Read The Line

Train Kept a Rollin'

publishedabout 2 months ago
7 min read

Another one bites the dust - #12!

We have reached a dozen. Who could imagine Patrick "Iceman" Cantlay would melt down in the desert? We did and Tom Kim's electric win over the weekend gave Read The Line subscribers their 12th win of the year. If you haven't seen the final hole showdown from Sunday, look above. Poor Patrick, it seems as if he was run over by a train! Enjoy the moment everyone, and I'll keep grinding away to get us another couple wins before the year closes...

The house of the rising sun

This is the fourth time we have seen the ZOZO Championship. Who could ever forget the first one when Tiger Woods won for the 82nd time and tied Sam Snead's PGA Tour record? Or how about last year when Hideki Matsuyama won on home soil as the current Masters champion? The 2020 version was not contested in Japan, but rather in California at Sherwood Country Club. Last week's runner-up, Patrick Cantlay took home that title. For a fall event, this tournament has some swagger. That's three pretty strong past champions.

Seven of the Top 20 in the Official World Golf Ranking are playing this week and fifteen of the Top 50. They are playing for FedEx Cup points and an $11 million purse ($1.98m for first). That's the largest cash grab in the fall and with only 78 players in the field and no 36-hole cut, one can quickly see why these guys get on a plane for Japan. Truth be told unlike the past couple birdie fest events the fall has played; this one has a very strong host venue. Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club is a brilliant layout.

  • The Par 70 scorecard (7,079 yards) has five Par 3's, three Par 5's and then the most eclectic group of Par 4's on tour.
    • Five of those Par 4's are less than 426 yards in length and five are longer than 485 yards.
    • The big Par 4's are long and hard enough to make par a good score.
    • The five Par 3's all fall between 141 and 190 yards. If you love mid-iron play, this course is for you.
    • We have encountered this a couple of times recently covering the LPGA. Par 3 scoring will play a huge role this week as 28% of the tournament will be played from these tee boxes.
    • We have fairway bunkers on eleven of the thirteen driving holes. There are greenside bunkers on all eighteen holes.
    • In fact, the green complexes are unique with the double greens. The design features one can create with multiple green surfaces really catch your eye.
  • The past two winners in Japan (Hideki and Tiger) averaged seventeen under par for the two tourneys.

It's no wonder ball-strikers score well on this rolling parkland-style golf course. Tree-lined fairways, five water holes, and each of the eighteen holes have two putting greens. If you have never watched this tournament before, you'll be a little confused at first. Due to the wide range in temperatures in Japan, some courses have two greens on every hole. One is seeded with cold-weather grass and the other is suitable for summer temperatures. It's a great idea to employ if you can afford it. Narashino CC has spared no expense in building this layout and the field shows just how much the guys love coming here.

Speaking of temperatures, the forecast for Chiba, Japan this week is not great. We have 60-degree temperatures in the morning rising to mid-70s throughout the day. The wind will be active in round one and then continue to get calmer as we work our way toward Sunday. This region in Japan has received a ton of wet weather in the last month. Alongside those winds on Thursday, we have a 90% chance of rain totaling between .75-1". This will help the competitors as this course plays very difficult when firm and dry.

I expect a final score in the mid to high teens under par. I highly doubt it will reach twenty, but who knows. These guys are good when the ground is soft. The one defense this place does have is hitting the fairways and greens. History has shown us that being a great short-game scrambler helps keep your round on track. Need evidence of how important bogey avoidance is? Tom Kim played all 72-holes last week in Vegas bogey-free.

Another factor that leads us along the ball striker's storyline is the type of grass the guys will be playing on. The greens are bent, and the rest of the place is Zoysiagrass. The ball sits up on Zoysia and those who strike it solid tend to play better than the average tour pro. Just another factor that helps us build out our winning outright list for this week.

Get some sleep, we have some late nights coming up:

All on the Golf Channel (all times EDT).

  • Wednesday (into Thursday) 11:00pm - 3:00am
  • Thursday (into Friday) 11:00pm - 3:00am
  • Friday (into Saturday) 10:30pm - 2:30am
  • Saturday (into Sunday) 11:00pm - 3:00am

One ring to rule them all

What does it really mean when you read or hear the quote, "a ball strikers' course." Does that mean we lean on certain statistics? Will putting value or course history be diminished? How about recent form? Whether you are new to RTL or have been reading our narratives since the start, I take great pride in educating everyone as much as I feel a need to entertain as well.

Narashino Country Club is a great design. Aside from the skill, it takes to create holes with multiple green complexes, overall the layout is by far the best on the fall swing. It forces each player to keep the ball in play. Most golf enthusiasts only consider control when penalty areas are involved. The basic practice of hitting fairways and greens is continually tested on this course. The correlation between ball contact and contending here is proven and that is what it means to be a ball striker's course.

The two winners at NCC are Tiger and Hideki. Those examples reinforce the need for a solid swing. How does consistent compression of the golf ball create contenders?

  • NCC has five Par 3's. Twenty-eight percent of your approach shots are being played off a tee this week.
  • Over 55% of the approach shots players will face are over 175 yards. Forty percent fall in the 175-200 range.
  • Eight tee shots move from right to left and conversely, five bend from left to right.
  • We expect the wind to come in from the north and northeast this week. This means more than half the holes will play with a crosswind.

The Par 4's amplify the correlation to contact as well. Five of the Par 4's are under 426 yards. To score, competitors will need a solid shot from the tee and a great wedge game to score. The other five Par 4's stretch over 485 yards! The driver first and then a mid to long iron in. Few courses test this kind of range on approach. Usually, a scorecard leans one way or the other. At NCC you will need to be good at both ends of the spectrum.

The challenge to keep the ball in play does not come without bogey moments. A player's ability to avoid those over-par scores keeps them on track for success. The test on controlling your golf ball at NCC extends all the way to the edge of the green. After all, T2G means just that. It covers around the green play as well. Between the elevation changes, fairway bunkers, elaborate green sites, and cross winds, these guys will have their hands full.

To build the best outright list, I added in specific statistics which show a player's ability to hit his targets. Not just the usual strokes gained analytics, but also the border elements as well. Who just misses the fairway or green? Can a player gain on the field through scrambling? Pars matter this week and proximity to the target (hole) emphasizes efficient ball striking. By analyzing a player's ability to come close as well as hit the fairway or green we get a very good sense of who to include on the outright list.

  • Last week, Tom Kim had zero bogeys. Seventy-two holes and no mistakes he couldn't recover from. As scary as this sounds, NCC may be a better fit for Tom's game than Vegas. He's first in Par 3 scoring, first on Approach, and first in Fairways Gained. Sound good? It gets better. He's second T2G and Top 10 in Bogey Avoidance, Par 4 scoring, and GIR's Gained. The support he will receive in Japan will rival Hideki's. We've seen his long iron play and wedge game shine and the putter is en fuego! Tom Kim is a superstar, and if he's going to be a generational player, then this week he wins again.
  • His fourth-place finish at the Shriners cemented another fantastic start for Tom Hoge. Talk about control, this guy is the king. He's gained two and a half shots T2G against the field over his last 20 events. That level of consistent ball striking tells you why he's having his best season ever. Tom's game can travel anywhere. One reason why is his mid-iron play. When the guys face all of those 175-200 yards approaches this week, Hoge has an advantage. In his last three starts, the putter has been almost as good as the full swing. I think for this test, Tom passes with flying colors.

Outright winners - ZOZO Championship

Tom (Joo-hyung) Kim (+1600)

Tom Hoge (+4000)

Pick 3* (+5000)

Pick 4* (+5000)

*- member content

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