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The Fresh Princess of Belleair

published19 days ago
13 min read

The Pelican preview

Much is being made about the recently announced match between Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, and Jordan Spieth on Saturday, December 10th. The twelve-hole exhibition will be played under the lights at Pelican Golf Club in Belleair, Florida. It just so happens if you would like a preview of the course, the LPGA is playing the Pelican Women's Championship at the same exact venue this week!

  • This is the third edition of this tournament which began back in 2020.
  • Pelican Golf Club is a Par 70 scorecard measuring 6,341 yards this week for the world's best women.
  • There are 10 holes where water comes into play. Both nines wrap up with three consecutive water holes.
  • The course has twelve Par 4's, four Par 3's, and two Par 5's.

The LPGA course yardage preview showed four holes with multiple yardages. Two, twelve, thirteen, and seventeen will be played from significantly different tee boxes. Multiple options only increase the need for these ladies to adapt. At this point in the season, there's a reason why the best are here getting ready for next week's CME Group Tour Championship.

  • Seven of the Top 10 in the Rolex world rankings are playing along with sixteen of the Top 25.
  • They are playing for a $2 million purse and a $300k first-place prize.
  • The field has 120 players and the Top 70 and ties will advance to the weekend.
  • Twenty of the twenty-five winners on tour this season are playing.

Speaking of advancing, the Top 60 in the CME season-long points list are the only ones who get to compete next week for the $7 million purse at the tour championship. The winner's check... $1.5 million. The richest prize in all of the women's golf. Add it all up and we have an anxious week ahead of us. For many of these players, qualifying for the season-ending tournament is a significant goal.

We already have eleven first-time winners this season. Will the Pelican bring about #12? One school of thought says there have also been twenty-five different winners this season and yes we will have a record twenty-sixth. If that happens, she will have to soar past one of the best non-major fields of the season. My research tells me it will probably be a repeat winner, but you never know. There are some challenges they will need to face other than the competition.

The weather for Thursday's round one looks awful. Over an inch of rain is expected with winds above thirty miles per hour. Pelican isn't far from the Gulf of Mexico, so it should get pretty nasty. The rain looks to subside by late Friday and leave a milder weekend for the final 36-holes. At least the temperatures will be Florida-like for the week staying in the 70s during the day. With conditions like they expect over the first 36, I'm definitely looking at players who can contend from thirty yards and in. A short game is always a big differentiator when it comes to difficult weather.

That's just the start of where I'm going in the outright explanation. Keep reading, you'll get there soon. I know much like the ladies who are heavily anticipating next week's historic winner's check you just cannot wait.

When to watch on television:

All on the Golf Channel unless otherwise noted (all times EST).

  • Thursday 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
  • Friday 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
  • Saturday 1:30 - 4:30 pm (Stream NBC Sports app), 7:30 - 10:30 pm (Golf Channel taped)
  • Sunday 1:30 - 4:30 pm (Stream NBC Sports app), 7:30 - 10:30 pm (Golf Channel taped)
  • Complete details on

Open to the public

Two years ago, the Cadence Bank Houston Open moved to Memorial Park golf course just outside downtown Houston, Texas. The brawny 7,412 courses were built to test the world's best. In both years the Houston Open has been contested at MPGC it has ranked in the Top 10 most difficult courses on the PGA Tour. What's interesting, at first glance Memorial Park doesn't really blow you away with anything. Sure it has some beefy holes, but only three driving holes have fairway bunkers. Most of the green complexes are very subtle and the average size of the putting surfaces is 7,000 square feet.

Houston isn't known to be incredibly windy. In fact this week the weather looks relatively manageable. The tourney starts in the high 70s for rounds one and two. Friday night a cold front is coming through with some wet weather. The weekend will be twenty degrees cooler topping out in the high 50s. Pack some layers of PGA Tour pros because it will be cold in the morning. That temperature change will really create a test as the Houston area has been dry recently. I expect the course conditions to be fast and furious. A difficult combination for a layout that already presents a significant challenge.

  • Memorial Park measures 7,412 yards.
    • Only two of the Par 4's are under 440 yards! The average Par 4 length is 467 yards.
  • The course has five Par 3's, three Par 5's, and ten Par 4's.
  • The four toughest holes are Par 4's and all of them extend over 496 yards.
  • There's a creek running through the property that comes into play on twelve of the holes.
  • The cutline for the past two years has averaged over par. Shoot even par at MPGC and you'll probably finish in the Top 40!

Tom Doak was the lead designer in this 2019 renovation. Believe it or not, Brooks Koepka also lent a hand and architectural eye to the property alongside him. The super subtle layout really rolls with the terrain. Many of the greens are without any bunkering. Pitching and chipping from closely mown grass of uneven lies this week is an important skill. What's even more interesting, is pairing that aptitude along with being very long. Both previous leaderboards are populated with bombers.

  • Only four of the Top 20 in the OWGR are playing this week. Scottie Scheffler (#2) is the highest-ranked player.
  • 132 players will compete for an $8.4 million purse awarding $1.5 million to 1st place on Sunday.
  • Outside of this field, approximately 60,000 people tee it up at Memorial Park each year. This is one of the few public golf courses on the PGA Tour.

As you can quickly see, this is not the strongest field of the fall. Past editions have done better recruiting for the strength of the field, but let's be honest, the end is near. Outside of the upper echelon who will tee it up in some of the December invitationals these next two weeks are it until the second week in January. It is for that reason I think we will see a sense of urgency this week from the younger guys. Houston is a happening place and after last week's World Series win this event should have some swagger.

Difficult golf courses always seem to add a little drama into the mix. Remember Scottie's runner-up finish last year? Those five Par 3s always seem to skew the scoring in some way. Over the course of four days, those "one-shot" holes make up almost 30% of the tournament scoring. That's a significant advantage if your iron game sets you apart or you just seem to play the 3's great. What is even more interesting, is those five holes vary greatly in length and the type of challenging shots needed to make birdies.

  • The Par 3's range from 155 to 237 yards in length.
  • Four of the five present a penalty area to keep you focused. One bad swing is an immediate double bogey.

The sample size at Memorial Park is big enough after two tournaments to tell us what it takes to win. You'll read what I have learned in the outrights section, but first, enjoy a truly entertaining talk with our Celebrity Insider.

How to watch in Houston:

All on the Golf Channel (all times EST).

  • Thursday & Friday 1:00 - 4:00 pm
    • ESPN+ featured Groups 7:30 am - 4:00 pm
  • Saturday 1:00 - 4:00 pm
  • Sunday 1:00 - 4:00 pm
  • Complete details on

Our Pelican profile

Who could forget the finish to last year's Pelican? Nelly Korda made a triple bogey on the 71st hole and ended up in a playoff with Lydia Ko, Lexi Thompson, and defending champion Sei Young Kim! Nelly eventually won, but going into this year's edition I expect a similar level of drama up and down the entire leaderboard. Let's start with the ladies right around the Top 60 cutoff.

  • From recent major winners, Patty Tavatanakit (56) and Anna Nordqvist (59) to the separation of the Jutanugarn sisters Moriya (54) and Ariya (61), each of those around that 60 number has plenty to play for.
  • How about Lydia Ko who leads the Player of the Year race and can secure the annual title with a win. She'll be tested though as Brooke Henderson will also be in Belleair.

With a $7 million purse up for grabs in Naples at the tour championship, let's just say this week will be competitive on many levels. Last year we closed the season with Nelly Korda and Jin Young Ko challenging each other for the elusive #1 ranking and all the money. They were our final two winners and to close this year I expect another "name" to make a move. Pelican Golf Club caters to the elite class because it offers so many options to the tournament team of the LPGA.

The course can be set up short or long each day depending on the conditions. As we already stated it above, the weather will be the determining factor. I believe the LPGA will be conservative and although Tropical Storm Nicole may not reach them, there's already plenty of weather heading their way. In the first two Pelican Championships, Sei Young Kim finished first and lost in a playoff. What is it about Sei Young's game we can copy when predicting this year's champion?

Kim is a killer around the greens. It keeps her scoring average low and allows her to contend and win. With wind predicted, these ladies will be missing their target(s). That's why to gain an edge in my research, I looked at a couple of very specific player characteristics. Short game and putting came up first. When conditions challenge us, the short game is a big differentiator. Making putts on Bermudagrass is tough for some. The second attribute I wanted was to show success playing in Florida before 2022.

Keeping that putting average low and converting birdie opportunities starts with hitting it close. I want strong approach players this week. Only eleven of the driving holes present fairway bunkers, so power over accuracy off the tee is preferred. Par 4 scoring will be huge on this Donald Ross original design. The course has twelve of them. Although it has been modified, many of the green complexes still present Pinehurst-like challenges. Players who are not accurate this week on approach will suffer.

Bad weather, challenging green complexes, putting prioritized and power preferred. Sounds like with those specific parameters we can definitely come up with a short list of Sunday contenders.

  • In three starts this season throughout Florida, Brooke Henderson has finished 2nd, 6th, and 11th. The unbelievable ball striker just took a couple of weeks off while the remainder of the LPGA traveled to Asia. I know that rest will serve her well as Brooke played twenty events in the first nine months of 2022. She's ranked second in Par 4 scoring and first in SG:Off the Tee. There are times when Brooke's putter can cause her to slide down the leaderboard, but I think Bermudagrass is her best surface. The second-best player T2G on the LPGA can definitely tear up PGC for her third win of the year. In the first two editions, she finished 6th and 5th at PGC.
  • Back at the start of the season, it seemed like Celine Boutier was at the top of every leaderboard. One common denominator for all of those high finishes was Florida, The fabulous French star finished 4th, 4th, and 20th to start the season south of the panhandle. Boutier's secret is ball striking. One of the best approach players on tour, her last win came at a windy Shop-Rite just off the Atlantic Ocean in New Jersey. Celine's not the longest player, so when a shorter course is paired with challenging conditions she becomes a very good fit. Another player who has finished in the Top 10 50% of the time. Back (bet) her this week as she gets back into the winner's circle.

Outright winners - Pelican Women's Championship

Brooke Henderson (+1400)

Pick 2* (+1800)

Celine Boutier (+2700)

Pick 4* (+5000)

*- member content

Kiss it goodbye

It is not often that the last two defending champions of an event don't show up because they are both banned from the competition. Last Year, Jason Kokrak took home the title at Memorial Park and two years ago it was Carlos Ortiz. Both players have since left the PGA Tour for louder, I mean LIV golf. Although those two players may not seem like they have much in common, they kind of do.

The prototype player for this week's contest in Houston has to be long. This course stretches over 7,400 yards AND it has five Par 3's! Hold on tight, because these boys are going to try and knock it out of the park all week. The average driving distance at MPGC is 291 yards and that's eight more than the tour average of 283. Driving accuracy is below the tour average slightly, but that's going to happen when you hit the driver on every hole.

  • Although a couple of holes bend; five left to right and five more right to left, the fairways are pretty wide and only three holes have bunkers in play off the tee.
  • A couple of the doglegs are even an advantage for some of the longer hitters as they can cut the corners and have shorter approach shots in.

This course will test your long iron play as one-quarter of your approach shots come in from over 200 yards. In fact, Strokes Gained Ball Striking (the combination of SG:Off the Tee and SG:Approach) is probably the most effective measure for contending. Nearly 30% of your approach shots come off the tee on a Par 3. Differentiate yourself from the field with a little iron game expertise and I like your chances.

Here's where MPGC gets really tricky; around the greens. Only eleven of the eighteen holes have greenside bunkers. The rest are surrounded by closely mown areas rolling with the landscape. The course is essentially flat, but you wouldn't know it from fifty yards and into the hole. Players are constantly challenged with uneven pitching lies, awkward bump and run shots, and the occasional bunker play. So our bomber better be prepared to exhibit a little dexterity around the green as well.

The creek that runs through the property and comes into play on nearly a dozen holes also adds a nice twist. Miss a long approach and good luck getting up and down. I mentioned it in the opening, this course will create a 36-hole cutline above par. Overall the course has six holes with a birdie rate of over 20%, but watch out for the six that have a bogey rate of over 20% as well. Five Par 4's measuring over 490 yards will make par a good score. Take away the two Par 3's over 200 yards and now we have about seven or eight holes left that we can attack.

Saving pars and scoring on Par 5's will be key and you'll soon see in our list where I'm going with this week's predictions. The toughest fall course by far, everyone I have selected is in good form. MPGC is built to be a major championship test so it is fitting our outright list this week starts with a major winner.

  • He came in second to Carlos Ortiz a couple of years ago. Hideki Matsuyama has the perfect mix of power and grace suited for this course. Fifth in the field for SG:T2G and sixth in Bogey Avoidance, it is no wonder he plays well here. The pitching acumen he showed when he won his green jacket is why he contended here a couple of years ago. Deki packs plenty of power and his world-class iron game will help him excel on all of these long approaches. Watching him in person at the President's Cup was impressive. He didn't win a ton of matches, but he played well. Hideki in Houston... makes sense to me.
  • One name we all have mentioned this fall is Taylor Montgomery. The Korn Ferry grad continues to impress everyone off the tee and with the flatstick. Sense a theme building? That's exactly how Kokrak and Carlos contended. They both drove it great and putted their way to victory. Montgomery is a serious ball striker that's ranked Top 10 in both Birdie or Better % and Bogey Avoidance. Powerful enough to handle MPGC's length he has finished Top 15 in all five starts this fall. That's impressive because the collection of courses he continues to contend on are all vastly different. Watch out this week as this test might just give him the passing grade he's been looking for.

Outright winners - Cadence Bank Houston Open

Hideki Matsuyama (+2500)

Pick 2* (+2600)

Taylor Montgomery (+2900)

Pick 4* (+5000)

*- member content

And then there were two...

Only two weeks left for the LPGA and PGA Tour

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