of the LPGA season.

Read The Line recap ๐Ÿ—ž๏ธ

Last year Jon Rahm gained over four strokes on approach and well over six strokes T2G. His performance reminds us to win in the desert you must be attacking from everywhere. Check out his approach on the seventy-second hole from the fairway bunker with the tournament on the line. The solid strike gave him a great chance at birdie and the ability to win by one stroke!

We know much of the scoring is going to come on the par 5s. Nine of the twelve they face this week are under 550 yards. That's a long par 4 in a major championship! If you have power and touch, you possess the perfect complement for the Palm Desert. It hasn't rained in 25 days which will help the shorter drivers keep up. We will witness some roll until Sunday afternoon when there's some rain in the forecast. Twenty-five days in row and it just couldn't wait a couple more.

Your winners destroy these par 5s and most of the field will. I believe the separation will come on some of the more challenging holes. I love the confident ball strikers who can attack these par 3s. We have 16 chances this week on approach with a perfect lie (each par 3 tee box). Play aggressively to those targets and get some extra sub-par scores. A large majority of the field won't play the 3s under par for the week. Do that and you'll have an edge.

Another unique perspective you won't hear many pundits print is who are the best pro-am and desert players. Do your outrights have success playing in the dry arid air of Vegas and Scottsdale. Can they handle five-hour rounds playing with an amateur. These are distractions and history reveals the best in both situations. By cross referencing those characteristics, I feel confident we will have an extra insight (or two) on winning.

Outright winners - American Express

Remember last year when we picked Wyndham Clark two weeks in a row..? He won at Wells Fargo and JT Poston can do the same.

  • He's gained on approach in nine of his last 10 starts.
  • One of the best putters in this field and top 20 in par 3 scoring.
  • Finished fifth at Sentry, sixth at Sony.

Nick Taylor won with the weight of an entire country watching him last summer.

  • Runner up at WMPO against Scheffler and Rahm, thirteenth at Vegas in October.
  • Seventh place at the Sony and ninth SG:Total. He was seventh on APP and gained over a stroke with his putter.
  • Since the Canadian Open win, he has five top 25s in ten starts.

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Inside the ropes at the 2023 Genesis Invitational


Once, twice, three times a lady...

ORLANDO, FL

For the third year in row, the LPGA will start their season with the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions (HGVTOC) at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club in Orlando, Florida. Home to more than 25 worldwide touring professionals, it is one of the finest golf facilities in the southeast. I spent five years working at Lake Nona's sister club Isleworth Country Club. In that time, I played Tom Fazio's design many, many times. From those experiences and the past two leaderboards, I can tell you the entire field this week in Orlando has their hands full.

Thirty-six women are in the field from the LPGA. In order to qualify, you must have won at least once on tour over the past two seasons. Alongside the LPGA's finest from the past couple of campaigns is a start studded field of professional athletes, online personalities, and cinematic stars. The HGVTOC is also a pro-am event. The women are paired each day with a couple of celebrity amateurs as they navigate 6,608 yards with 57 bunkers and 11 holes where water comes into play. Coincidentally, both Danielle Kang (2022) and Brooke Henderson (2023) won with a score of 16 under par. Pay attention, because that number will come up again...

HGVTOC starts in...

Count down to 2024-01-18T12:00:00.000Zโ€‹

One of the most important keys to this contest parallels the skill set needed out in Palm Desert. The professionals are playing alongside the amateurs. Unlike The American Express, the amateurs in Orlando are teamed with a player and thus playing in a completely separate tournament. I don't believe any of that distracts the LPGA winners from their task at hand unless you find yourself suddenly paired with Annika Sorenstam. Yes, the modern GOAT of women's golf is playing in the field. She lives in this golf community, and I expect her to contend for the celebrity title. That will certainly keep her near the leaders over the weekend. Playing alongside your idol or even near her will definitely get your attention.

Lake Nona plays to a par 72. It has four par 3s and 5s and 10 par 4s. We'll get to the par 5s, but the 3s and 4s are hard. The average par 4 is 387 yards in length and all four par 3s have water to contend with. Looking back at the top 10 finishers in 2022 and 2023, I noticed the leaders barely played the par 3s and 4s at even par. Walking the course, you can easily tell the place is in pristine condition. The overseeded rough is a brilliant green and the greens look like velvet.

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โ€‹Lake Nona Golf & Country Clubโ€‹

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โ€‹Orlando, FLโ€‹

16 par 5s

The women will play 16 par 5s over four rounds. The winning score each of the past two years has been 16 under par. All of this makes complete sense when you have an insider's perspective on this course. Players must take advantage of the 5s all four days to contend come Sunday afternoon. Brooke played the par 5s nine under in 2023 and Danielle played them eight under in 2022. Those holes won't account for all of your sub-par scores, but they are the easiest to conquer. This brings me to another very important player skill needed at Lake Nona. Fazio's greens are an average of 5,900 sq/ft.

That's below the LPGA average and when you consider their positioning amongst the water and bunkers, they become even smaller. Attack from the wrong side of the fairway and you'll soon find out how well-rounded this test really is. The top 10 finishers from last year averaged a successful scrambling rate of 69%. Not one player in this field of recent winners averaged above that for the season in 2023! Simply put, Lake Nona forces you to play well above your baseline when it comes to around the green situations.

Not many LPGA venues test the women quite like LNG&CC. The largest strokes gained by the leaders do come on the greens. Yet that average is just over two strokes gained in either 2022 or 2023. All of the other major strokes gained categories do not display significant gains. That's how well-rounded this test really is. The winner this week must be very good at all aspects of her game coming in. Since the players haven't competed in 60 days, how do we know who has put the work in.

I'm writing this after an active day watching players prepare and practice. Talking with caddies, officials, and the celebrities, I get a very vivid picture of how the course is playing and who is on top of their offseason regimen. We are also in Florida, and just like the guys, certain women play well in the sunshine state. The greens are overseeded with Poa trivialis, but let's be honest you cannot remove all of that Bermudagrass grain. Seventy-five percent of the approach shots fall between 125-175 yards. Those are short and mid irons for this field.

Get those longer approaches closer and you'll see yourself separate from the pack. And at the risk of being redundant, you MUST attack the par 5s. With just 36 players in the field most of the elite player's odds are short. I'm limiting our outright card for that reason. I see a couple opportunities on the placement board and who knows?!?!?! Maybe 2024 is the year we get full "live betting" coverage for the LPGA. It's an easy bet if we do, I'll post some from Lake Nona. Enjoy the mix of LPGA talent and don't be surprised if you see a couple celebrities under par as well. They won't challenge the women, but the amateur event has had some great finishes over the years as well.

Outright winners - Hilton Grand Vacations TOC

In her first Lake Nona start a year ago, Charley Hull finished runner-up.

  • Hull is ranked second on the LPGA in par 5 scoring.
  • An incredible putter, like Brooke her short game will pass the test this week, and a key to her success a year ago.
  • Hull is another player who hits more than 70% of her fairways and GIRs.

I believe Linn Grant will take her game to another level in 2024.

  • Grant is the best par 4 player on the LPGA tour. Considering her length off the tee, that's incredible.
  • She hits 75% of her GIRs and 74% of her fairways.
  • Even with her length, she has incredible touch posting a successful 60% scrambling save rate.
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