Walking in Memphis

published10 months ago
10 min read

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The FedEx St. Jude Championship is the start of the three-week playoff run for the PGA Tour. A full year has passed since Cantlay's epic close, and the stage is set for everyone to make a run at Scottie Scheffler. We remember the opening round always taking place in the northeast, but the PGA Tour has changed things up this season and elevated one of its long-time tournaments to the playoffs. The "St. Jude" has been on the tour schedule for decades. What began in 1958 and moved to TPC Southwind in Memphis back in 1989 is now a playoff host.

This event has evolved three times in recent history. Years ago, it was always the lead-up week to the US Open. Although a couple of superstars may show up, it wasn't the strongest field of the season. In 2019, the PGA Tour transitioned the tournament into the WGC series. For three years, the elite descended upon Memphis to compete.

  • The average winning score over the last three years at TPC Southwind has been fifteen under par.
  • Once the fields were elevated, so were the champions. The average odds of the winners at TPC Southwind in the last four years were 21-1 (+2100).
  • The field this week? We have the Top 15 in the world ranking present and twenty-two of the Top 25.

Southwind just isn't all about scoring. Even though the design isn't going to win any awards, it does create many challenges for these guys. The Par 70 scorecard has your typical twelve Par 4's, two Par 5's, and four Par 3's layout. It measures 7,233 yards.

  • Eight holes have a 15% birdie rate or better, while eleven holes have a bogey rate over 15%.
  • Eleven of the holes challenge the field with water. Double bogey lurks for those that get a little awry at any moment.

Heading to Memphis in August seems a little suspect. Better bring a change of clothes, as we expect heat and humidity to reign.

  • Did someone say rain? There will be some precipitation before the tournament. Officials expect just about an inch to fall earlier in the week leading up to Thursday.
  • Temperatures are expected in the high 80's and low 90's all week. Humidity levels will be pushing 90% which means the ball will be flying making the course even a little shorter.
  • There will be little relief from the wind. The breeze may only reach the low teens for most of the tournament.

Players will have little to blame when it comes to the conditions. With all the talk about money in golf currently, this playoff season should be sensational. I believe everyone will be firing on all cylinders when it comes to the competition. With the majors behind us, this three-week sprint should not disappoint. I cannot wait to put all the outside talk aside and let the very best compete head to head week after week. Enjoy the entertainment as cutlines matter and the drama will definitely follow as a result.

Triple play

The DP World Tour, LPGA, and Ladies European Tour (LET) have tri-sanctioned this week's unique event the ISPS Handa World Invitational. The combined men's and women's field will compete over two golf courses for the first two days. Following 36-holes, there will be a cut to the Top 60 and ties for both the men and the women. Those 120 players will then play on Saturday to get in the Top 35 and ties for Sunday's final round. The two-cut tournament will be played at the Massereene and Galgorm Castle Golf Clubs.

  • All players will play one round on each course for the first and second rounds.
  • Galgorm Castle will be the host course for all weekend play.
    • Massereene Golf Club will play 6,330 yards and a Par of 72.
    • Galgorm Castle is also a Par 72 and a little longer at 6,402 yards.

The two parkland style golf courses are not very long, but they do require a high level of accuracy. Three rounds will be played this week by all competitors on the Galgorm Castle course. The tougher of the two tests, Galgorm hosted the 2020 Irish Open and annually hosts the Northern Ireland Open. Although not a stereotypical links style layout like we expect over in the British Isles this test will keep the world's best honest as they navigate the course.

Last year was the first time this specially sanctioned event was contested. It is the first-ever event to award an equal purse for both men and women professionals. The $3 million prize pool is split equally with both 72-hole tournaments competing for $1.5 million.

The ladies can expect a lovely summer week in Ireland for the competition. Temperatures are expected in the mid to high 70s with little to no wind. That's a nice break after they were basically blown away all weekend at Muirfield in the AIG Women's Open. There's a 25% chance of rain on Sunday, but otherwise, the skies should be clear for a wonderful competition.

Even with the tremendous effort for purse equity, this tournament lacks a strong field due to its scheduling spot on the calendar. For many tour players, it has been three plus weeks in a row with two tough major championships all contested across Europe. As such, only two players in the Top 30 Rolex world rankings are here and six of the Top 100. Considering the lack of star power and a large amount of LET players in the field, betting operators have significantly limited their exposure to the event.

The People's Court

After watching a two plus hour courtroom Zoom last night, I found out the PGA Tour won the first of many lengthy battles with LIV. Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford and Matt Jones will not be permitted to play in the FedEx Cup playoffs. Last night, this summary was published by Front Office Sports. It is a succinct breakdown of the issues and where we are now. If you're looking to catch up quickly, this piece will serve you well.

To read the article just click the picture or button below.

Success at Southwind

TPC Southwind has been a mainstay on the PGA Tour for decades. The various championships contested in Memphis were outlined in the opening narrative. As we break down the skills needed to contend this week, we must keep one thing in mind; with three weeks to go, everyone has a lot to prove. Motivation comes in many ways, but as you'll see with our outright card some are just in unbelievable form while others are playing for something to prove.

To best understand the test this week let's consider a couple of comp courses for TPC Southwind.

  • Driving the golf ball is a huge priority. We are heading to Memphis in the heat of the summer and that bermudagrass rough will be gnarly. Not just around the green, but off those fairways as well. TPC Southwind ranks in the Top 10 for narrowest fairways on tour. It also ranks in the Top 10 for penalties from missing the fairway. It's not long by PGA Tour standards so a course like Innisbrook comes to mind quickly. Success there equates to success at Southwind as well.
  • Alongside that healthy bermuda rough we have eleven water hazards. Avoiding bogeys and double bogeys are important. Keeping the ball in play reminds me of a similar test the players face at PGA National when they play the Honda. Same bermudagrass and the same fine line between par and disaster.
  • The Country Club of Jackson hosts the Sanderson Farms Championship as part of the PGA Tour's fall schedule. We have the same grass again and much like TPC Southwind, you must find the fairway. There's strategic bunkering and a need to gain birdie opportunities when you hit the fairway.

As that last point alluded to, this week there is not just pressure off the tee, but when you do hit the fairway players will need to score. Since the event transitioned into a WGC, the average winning score is fifteen under par. Not just good players win here, great ones do. They do it by creating birdie opportunities with their mid irons.

  • Almost 50% of the approach yardages players will face falling into the 150-200 yard range. That's a wedge to seven iron for most of them. All four Par 3's sit in this bucket as well. The tour average for this range is just 38%. Players who excel with these scoring clubs will stand out.

Based upon the approach range we all would think players hit a ton of GIR's at TPC Southwind, but they don't. Skill around the green in bermuda rough is needed as well. The average GIR percentage is just 60% which is well below the tour average of 66%. I'm leaning on players who have specific short game skills in bermuda rough when it comes to getting up and down around the green. Players also have forty-three greenside bunkers to contend with as well, so the overall short game is a differentiator.

This Par 70 scorecard has twelve strategic Par 4's. Seven of those twelve are over 450 yards in length. The Top 5 most difficult holes at TPC Southwind are Par 4's. As with most weeks, players who score well on difficult Par 4's will be a factor. Combine that with avoiding that bermudagrass at all costs and we have this list of contenders...

  • Jon Rahm has a lot to prove. No player should be more motivated to take down the competition than the former world's #1 player. He's ranked sixteenth on the FedEx Cup points list. He's dropped to number six in the world rankings and all while he has made fourteen cuts in a row and won. Over the last three playoff runs NO PLAYER HAS PLAYED BETTER! He has eight Top 10 finishes in nine playoff events. Six of those finishes are in the Top 5. This is a fader's golf course. Nobody is a better driver in the field than Rahm. Combine that with his extraordinary short iron play and he'll be there on Sunday.
  • One year ago, Tony Finau officially removed the "Top 10 Tony" nickname by taking down Cam Smith, Jon Rahm, and JT at the Northern Trust. This course is a ball striker's paradise, and nobody is hitting the ball better than Tony. He's the hottest player on tour and he's winning with the same blueprint needed to contend at TPC Southwind. Remember the 3M, players needed accuracy off the tee to avoid disaster. The Rocket Mortgage required great play with your scoring irons. Finau checked off those two boxes and he certainly will again this week. Combine that with some great recovery skills around the green and I see Tony near the top on Sunday again.

Outright winners - FedEx St. Jude Championship

Jon Rahm (+2200)

Tony Finau (+2200)

Pick 3* (+3500)

Pick 4* (+4000)

(*- member content)

Between the trees please

The field is deep in future talent. Considering the course, competing alongside the men, and a little fatigue factor we can still determine a short list of outrights. Let's start with the skill set needed to get the job done in Ireland. Both Galgorm Castle and Massereene require the ladies to keep the ball in play. Much like Memphis for the men, we'll take accuracy over length off the tee.

  • Eighteen of the twenty-eight different tee shots the women will face this week work left to right.

That's 65% of the tee shots before the 36-hole cut. When we get to the weekend, almost every tee shot on the back nine at Galgorm Castle works the same way (five of seven). To close this tournament, a right-handed golfer will need to thread the needle through the trees with that fader (left to right) trajectory. Another item to navigate this week for the ladies will be the water. Even though Massereene sits alongside a Lough Neagh, the challenge is mainly trees, sand, and grass. Galgorm on the other hand can trip you with a double bogey quite quickly.

  • Twelve of the holes at Galgorm Castle have water, six in a row to start the second nine holes!
    • Three of the Par 5 scoring holes have water trouble, half the Par 3's, and four of the very tough Par 4's.

To win this week a player must keep her ball between the trees and above water as a priority. Once she does that, the approaching contest isn't much easier. With some very strong talent in good recent form at the top, I'm recommending a small elite card of contenders.

Leona Maguire is heading home. She's the headliner of this event in the lady's draw and will be supported accordingly. She played the weekend at the AIG Women's Open at seven under par in challenging conditions. Her ball striking was impressive, and the putter is always hot with Leona. Who could forget her undefeated 5-0 match run at last year's Solheim Cup? She will keep the ball in play as she hits more than 75% of her fairways. On approach, she hits more than 70% of her GIR's. If she misses a couple, her short game is much better than the average LPGA player as she gets up and down more than 60% of the time. A perfect favorite for two courses like these layouts.

For two of the last three weeks, we have predicted Linn Grant to win. The amazing twenty-three year old Swede kept up with the competition last week at Muirfield finishing T19. She was Top 10 at the Évian as well a couple of weeks prior. The last time she teed it up with the men she won by nine strokes. The reason I love Grant is due to her ability to score. Put her on these average parkland courses and she will make five or more birdies a round. Her scoring average is well under 70 and her birdie average is 4.6. She's not only long off the tee (265+), but she's incredibly accurate hitting 73% of her fairways. Place her back in a field with a lot less talent and she's automatically a favorite to win.

Outright winners - ISPS Handa World Invitational

Leona Maguire (+700)

Linn Grant (+800)

Pick 3* (+3000)

Pick 4* (+3000)

(*- member content)

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