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Published 9 months agoΒ β€’Β 13 min read

Carolina on my mind

The more things change, the more things stay the same. Once again, the Wyndham Championship will close out the PGA TOUR season. Although there has been a drastic change to the points system, the season long cut line looms large over Greensboro, North Carolina. The irony of this week amazes me every year. Sedgefield Country Club's Donald Ross design has a par 70 scorecard measuring 7,131 yards. Although we endlessly debate length and the effect it has on our game, the most career changing competition annually takes place on a short positional golf course.

We only have a few of the world's elite in the field (14 of top 50), but those who are here have a personal agenda. Whether it is Justin Thomas's pursuit of the playoffs or Sam Burns quest for a spot on the Ryder Cup team, the upper echelon who have attended are motivated. What's interesting, is some of those individuals have very little experience at Sedgefield. A course known for favoring the few who have proven they can contend in the Carolinas.

The field of 156 is facing a 36-hole cut to the top 65 and ties for a chance to earn a piece of the $7.6 million dollar purse and valuable FedEx Cup points. The playoff cutline has significantly changed to the top 70 for the season long list. The cut was the top 125, but as we know when it comes to the FEC system; change is par for the course. The fear of losing your card, missing a Ryder Cup team, or just falling short of a contractual bonus will produce pressure. The players face pressure every week, but macro moments like the end of a season tend to truly put your career into perspective.

This is the forty-first time SCC will host the Wyndham Championship in the tournament's 85-year history. Carolina pines frame the fairways and Ross green complexes truly give the course its character. The average winning score over the past decade is 19 under par. Far from difficult, the venue has produced seven winners with pre-tournament odds over +5000 (50-1) in the last ten years. Five of those winners were over +10000 (100-1)! When the betting lines opened on Monday, not one player owned odds under +2000.

The forecast for Wyndham week looks sketchy. Greensboro has been dry and warm for many weeks. Just enough rain to keep the region green and the course in perfect condition. Temperatures will be slightly cooler than Minnesota! Highs are in the mid 80s with breezes under 10 mph. Rain is predicted on Thursday through Saturday. The field should see a little over .5" during the first three days. The Bermudagrass should be sticky and humid. Sedgefield already plays as one of the most penal courses on TOUR from outside the fairway. Accuracy everywhere will be a priority to contend and even more so if it gets wet.

What looks like a wide-open week where anyone can win really isn't. Sedgefield CC is one of the most predictive courses on TOUR. The summertime Bermudagrass greens and local knowledge of these Ross putting complexes make the leaderboards similar year after year. The threat of double bogey makes the 3M Open exciting. One-week later scoring takes center stage in a completely different way. Patience and position rule over power. Once again, the Wyndham will end your season if you don't contend. What could be better theater than watching 100+ professional athletes compete for their careers.

Buckle up because the drop to the top 70 for the playoffs is about to make this Wyndham the wildest one ever!

Wyndham on TV:

  • Thursday - Friday 6:45am - 6:00pm (ESPN+), 2:00 - 6:00pm (Golf Channel)
  • Saturday 7:45am - 6:00pm (ESPN+), 1:00 - 3:00pm (Golf Channel), 3:00 - 6:00pm (CBS)
  • Sunday 7:45am - 6:00pm (ESPN+), 1:00 - 3:00pm (Golf Channel), 3:00 - 6:00pm (CBS)
  • Complete details on ​PGATOUR.com​​
  • All times EDT.

Wyndham Championship starts in...

Count down to 2023-08-03T10:30:00.000Z​

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Destination mentality

Sedgefield Country Club is the easiest strokes gained approach course on the PGA TOUR. The concentration of iron shots to medium sized greens (avg. 6,000 sq/ft) sits between 125-175 yards. The last ten winners have gained an average of six strokes (5.9) on the field with their iron game. Tied with strokes gained putting as the lead category, this venue is truly a point, shoot, score tournament.

  • Only six holes at Sedgefield CC have a scoring average over par.
  • Twelve holes have a birdie rate over 15%.
  • Nine of the 12 par 4s are under 450 yards in length.

With only 6 holes where water comes into play and 52 bunkers, the players are all on full attack mode. Considering the soft conditions and increased strength of field due to the new FEC playoff cutline, I expect very low scores. Strokes gained approach (SG:APP) and putting (SG:P) are my two primary differentiating traits. Spike weeks with the putter are very common at SCC as nine of the last 10 winners have gained 3.5 strokes or more on the greens. Five winners have gained over six strokes with their flatstick in the same stretch.

The predictive nature of SCC comes from the complement of these two skills. Succeeding players show a propensity for creating 35+ birdie chances inside 20' from the hole. Great putters will convert 60% of those opportunities to exceed 20 under par. When you are watching, this is what you should be looking for. With dawn to dusk coverage on ESPN+ keep track of GIRs hit and putts made. Par 4 scoring is the absolute key to success on TOUR courses like this. With just two par 5s and two par 3s over 225 yards, those nine par 4s under 450 make up 50% of the total holes played for the week.

I mentioned it earlier, but missing the fairway at SCC is not an option. Unlike TPC Twin Cities where missing the fairway may mean double bogey, at Sedgefield it is more like death by a thousand paper cuts. You cannot consistently score from Bermudagrass rough. Just look at the recent champions: Kisner, (Tom) Kim, Reed, and Snedeker tell you to save the driving distance for Memphis next week. Short game gains barely show up which places even more pressure on scoring. Those who miss greens do not make enough birdies to be in contention, therefore strokes gained around the green is mitigated.

The cutline averages just 2 under par while the 36-hole leader will be approximately 13 or 14 under par. All that room creates space for FedEx Cup point drama. Every season literally comes down to one or two strokes to decide who gets in. By reducing the playoffs by 55 players from 125 to the top 70, that margin should be even smaller. Pay attention over the weekend how risky players become. JT Poston had to go on Sunday afternoon at the 3M. There was only one chance for him to win and it involved hitting the last green in two. Imagine a similar scenario on Sunday where a player faces a playoff cutline decision.

Those considerations will weigh heavily on the outcome of this event. I'm going to put my faith in our process and build off our spring and summer success. I have spent many years working at Donald Ross golf courses. They are unique. Spin control will be a major point beat to death by the coverage. About a month ago we had a preview at the Rocket Mortgage. Other Bermudagrass positional courses I believe match SCC are Innisbrook and Colonial. There will be similar players who have success. Par 4 scoring sets the tone at each of them and this week the race to 20 under par. Enjoy the playoff drama and these four players this weekend as they fill up the cup at Sedgefield.

Outright winners - Wyndham Championship

Sam Burns makes the most sense to me this week. When it comes to positional Bermudagrass golf courses, he always excels. Whether it is Colonial, Innisbrook, or the Country Club of Jackson, Burns will contend. Take the driver out of his hand, prioritize putting and Sam climbs the leaderboard. Gaining three strokes against the field over his last 5 starts, he is playing solid golf. There’s no doubt warm weather will fire him up in the south, but not nearly as much as making the Ryder Cup team. That extra motivation and his putter is why I love him to win this week.

Entering the 2019 Wyndham Championship, JT Poston had missed five cuts in his last eight starts. He won the tournament that year. Going into the 2023 Wyndham Championship, Poston has three top 10s in his last five starts and a runner-up finish last week at the 3M Open. Known for his putting, JT has been gaining with his game T2G. He is ranked top 20 in the field for approaches from 125-175 yards. In total, he is gaining over six and half shots against the field in his last five starts. That combination of approach and putting makes him a legit threat to win, especially on a course where he has done it already.

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Europe '23

The LPGA 2023 summer tour of Europe continues. The FREED GROUP Women's Scottish Open is the next stop on the west coast of Scotland at Dundonald Links near Troon. Like the PGA TOUR, the LPGA partnered with the Ladies European Tour (LET) years ago to build a preview for the AIG Women's Open. Dundonald hosted the event in 2015 and 2016 before it was sanctioned by both tours. The first official joint year was 2017. Dundonald hosted that year and 2022.

Set on the Irvine Bay, the par 72 layout features 6,494 of links golf. Unlike the PGA TOUR where the world produces a plethora of tour talent, most of the LPGA development comes from Asia and the United States. Pure links golf is a foreign game and one that gives us great entertainment only one to two weeks a season. For example, Evian is just like American target golf. Very little ground game was needed by Celine Boutier last week to win. Conversely, Ayaka Furue's win last year at Dundonald was completely different.

Speaking of completely different, the conditions in Scotland are the opposite of last summer. 2022 was a drought year and we expect rain all week at Dundonald. Approximately two-thirds of an inch is going to fall throughout the 72-holes. Rain really won't be the toughest challenge these players face. The course sits on the coast of the Firth of Clyde. An open body of water creates windy conditions. We saw it at Renaissance and Royal Liverpool. If the wind was difficult for Rory's ball speed, imagine what will happen for the LPGA.

Keeping the ball low and using the ground will be the key to contending. Six of the top 10 (17 of the top 30) in the Rolex World rankings are in the field of 144. The top 65 and ties make the weekend and compete for a $2 million dollar purse. The Europe tour can be lucrative, just ask Celine who won $1 million last week in Evian. Combining the field with LET players does lower the strength of field. This is an added advantage to those ladies in the top 30.

The last two editions at Dundonald resulted in a winning score of 21 under par in 2022 and six under par in 2017. I doubt there's much to run with there. Combine it with marginal weather and I believe the 2017 score is a more accurate possibility for 2023. Even though the ladies will not benefit from the wind, the soft conditions will help. Clubhead speed gives you spin and trajectory control. We will see several challenging situations throughout the coverage.

When I mention these "challenges," I'm not just referring to pot bunkers and fescue grass. Dundonald looks like the surface of the moon. The course may look flat along the coastline, but there is not a level lie on the property. I'll touch upon this more in the outrights section, but I am looking for very adaptable players. Friday and Saturday were weather affected at Evian and the scores showed. Dundonald is shorter than the average LPGA venue.

10 par 4s average length 386 yards4 par 5s average length 505 yards4 par 3s average length 154 yards

The official yardage also shows eight holes the Tournament Committee can play shorter depending on the conditions. Accuracy and acumen around the green are going to be the differentiating factors. Only two of the 10 par 4s are over 400 yards. With all these variables in play, I can easily see a scenario where the course plays completely different each day. Links golf success and solid ball striking are my focus. Since covid in 2020, we have had 14 first-time major winners. Celine was the latest at Evian. This week will give us more clues to the winner at Walton Heath in one week. Watch closely, as the clues will be evident when you consider the challenge ahead at Dundonald.

Scottish Open on TV:

  • Thursday - Friday 9:00am - 1:00pm (Golf Channel)
  • Saturday 8:00am - 12:00pm (Golf Channel)
  • Sunday 8:00am - 12:00pm (Golf Channel)
  • Complete details on ​LPGA.com​​
  • All times EDT.

Scottish Open starts in...

Count down to 2023-08-03T05:30:00.000Z​

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Ground game

Ayaka Furue closed out her week at Dundonald with a 10 under par 62 and won. Most would point to her final round as the reason she captured the trophy, but looking back I see a blueprint she shared with 2017 winner Mi Hyang Lee. Both ladies took command of their golf ball and favored accuracy o ver letting loose en route to victory. Dundonald is a great seaside test of controlling your ball flight. Look how these two winners got it done.

  • Furue hit 61 of 72 GIRs (85%). Lee hit 50/72 in very difficult playing conditions. Getting the ball on the green is always key, but considering the green complexes, this is priority number one. I will be favoring the best approach players, proximity leaders, and those who hit the highest percentage of GIRs. Surrounding these greens are uneven lies and cavernous bunkers.
  • Furue is statistically one of the best putters on tour. She averaged 28 putts over four rounds and hit 85% of her GIRs! That's how you win, and Lee did a similar job with her flatstick. She averaged 29 putts per round in 2017. Not all courses give you an edge with the putter, Dundonald does.
  • Ayaka completely favored accuracy off the tee versus power. She only averaged 237 off the tee when she shot that final round 62. Mi Hyang hits it longer, but her four-day average of 268 wouldn't be incredibly long. Each of the driving holes (non-par 3s) bend off the tee. Without trees to define the fairways you can choose which way to bend the ball in most cases. The only caveat is you cannot miss the short grass. Forty-six fairway bunkers lay waiting for errant shots. Go there and you will struggle to make par.
  • Sand in Scotland is always a challenge. Furue hit one bunker in 72 holes and Lee ended up in four. Avoid the beach in links coastline golf and you'll be better off. It sounds simple enough, but it involves careful strategy. Player and caddies must be thinking over every shot where they can miss and still make par. Continue to make mistakes in the sand or fescue and you'll earn an early trip to England for next week.

The 2017 and 2022 tournaments were played under different conditions, and the winners still followed the same road to success. Though we cannot predict the weather, we can determine who are the most accurate ball strikers on tour. Due to the course length, accuracy is the primary key over power. The longer that ball is in the air, the more it will be affected by the elements. Follow these four in Scotland and let's collect win number ten for 2023.

Outright winners - Scottish Open

Runner-up for rookie of the year in 2022, Hye Jin Choi built a steady reputation for herself. Much like Furue she can putt. Choi is ranked eleventh in flatstick stats. With a well-rounded game she ranks in the top 30 on the LPGA for strokes gained total. An eleventh-place finish in the 2022 Scottish Open, she has positive memories of Dundonald. She made sixteen birdies and an eagle at the Evian. Celine won with a 14 under total. Choi has not missed a cut all season and continues to build confidence because she hits fairways and greens. Much like Ayaka broke through last year, Choi will repeat Furue’s first-time career success.

Anna Nordqvist can play links golf. The three-time major championship winner won the 2021 AIG Women's Open. European born Nordqvist can handle the elements and her game shows why. She ranks fifth on tour in putting, second in GIRs, and top 30 in driving accuracy. Never the longest hitter, Anna's success has always stemmed from accuracy. A skill that we have proven serves you well at Dundonald. With a weekend score of 131 (66-65), she finished third at the KPMG in rainy conditions. Seventy-five percent of her fairways and 70% of her GIRs at Evian along with only 30 putts per day. Sound like a recipe for success in Scotland for sure!

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