Congratulations to Jon Rahm for a dominant win at the Masters. Not only did he start his tournament with a four putt, but he played through the worst weather and still won by four. Thankfully, the forecast this week in Hilton Head won't be nearly as challenging.
No rest for the weary warriors from Augusta National, the PGA TOUR rolls out their sixth designated event of 2023. That means we have another awesome field for the RBC Heritage played annually at Harbour Town Golf Links. The strategic Pete Dye design places a huge premium on accuracy; especially off the tee. Unlike the wider fairways of Magnolia Lane, HTGL is tree-lined, sand covered and characterized by low country waterways on almost every hole.
- There are 143 players in the field, the Top 65 and ties make the weekend.
- A majority have migrated from Magnolia Lane over to Hilton Head; 46 of the 88 who competed last week and ten players who finished Top 10 or better are playing Harbour Town.
- Seven of the Top 10 in the OWGR are scheduled to compete along with 38 of the Top 50.
- All designated events have a $20 million dollar purse and a first-place check for $3.6 million.
I can't say we will be completely dry this week, but the forecast is much better than Augusta. Temperatures will be warm resting in the mid-70's all four days. We are out on an island, so wind comes with the territory. Thankfully, the breeze predicted is mild and should blow in the low teens all four days. I mentioned rain and it looks like those playing in the PM/AM wave will get the most precipitation. Rain is forecasted for Friday morning accumulating .25" with another slight chance of the wet stuff on Sunday afternoon as well.
Eight of the last 10 winners of the Heritage played in the Masters the previous week. Jordan Spieth did last year, and the field we have, I believe with great certainty that trend will continue. Prior to the designated status, this event did see some serious long shots win over the last decade. The average pre-tournament winner's odds in that time frame were +8200 (82-1).
- The average winning score over the last five editions was 16 under par, over the last ten the average drops to 14 under par.
- In recent years, the cutline average is slightly under par. If we look at the last decade, that average jumps to one over par.
- Many years this event was plagued by difficult wind and cold temperatures. This year looks mild and with an elevated field I expect scoring to get exciting.
Pete Dye's course measures 7,191 yards for the tournament. The Par 71 landscape is one of the tightest driving courses on tour. So much so, the field driving distance average is 16 yards less than the PGA TOUR average. Accuracy off the tee exceeds the Tour standard and GIR's are hard to come by. We'll build a winning skill set in the outrights discussion, but overall power is not the priority at HTGL.
The greens are the second smallest on the PGA TOUR averaging just 3,700 square feet.
- The field hits them eight percent less than the Tour average (58% vs 66%).
- Only 54 bunkers to contend with, but each of the eighteen green complexes has at least one.
A good microcosm of the challenge Harbour Town presents can be found on the Par 3's. Each one hovers in length around 200 yards. As a group, they all play to a stroke average over par. Add their stroke averages up, and the total is +0.5. Three of the four will play into the wind this week and they all have a penalty area guarding the green. HTGL forces you to hit good iron shots. Even when you do, they aren't always rewarded. Getting up and down around these greens is tough.
Pete Dye knows how to create a tough track. We have already experienced it twice in the last month on tour. Austin Country Club covered the hilly terrain in Texas while TPC Sawgrass' configuration is perfect for the PLAYERS. This week, the low country shows off Dye's design versatility once again. Dye's drama is suited to these designated events. It's time to contend again and this time get across the finish line for win number four of the season!
RBC Heritage on TV:
The RBC Heritage starts in...
The straight and narrow
The recent winners (and contenders) of the RBC Heritage all use a similar blueprint for success. On the island, the best approach is to start by listing the headwinds.
- The fairways are not only tight, but they are also tree lined. They bend in both directions, and most of them have a penalty area
- Greens are not only guarded by water and sand, but the trees as well. Find the wrong side of the fairway and you can easily get blocked out.
- Small greens are easily missed, and Dye's green complexes are designed with deep bunkers and steep roll offs.
- Ten holes have a bogey rate over 15%, comparatively only seven have a birdie rate over that same 15%.
Patience is rewarded at HTGL. Stick to your game plan and follow the successful skills of the last ten winners and you will get fitted for a tartan jacket come Sunday afternoon. In the last ten years, the winner gained an average of
- 1.5 strokes off the tee.
- 5.4 strokes on approach.
- 2.5 strokes around the green.
- 4 strokes putting.
Iron play always leads the way but pay attention to your outright selections and their short game. The bunkers here have steps to get in and out! Building a winner this week takes precise positional skills. Here's my list of most valuable traits.
- Par 4 scoring - Eleven holes vary in length from 330 yards to 473. Each one takes two good shots to score. One of the most proven indicators for success week after week, your winner in South Carolina will be near the top of this list by week's end.
- Good drives gained - We all miss the fairway, but when you do are you still hitting the green. This stat measures just that. On a week where position off the tee is insanely important, this stat reigns supreme.
- Proximity to the hole - These guys hit a high rate of GIR's, but who hits it the closest? When the green size is this small, winning the proximity contest counts.
- Birdie or better % - There's three Par 5's and one reachable Par 4. The winning score with decent weather will be in the high teens. Who can keep up? Rahm and Scottie are back again and with $20M in prize money, we need aggressive scorers.
- SG:T2G - The catch all category. Who is hitting it the best from tee to the green.
I'm interested in the best approach players with a mid-iron. Nearly 50% of approaches fall between 150-200 yards. Bogeys are easy at HTGL, which competitors have the best Bogey Avoidance rate? Each of the Par 5's fall between 550-600 yards. Finally, I'm counting around the green and scrambling skill. Guys who are great with a wedge, not only save par, but they make birdies as well. Jordan won here last year losing 2.5 strokes with his putter. He gained over four strokes around the greens.
Our winner will express all of these elements and a little intangible to go along with it. Here's our Heritage outrights.
Outright winners - RBC Heritage
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The big easy?
Last year the ladies were nearly blown away at the LOTTE Championship. Thankfully the 2023 edition won’t be nearly as windy. At least we hope! You never know what can happen when it comes to the weather on the island of Oahu. One week before the Chevron Championship, the LPGA heads over to Hawaii. The schedule seems a little forced here as the field reflects a future focus on next week.
- Four of the Top 10 women in the Rolex World Rankings are competing and eight of the Top 30.
- 144 players are in the field. The Top 65 and ties after 36-holes will make it to the weekend.
- They are competing for a $2 million dollar purse and $300,000 for first place.
Hoakalei Country Club is the host venue for the second year in a row. Designed by Ernie Els in 2013, the course challenges the ladies with water on 14 holes and 112 bunkers spread throughout. If 112 seems like a lot, it is. With the windy conditions last year, Hyo Joo Kim’s fifth career win seemed more like survival than scoring. Her 11 under par total should be blown away this year with the following forecast.
- The trade winds are relatively calm this week for the tournament. The windiest day is Thursday (16mph) and it continues to weaken as the week plays on.
- The high for all four days is 81 degrees. There’s a reason people travel to Hawaii and play golf. Probably just shouldn’t be the week before the season’s first major.
- There’s a 20% chance of rain on Thursday. Otherwise, the week looks dry and well suited for golf.
Hoakalei has an awesome layout. Els has crafted a fun golf course. With very few trees on the property, he did an excellent job of moving earth and inserting penalty areas to keep the players off-balance. The bunkers are a little excessive, but they do add to the aesthetic. (We will be favoring sand skill in our lineup.) The course measures 6,573 yards for the LPGA. The Par 72 scorecard has a standard four Par 3’s and 5’s and ten Par 4’s.
Another unique aspect this week is the agronomy. Hoakalei is covered in Sea Dwarf Paspalum grass. The greens, tees, fairways, and rough are all seeded with this hearty seaside strain. It plays like a brillo pad. Something to keep an eye on when chipping and pitching around the green.
Last year, the LOTTE sat in the same spot on the schedule. Following a week off and in mid-April. That event was following the Chevron and still lacked serious star power. With such a disconnected start to the season, this week is our last chance to see whose game is ready to contend in Houston.
With excellent scoring conditions, players will need to be in attack mode. HCC will test their accuracy and especially their trajectory skills. The winds will be coming out of the northeast. This means 14 holes will play with a cross wind. What better prep for windy Texas golf? The trip may have been a little out of the way, but I believe those who have made it will be better prepared.
** - Check the timer below, the ladies start on Wednesday this week! - **
LOTTE Championship on TV:
The LOTTE starts in...
Play like a goddess
Hoakalei, meaning "reflections of a lei", is inspired by a Hawaiian legend. The volcano goddess Pele traveled with her sister Hi'iaka across the islands in search of her lover Lohiau. It takes a special woman to win on the LPGA and it seems the goddesses will be watching this week.
We can’t go past last year when it comes to creating our card for the LOTTE. Hoakalei only hosted the tournament in 2022. At 6,500 yards, we have some length to contend with. We will need to favor the ladies who can launch it. Not just be long but can gain on the field off the tee. Even though the rough is non-existent at 2” or less, on most holes if you get too far off the short grass, you’ll be wet.
If for some reason your errant drive hits dry land, chances are it will be in the sand. Getting the ball in play with length will be a huge asset. Attacking these holes with a wedge versus a mid-iron is vital for scoring. Thirteen of the approach shots fall under 150 yards. Ladies will be using their scoring clubs often. All of the Par 3’s are over 150 and now you realize only one long approach is from the fairway.
Hyo Joo is an incredible technician on the course. Her play at Palos Verdes two weeks ago really showed her skill positioning the ball. I’m looking through the field for the best tee to green players. The LOTTE isn’t loaded at the top, so we have an opportunity to win with some seriously long odds. I’ve noticed a couple of strong ball strikers down the odds board.
Scoring will be a key. I’ve already mentioned all the Par 5 opportunities and six of the ten Par 4’s are under 385 yards. A couple women will have their wedge game in good order. If the wind remains in the low teens, I can easily see scoring being a huge priority. Since most of these ladies have only played a couple of tournaments this season, I’m looking for recent scoring ability.
Shooting a low round breaks down into a couple different skills. The first is proximity. We partially covered that with T2G control. Are you hitting the ball close enough to have realistic birdie chances? The second is frequency. How many holes are they making sub-par scores? The final factor is the ability to be consistent. Can you put together a low round? The skill to score is great, but if you cannot keep bogeys off the card, we don’t want you.
I enjoyed this tournament last year. It was played in really challenging conditions. I expect this edition to be completely different. Our card is stacked with four ladies in great form. They have been scoring in the sixties and consistently take care of the Par 5’s. A LOT can be said for those who made the trip to Hawaii this week. They want to be battle tested prior to next week. I love that attitude and I know we have a card ready to prove it.
Outright winners - LOTTE Championship
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