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Analyzing Tom Watson’s Potential Ryder Cup picks

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Captain Tom Watson’s captain’s picks for the Ryder Cup became more difficult when Dustin Johnson announced that he will not play in the event. And that was just the start.

I’ve posted the current U.S. Ryder Cup Team standings below. Remember, the top-9 finishers on the points list automatically earn a spot on the team, and T. Watson will pick two additional players of his choice to round out the lineup. Qualifying finishes this weekend at the conclusion of the PGA Championship.

  1. Bubba Watson
  2. Jim Furyk
  3. Jimmy Walker
  4. Rickie Fowler
  5. Matt Kuchar
  6. Jordan Spieth
  7. Patrick Reed
  8. Jason Dufner
  9. Zach Johnson
  10. Phil Mickelson
  11. Keegan Bradley
  12. Brendan Todd
  13. Ryan Moore
  14. Chris Kirk
  15. Webb Simpson
  16. Harris English

Jason Dufner (No. 8) announced that he has bulging disks in his neck, and Tiger Woods, who all expected to either make the team or be a captain’s pick before his back surgery, has yet to play well enough to prove that he can be a good addition to the Ryder Cup team, even if he is 100 percent healthy. To make things worse, Matt Kuchar (No. 5) withdrew from the PGA Championship today with back spasms, bringing his health into question.

The U.S. Team will also be playing against an impressive European team that has a red hot Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia. Despite these recent events, I still believe that a statistically oriented approach to the Ryder Cup can greatly overcome these odds.

First, I want to run over some of the main tenets when it comes to using a statistically oriented approach to the Ryder Cup:

No. 1: Versatility is critical

Ryder Cup teams need golfers who are suited to play both the four-ball and foursome format. This way, if a player is playing poorly, the team does not have to rely on him to start playing well and can have a different golfer come in and win valuable point(s).

No. 2: When in doubt, favor youth over experience

Most of the U.S. Ryder Cup team captains in recent years have favored experience above all else. Even if a Ryder Cup player is experienced, however, if he has proved to be a poor Ryder Cup player he is simply an experienced, poor Ryder Cup player.

The other part about youth is that if a young player gets a hot hand, the captain can keep him in the lineup without worrying about his stamina. That’s not always true for an older player or an injured player. Lastly, it serves future Ryder Cup teams to see how well these young players perform. It will help future captains better determine if they are a good, poor or indifferent Ryder Cup players.

No. 3: Favor players with great short games over the “hot putter”

While being a good putter is certainly helpful, the best Ryder Cup players historically have been very good around the green. This includes players like Luke Donald, Ian Poulter, Jesper Parnevik, Raymond Floyd, Billy Casper, Larry Nelson and Seve Ballesteros, to name a few. The problem with looking purely at putting is that it is hard to rely on player to putt well at any given moment. Even the best putters on Tour putt great (+1.0 strokes gained per round per event) in only about 30 percent of the events they play. Conversely, players with good short games can take that short game from event to event much more consistently, and the ability to save par and stymie your opponent appears to be critical to successful match play.

No. 4: Four-ball format is about birdies and playing each type of hole well

In the four-ball format, Ryder Cup team captains want players who can make a lot of birdies. One of my favorite teams in the four-ball format was Boo Weekley and J.B. Holmes in 2008. Weekley is a long hitter who finds a ton of fairways and is usually one of the most effective drivers of the ball. Holmes was the long distance hitter who made a ton of birdies and had the capability to make eagles. So they would have Weekley tee off first and he would usually blast a 300+ yard drive down the middle. And if Weekley was in good shape that would allow Holmes to get a free rip and blast a 375+ yard drive. If the ball was in play, it would put them at a sizeable advantage. Weekley was also a strong par-4 player and a pretty good par-3 player, while Holmes was an excellent par-5 player. Essentially, they had all of their bases covered and could rattle off birdies.

5. Foursome format is about avoiding bogeys and pairing players whose styles of play compliment each other

The foursome format is where bogeys are more likely to happen and this is where a great short game can be even more important. You can have two players who make few bogeys, however, who are a terrible match for each other. For instance, Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk may not make a lot of bogeys, but that is on their own ball. Furyk is a player who hits fairways and does not play well from the rough. Since Mickelson is an errant driver of the ball, the combination would not likely be a very good one.

With those out of the way, here’s a table looking at the rankings of some key players that are not in the top-8 in Ryder Cup points. You can click the table to enlarge it.

Hunt Ryder Cup Table 1

I will start with some of the obvious players. Zach Johnson should be a sure fire pick if he doesn’t automatically qualify. He’s played well in previous Ryder Cups and his rankings in the key performance metrics are excellent. In fact, he has done a nice job of hitting shots from the rough this year, which have typically given him issues. And he has been spectacular on the par-5’s despite being a short hitter.

I would also eliminate the following players:

  • Matt Every (poor driving and par-4 play).
  • Erik Compton (poor driving, poor iron play, poor bogey rate).
  • Webb Simpson (poor 175-to-225 yards play)
  • Brendon Todd (poor 175-to-225 yards play)
  • Kevin Stadler (poor par-4 play)

The Ryder Cup courses generally favor hitting shots from 175-to-225 yards, so I would be leery of using any player who has struggled from that distance this year. And since there are 11 par-4’s to be played, the team cannot afford a weak par-4 player.

From there, I will bring it down to these players for the final three spots.

  • Phil Mickelson
  • Keegan Bradley
  • Ryan Moore
  • Kevin Na
  • Harris English
  • Brian Harman

Keegan Bradley becomes the first obvious choice. He has driven it well and has been good with his long approach shots, short game and putting. The issue for Bradley has been iron shots from less than 175 yards. However, he can be paired with an accurate driver of the ball and keep him playing those shots from the fairway. Combine that with his performance on par-3’s, par-4’s and par-5’s and his Birdie Rate, and Bradley is a versatile player who played superbly in the last Ryder Cup.

Mickelson

phil-mickelson_t640-600x350

I will assume that Phil Mickelson will be selected if he does not automatically qualify. Regardless of what the data says, I have a hard time believing a captain would not select Lefty if he is healthy. So as far as his analysis goes, he’s been a streaky Ryder Cup player. But, he has been better in recent Ryder Cups.

The interesting thing about Phil is that while he has had an off year, the numbers indicate that he is better suited for the Ryder Cup than he has been over the years. His driving has been the best it has been in years, although I would not call him overly accurate. What has hurt him this year, however, is that his iron play has not been quite as good from inside 175 yards than it has been in previous seasons, but he is still a great long approach player. The other issue is that his putting was giving him issues, but we have seen some progression lately.

I don’t think Phil will be a bad pick, although both Ryan Moore and Brian Harman are enticing. Harman is ranks 6th on shots from the fairway, has a good short game and has quality scoring metrics. If there is a worry about Mickelson, it’s that he has yet to finish in the top-10 this year and suffered back problems earlier in the year. I would not be vehemently against a Mickelson pick, but I am not assuming that he and Keegan Bradley will automatically pick up where they left off in 2012 at Medinah.

The Last Pick

This player currently has all of the elements of a good Ryder Cup player.

  • He has a super low bogey rate.
  • He has a great short game.
  • He is one of the premier putters on Tour.
  • He hits his long approach shots well from both the rough and the fairway.
  • He has having a fine year with his scoring metrics.
  • He is only 30 years old.

Who is this player? If you guessed Kevin Na, you are correct.

The possible knock against Na is he has gone fairly unnoticed this year. He has five top-10 finishes, however, which include two second-place finishes. He also finished T12 at the US Open.

The other knock against Na may be his slow play. That could aggravate his partner, but it may aggravate his opponents as well. Colin Montgomerie was not overly liked and was a phenomenal Ryder Cup player, and Sergio was one of the slowest players on Tour during his unbeatable years in the Ryder Cup.

Regardless of how this year’s Ryder Cup qualifying plays out, I see Captain Watson making sure that Mickelson, Z. Johnson, Bradley, Simpson and Dufner (if he’s healthy enough) for this year’s team. That’s a shame, because I’d like to see Harman and especially Na get a chance to prove that they could be fantastic Ryder Cup players.

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Richie Hunt is a statistician whose clients include PGA Tour players, their caddies and instructors in order to more accurately assess their games. He is also the author of the recently published e-book, 2018 Pro Golf Synopsis; the Moneyball Approach to the Game of Golf. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @Richie3Jack. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: March 2014 Purchase 2017 Pro Golf Synopsis E-book for $10

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Pingback: Ryder Cup Preview: The Course, Home Field, & Competition | Golf Analytics

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  4. marcel

    Aug 10, 2014 at 9:05 pm

    hes gona pick Rory

  5. Ronald Montesano

    Aug 8, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    Guess what? He’s going to pick himself. He’ll be the first playing captain in over fifty years, he has played well in two major championships and (here’s the funny part) he’s not injured. He just added Steve Stricker as an assistant captain, probably because Stricker is young in comparison to the other assistants.

    Stricker is also a possibility as a pick. If one of the guys (Kuchar, Dufner) on the team goes down in Scotland, Stricker will be there and will be a legitimate choice to play.

  6. BogeyFree

    Aug 8, 2014 at 10:44 am

    My order would be Moore, Bradley, then Na. I’d even take those 3 over Woods or Michelson. At some point it is entertainment and I understand that, so Michelson is probably a lock.

    I am older guy, but frankly it’s time to bring some youth to the US side. The team already has Furyk and Johnson, plus Watson and Stricker coaching. How much experience do you need…especially when that experience is more with losing than winning Ryder Cups?

  7. Alex

    Aug 8, 2014 at 12:50 am

    Nice.

    Na could be a golden idea, or turn out to be a total bad move. It’s interesting how much you have to decide if stats alone are worth making a decision on.

    I think Na could be a good choice. Unless he can’t rise to the occasion. I’d say, give him a shot.

    Any chance we will see a European article soon?

    • Richie Hunt

      Aug 8, 2014 at 9:08 am

      I may do a European article. Depends on how many of the players qualify statistically on the PGA Tour so I can have statistical data on them to analyze.

      While the data appears to favor the European team heavily, I could say the same for the US team in 2012. Jumped out to a big lead and then lost at Medinah. You never quite know with this rivalry.

      • ND Hickman

        Aug 12, 2014 at 6:58 am

        As a Brit I’m confident for Europe this year, but as you say the Americans should have closed things out at Medinah so we’ll just have to wait and see. Either way it’s going to be a brilliant Ryder Cup.

  8. gunmetal

    Aug 7, 2014 at 6:48 pm

    I absolutely love the Na pick. He sorta flies under the radar but possesses everything you outlined as critical.

    I’m not sold on the Bradley pick. I should be, but I feel like he lets his emotion get out of control and it ends up hurting. He got destroyed by Rory last year despite Rory essentially falling out of the car on to the first tee box. I know he’s the popular pick and will likely make it, I just hope he keeps his emotions in check.

    I also think another thing to consider is matchplay record. Mahan got a bad rap for what went down in Wales, but he should have been on the team at Medina. Despite winning twice in 2012 (once at the Matchplay) Love chose Striker and Furyk. Mahan won the matchplay!! IIRC Ryan Moore has a nice matchplay record as do Reed and Fowler. I’d be happy with Na or Moore.

    Nice read.

    • SN

      Aug 8, 2014 at 12:53 am

      Na is a good choice.
      I think his pace of play will also pixxed the heck out of Europeans.

      and THAT is another advantage.

      • C web

        Aug 8, 2014 at 8:41 am

        Just Pair Na with Furyk…. And watch the Euros self destruct

  9. Brad

    Aug 7, 2014 at 6:35 pm

    Great overall analysis. Even though statistics are an awesome way to determine many things (I am an engineer) in the case I have to disagree with Kevin Na. He is a nice player statistically, but he has really struggled with the mental game over the years. The Ryder Cup may be the most mentally stressful environment in golf. I think it would be tough for him to excel in this environment.

  10. mb

    Aug 7, 2014 at 6:02 pm

    I feel bad for Tom he’s screwed J Duf just pulled out of the PGA

  11. Travis

    Aug 7, 2014 at 6:02 pm

    Nice article

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Early season wedge game tune-up

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Depending on the part of the country you call home, you might just be getting into the 2024 golf season, or you might be several months into it. Either way, your scoring success this season – like every season – will likely drill down to how good your game is from 100 yards and in.

The best way to sharpen your wedge play is, surprise, spend some time refining and practicing your technique. Whether it’s winter rust or mid-season sloppiness, your wedge game can be a serious cause of frustration if and when it goes sour on you.

If you want to be sharp when it really counts, give it some time and attention. Start with a detailed look at your fundamentals – posture, alignment, ball position, grip, and grip pressure – and then advance to an examination of the actual chipping and pitching motion of the swing.

No matter what your skill level might be, I am convinced that time spent on the following drills will yield giant rewards in your scores and enjoyment of the game. There is nothing quite so demoralizing and maddening than to hit a good drive and better-than-average approach shot, then chunk or skull a simple chip or pitch, turning a par or bogie-at-worst into a double or even more.

Core activation

The key to a solid short game is to synchronize your arm swing with the rotation of your body core. They simply have to move together, back and through impact into the follow-through. When I’m about to start a short game session, I like to begin with the club extended in front of my body, with my upper arms close to my chest, then rotate my upper torso back and through, to give me the sensation that I am moving the club only with my core rotation, with the hands only having the job of holding on to it. In this drill, you want to ensure that the clubhead is exactly in front of your sternum as you rotate back and through. When you lower the club into the playing position, this puts the upper end of the grip pointing roughly at your belt buckle and it stays in that “attitude” through the backswing and follow through.

S-L-O-W motion

I believe one of the most misunderstood and destructive pieces of advice in the short game is to “accelerate through the ball”. What I see much too often is that the golfer fails to take a long enough backswing and then quickly jabs at the ball . . . all in the pursuit of “accelerating through the ball.” In reality, that is pretty hard NOT to do if you have any kind of follow through at all. Relying on that core activation move, I like to make very slow swings – back and through impact – experimenting with just how slow I can make the swing and still see some ball flight. You’ll be amazed at how slow a body rotation can be made and still make the ball fly in a nice trajectory.

Windows

I’m borrowing this term from Tiger Woods, who often spoke of hitting his iron shots through certain “windows,” i.e. first floor, second floor, etc. For your short game, I simplify this into hitting short pitch shots on three different flight trajectories – low, medium, and high. I have found the simplest way to do this is to use the same swing for each shot and determine the trajectory by where you place the ball in your set-up. Start by finding the ball position that gives you what you consider to be a “normal” trajectory with your sand wedge. Then, hit some shots with the ball just one inch back and forward of that spot and see what trajectory you get. You can then take that to another level by repeating the process with your other wedges, from your highest lofted to your lowest.

Ladder drill

For this exercise, I like to have some room on the range or practice area that lets me hit balls any distance I want, from ten feet out to about 25 yards, or even more if you can. I start by hitting a basic chip shot to fly precisely to a divot or piece of turf I’ve targeted about ten feet in front of me. The next shot I try to land where that ball stopped. I repeat that process until I have a line of balls from ten feet to 25 or so yards from me. With each shot, I repeat it until I can land my shot within a foot or less of my “target ball.”

The idea of this kind of practice with your short game is to hit so many shots that you feel like you can do anything with the ball, and you can take that confidence and execution skill to the course. You can literally work through a few hundred shots in an hour or so with these drills, and there’s nothing like repetition to build a skill set you can trust “under fire.”

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19th Hole

Vincenzi’s 2024 Charles Schwab Challenge betting preview: Tony Finau ready to get back inside winner’s circle

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After an action-packed week at the PGA Championship, the PGA Tour heads back to Texas to play the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth.

Colonial Country Club is a 7,209-yard par-70 and features Bentgrass greens. The difficulty of the event this week will be influenced by course setup and/or wind. The last four seasons have all produced winners with scores between -8 and -14, with the two most recent playing extremely difficult. Last year, Emiliano Grillo won in a playoff against Adam Schenk at -8, and in 2022, Sam Burns edged out Scottie Scheffler in a playoff at -9.

After last season’s event, the course was renovated by Gil Hanse. I expect the course to stay true to what the original design intended, but will improve in some areas that needed updating. Jordan Spieth, who is one of the most consistent players at Colonial, told Golfweek his thoughts on the changes.

“I always thought courses like this, Hilton Head, these classic courses that stand the test of time, it’s like what are you going to do to these places? I think that’s kind of everyone’s first response,” Spieth said. “Then I saw them, and I was like, wow, this looks really, really cool. It looks like it maintains the character of what Colonial is while creating some excitement on some holes that maybe could use a little bit of adjusting.”

The Charles Schwab Challenge will play host to 136 golfers this week, and the field is relatively strong despite it being the week after a major championship.

Some notable golfers in the field include Scottie Scheffler, Max Homa, Tony Finau, Sungjae Im, Collin Morikawa, Min Woo Lee, Justin Rose, Adam Scott, Jordan Spieth and Akshay Bhatia. 

Past Winners at Charles Schwab Challenge

  • 2023: Emiliano Grillo (-8)
  • 2022: Sam Burns (-9)
  • 2021: Jason Kokrak (-14)
  • 2020: Daniel Berger (-15)
  • 2019: Kevin Na (-13)
  • 2018: Justin Rose (-20)
  • 2017: Kevin Kisner (-10)
  • 2016: Jordan Spieth (-17)

Key Stats For Colonial Country Club

Let’s take a look at five key metrics for Colonial Country Club to determine which golfers boast top marks in each category over their last 24 rounds.

1. Strokes Gained: Approach

Approach will be a major factor this week. It grades out as the most important statistic historically in events played at Colonial Country Club, and that should be the case once again this week.

Approach Over Past 24 Rounds

  1. Scottie Scheffler (+1.09)
  2. Ryan Moore (1.00)
  3. Tom Hoge (+0.96)
  4. Akshay Bhatia (+0.85)
  5. Greyson Sigg (+0.83)

2. Strokes Gained: Off The Tee

Both distance and accuracy will be important this week. Historically, shorter hitters who find the fairway have thrived at Colonial, but over the last few years we’ve seen a lot of the players in the field use big drives to eliminate the challenge of doglegs and fairway bunkers.

The rough can be thick and penal, so finding the fairway will remain important.

Strokes Gained: Off the Tee Over Past 24 Rounds

  1. Scottie Scheffler (+1.11)
  2. Keith Mitchell (+0.90)
  3. Kevin Yu (+0.87)
  4. Alejandro Tosti (+0.81)
  5. Min Woo Lee (+0.80)

3. Strokes Gained: Total in Texas

Players who play well in the state of Texas tend to play well in multiple events during the Texas swing. 

Strokes Gained: Total in Texas over past 36 rounds

  1. Jordan Spieth (+2.16)
  2. Scottie Scheffler (+1.97)
  3. Tony Finau (+1.91)
  4. Akshay Bhatia (+1.68)
  5. Justin Rose (+1.62)

4. Course History

Course history seems to be much more important at Colonial Country Club than most other courses. The same players tend to pop up on leaderboards here year after year.

Course History per round Over Past 24 Rounds:

  1. Jordan Spieth (+2.31)
  2. Justin Rose (+1.70)
  3. Harris English (+1.66)
  4. Webb Simpson (+1.54)
  5. Collin Morikawa (+1.47)

5. Strokes Gained: Putting (Bentgrass)

The Bentgrass greens at Colonial are in immaculate condition, and putters who roll it pure are at an advantage. Historically, great putters have thrived at Colonial.

Strokes Gained: Putting (Bentgrass) Over Past 24 Rounds:

  1. Denny McCarthy (+1.08)
  2. Justin Rose (+0.93)
  3. J.T. Poston (+0.87)
  4. Maverick McNealy (+0.85)
  5. Andrew Putnam (+0.74)

Charles Schwab Challenge Model Rankings

Below, I’ve compiled overall model rankings using a combination of the five key statistical categories previously discussed — SG: Approach (27%), SG: OTT (25%), Strokes Gained: Total in Texas (14%), Course History (17%) and SG: Putting Bentgrass (17%).

  1. Scottie Scheffler
  2. Chris Kirk
  3. Tony Finau
  4. Billy Horschel
  5. Daniel Berger
  6. Maverick McNealy
  7. Adam Schenk
  8. Collin Morikawa
  9. Austin Eckroat
  10. Sepp Straka

2024 Charles Schwab Challenge Picks

Tony Finau +3300 (FanDuel)

Tony Finau hit the ball incredibly well at last week’s PGA Championship. He led the field in Strokes Gained: Approach, gaining 9.3 strokes in the category, which was his second-best performance on approach this season (Farmers T6). Finau’s tie for 18th at Valhalla is ideal considering the fact that he played very well but didn’t have the mental and emotional strain of hitting shots deep into contention in a major championship. He should be sharp and ready to go for this week’s event.

Finau has been phenomenal in the state of Texas. He ranks third in Strokes Gained: Total in the Lone Star state in his past 36 rounds and just recently put up a T2 finish at the Texas Children’s Houston Open last month. He also has success at Colonial. He finished 2nd at the course in 2019 and T4 at the course in 2022. He missed the cut last year, however, that seems to be an aberration as he hasn’t finished worse than 34th in his seven other trips to Fort Worth.

Finau has gained strokes off the tee in 10 of his 13 starts this season, and his ability to hit the ball long and straight should give him an advantage this week at Colonial. He’s also gained strokes on approach in 11 of his 13 starts this year. His tee to green excellence should work wonders this week, as Colonial is a challenging test. The concern, as usual, for Tony, is the putter. He’s in the midst of the worst putting season of his career, but with a target score in the -8 to -13 range this week, he should be able to get away with a few mistakes on the greens.

Finau is one of the most talented players in the field and I believe he can put it all together this week in Texas to get his first win since last year’s Mexico Open.

Sungjae Im +5000 (BetRivers)

Sungjae Im is really starting to play some good golf of late, despite his missed cut at last week’s PGA Chmapionship. Im missed the cut on the number, which may be a blessing in disguise that allows him to rest and also keeps the price reasonable on him this week. The missed cut was due to some woeful putting, which is atypical for Sungjae. He gained strokes slightly both off the tee and on approach, therefore I’m not concerned with the performance.

Prior to his trip to Valhalla, Sungjae was beginning to show why he has been such a good player over the course of his career. He finished T12 at Heritage and then won an event in Korea. He followed that up with a T4 at Quail Hollow in a “Signature Event”, which was his best performance on the PGA Tour this season. At the Wells Fargo, the South Korean was 20th in Strokes Gained: Ball Striking and showed his skill around and on the greens.

Sungjae has had some success at Colonial. He’s finished T10 and T15 with two missed cuts scattered in between over the past four seasons. When he is in form, which I believe he now is, the course suits him well.

Im hasn’t won since 2021, which is an underachievement given how talented I believe he is. That can change this week with a win at Colonial.

Christiaan Bezuidenhout +5000 (FanDuel)

I absolutely love this spot for Christiaan Bezuidenhout. The South African is having a fantastic season and this is a course that should suit his strengths.

Prior the PGA Championship, Bez hadn’t finished worse than 28th in six consecutive starts. He’s not the type of player who can get to -20 in a “birdie fest” but can grind in a tougher event. He is a terrific player in the wind and putts extremely well on Bentgrass greens. Bezuidenhout has also had success both in Texas and at Colonial. He ranks 16th in Strokes Gained: Total at the course and 10th in Strokes Gained: Total in Texas over his past 36 rounds.

Part of what has made Bezuidenhout play so well this year is his increase in ball speed, which has been the recipe for success for plenty of players, including the winner of last week’s PGA Championship, Xander Schauffele. Bezuidenhout’s coach shared his ball speed gains on Instagram a few weeks back.

https://www.instagram.com/p/C6FCvK3S97A/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

Now at close to 170mph ball speed, that isn’t enough to compete at the monstrous major championship courses in my opinion, however it’s plenty to contend at Colonial.

Bezuidenhout has been one of the most consistent performers on the PGA Tour this season and a win would put an exclamation point on what’s been his best year on Tour to date.

Brendon Todd +12500 (BetRivers)

Brendon Todd is the type of player that’s hit or miss, but usually shows up on the courses he has a strong history on and plays well. Todd finished T8 at Colonial in 2021 and 3rd in 2022. He’s also flashed some Texas form this year as he finished T5 at the Valero Texas Open in April.

Todd doesn’t contend all that often, but when he does, he’s shown in the past that he has the capability to win a golf tournament. He has three PGA Tour wins including a win in Texas back in 2014 (TPC Four Seasons).

Todd is a player who can rise to the top if some of the elite players aren’t in contention after a grueling PGA Championship.

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19th Hole

Vincenzi’s 2024 PGA Championship betting preview: Rising star ready to join the immortals at Valhalla

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The second major of the 2024 season is upon us as the world’s best players will tee it up this week at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky to compete for the Wanamaker Trophy.

The last time we saw Valhalla host a major championship, Rory McIlroy fended off Phil Mickelson, Henrik Stenson, Rickie Fowler and the creeping darkness that was descending upon the golf course. The Northern Irishman had the golf world in the palm of his hand, joining only Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus as players who’d won four major championships by the time they were 25 years old. 

Valhalla is named after the great hall described in Norse mythology where the souls of Vikings feasted and celebrated with the Gods. The course is a Jack Nicklaus-design that has ranked among Golf Digest’s “America’s 100 Greatest Courses” for three decades. 

Valhalla Golf Club is a par-71 measuring 7,542 yards with Zoysia fairways and Bentgrass greens. The course has rolling hills and dangerous streams scattered throughout and the signature 13th hole is picturesque with limestone and unique bunkering protecting the green. The 2024 PGA Championship will mark the fourth time Valhalla has hosted the event. 

The field this week will consist of 156 players, including 16 PGA Champions and 33 Major Champions. 

Past Winners of the PGA Championship

  • 2023: Brooks Koepka (-9) Oak Hill
  • 2022: Justin Thomas (-5) Southern Hills
  • 2021: Phil Mickelson (-6) Kiawah Island
  • 2020: Collin Morikawa (-13) TPC Harding Park
  • 2019: Brooks Koepka (-8) Bethpage Black
  • 2018: Brooks Koepka (-16) Bellerive
  • 2017: Justin Thomas (-8) Quail Hollow
  • 2016: Jimmy Walker (-14) Baltusrol
  • 2015: Jason Day (-20) Whistling Straits
  • 2014: Rory McIlroy (-16) Valhalla

In this article and going forward, I’ll be using the Rabbit Hole by Betsperts Golf data engine to develop my custom model. If you want to build your own model or check out all of the detailed stats, you can sign up using promo code: MATTVIN for 25% off any subscription package (yearly is best value).

Key Stats For Valhalla

Let’s take a look at five key metrics for Oak Hill to determine which golfers boast top marks in each category over their past 24 rounds.

1. Strokes Gained: Approach

Valhalla will play as a true all-around test of golf for the world’s best. Of course, it will take strong approach play to win a major championship.

Strokes Gained: Approach Over Past 24 Rounds

  1. Shane Lowry (+1.25)
  2. Scottie Scheffler (+1.09)
  3. Jordan Smith (+1.05)
  4. Tom Hoge (+.96)
  5. Corey Conners (+.94)

2. Strokes Gained: Off the Tee

Valhalla will play long and the rough will be penal. Players who are incredibly short off the tee and/or have a hard time hitting fairways will be all but eliminated from contention this week at the PGA Championship. 

Strokes Gained: Off the Tee Over Past 24 Rounds:

  1. Bryson DeChambeau (+1.47)
  2. Scottie Scheffler (+1.11)
  3. Keith Mitchell (+.90)
  4. Alejandro Tosti (+.89)
  5. Ludvig Aberg (+.82)

Strokes Gained: Total on Nickalus Designs

Valhalla is a classic Nicklaus Design. Players who play well at Nicklaus designs should have an advantage coming into this major championship. 

Strokes Gained: Total on Nicklaus Designs over past 36 rounds:

  1. Jon Rahm (+2.56)
  2. Scottie Scheffler (+2.48)
  3. Patrick Cantlay (+2.35)
  4. Collin Morikawa (+1.79)
  5. Shane Lowry (+1.57)

Strokes Gained: Tee to Green on Very Long Courses

Valhalla is going to play extremely long this week. Players who have had success playing very long golf courses should be better equipped to handle the conditions of this major championship.

Strokes Gained: Total on Very Long Courses Over Past 24 Rounds: 

  1. Scottie Scheffler (+2.44)
  2. Rory McIlroy (+2.24)
  3. Will Zalatoris (+1.78)
  4. Viktor Hovland (+1.69)
  5. Xander Schauffele (+1.60)

Strokes Gained: Total in Major Championships

One factor that tends to play a large role in deciding major championships is which players have played well in previous majors leading up to the event. 

Strokes Gained: Total in Major Championships over past 20 rounds:

  1. Scottie Scheffler (+3.14)
  2. Will Zalatoris (+2.64)
  3. Rory McIlroy (+2.49)
  4. Xander Schauffele (+2.48)
  5. Tommy Fleetwood (2.09)

Strokes Gained: Putting on Bentgrass Greens

Valhalla features pure Bentgrass putting surfaces. Players who are comfortable putting on this surface will have an advantage on the greens. 

Strokes Gained: Putting on Bentgrass Greens over Past 24 Rounds:

  1. Ludvig Aberg (+1.12)
  2. Denny McCarthy (+1.08)
  3. Matt Fitzpatrick (+0.99)
  4. Justin Rose (+0.93)
  5. J.T. Poston (0.87)

Strokes Gained: Total on Zoysia Fairways

Valhalla features Zoysia fairways. Players who are comfortable playing on this surface will have an advantage on the field.

Strokes Gained: Total on Zoysia Fairways over past 36 rounds: 

  1. Justin Thomas (+1.53)
  2. Will Zalatoris (+1.47)
  3. Xander Schauffele (+1.40)
  4. Brooks Koepka (+1.35)
  5. Rory McIlroy (+1.23)

2024 PGA Championship Model Rankings

Below, I’ve compiled overall model rankings using a combination of the key statistical categories previously discussed — SG: Approach (25%), SG: Off the Tee (22%), SG: T2G on Very Long Courses (12%), SG: Putting on Bentgrass (+12%), SG: Total on Nicklaus Designs (12%). SG: Total on Zoysia Fairways (8%), and SG: Total in Major Championships (8%). 

  1. Brooks Koepka
  2. Xander Schauffele
  3. Rory McIlroy
  4. Scottie Scheffler
  5. Bryson DeChambeau
  6. Shane Lowry
  7. Alex Noren
  8. Will Zalatoris
  9. Cameron Young
  10. Keith Mitchell
  11. Hideki Matsuyama
  12. Billy Horschel
  13. Patrick Cantlay
  14. Viktor Hovland
  15. Adam Schenk
  16. Chris Kirk
  17. Sahith Theegala
  18. Min Woo Lee
  19. Joaquin Niemann
  20. Justin Thomas

2024 PGA Championship Picks

Ludvig Aberg +1800 (BetMGM)

At The Masters, Ludvig Aberg announced to the golf world that he’s no longer an “up and coming” player. He’s one of the best players in the game of golf, regardless of experience.

Augusta National gave Aberg some necessary scar tissue and showed him what being in contention at a major championship felt like down the stretch. Unsurprisingly, he made a costly mistake, hitting it in the water left of the 11th hole, but showed his resilience by immediately bouncing back. He went on to birdie two of his next three holes and finished in solo second by three shots. With the type of demeanor that remains cool in pressure situations, I believe Ludvig has the right mental game to win a major at this point in his career.

Aberg has not finished outside of the top-25 in his past eight starts, which includes two runner-up finishes at both a “Signature Event” and a major championship. The 24-year-old is absolutely dominant with his driver, which will give him a major advantage this week. In the field he ranks, in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee, and has gained strokes in the category in each of his past ten starts. Aberg is already one of the best drivers of the golf ball on the planet.

In Norse mythology, Valhalla is the great hall where the souls of Vikings feasted and celebrated with the Gods. The Swedes, who are of Old Norse origin, were the last of the three Scandinavian Kingdoms to abandon the Old Norse Gods. A Swede played a major role in the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla, and I believe another, Ludvig Aberg, will be the one to conquer Valhalla in 2024. 

Bryson DeChambeau +2800 (BetMGM)

Bryson DeChambeau is one of the few players in the world that I believe has the game to go blow-for-blow with Scottie Scheffler. Although he isn’t as consistent as Scheffler, when he’s at his best, Bryson has the talent to beat him.

At The Masters, DeChambeau put forth a valiant effort at a golf course that simply does not suit his game. Valhalla, on the other hand, is a course that should be perfect for the 30-year-old. His ability to overpower a golf course with his driver will be a serious weapon this week.

Bryson has had some success at Jack Nicklaus designs throughout his career as he won the Memorial at Muirfield Village back in 2018. He’s also had incredible results on Bentgrass greens for the entirety of his professional career. Of his 10 wins, nine of them have come on Bentgrass greens, with the only exception being the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. He also has second place finishes at Medinah and TPC Summerlin, which feature Bentgrass greens.

Love him or hate him, it’s impossible to argue that Bryson isn’t one of the most exciting and important players in the game of golf. He’s also one of the best players in the world. A second major is coming soon for DeChambeau, and I believe he should be amongst the favorites to hoist the Wanamaker Trophy this week.

Patrick Cantlay +4000 (FanDuel)

There’s no way of getting around it: Patrick Cantlay has been dissapointing in major championships throughout his professional career. He’s been one of the top players on Tour for a handful of years and has yet to truly contend at a major championship, with the arguable exception of the 2019 Masters.

Despite not winning majors, Cantlay has won some big events. The 32-year-old has won two BMW Championships, two Memorial Tournaments as well as a Tour Championship. His victories at Memorial indicate how much Cantlay loves Nicklaus designs, where he ranks 3rd in the field in Strokes Gained: Total over his past 36 rounds behind only Scottie Scheffler and Jon Rahm.

Cantlay also loves Bentgrass greens. Six of Cantlay’s seven individual wins on the PGA Tour have come on Bentgrass greens and he also was one of the best putters at the 2023 Ryder cup at Marco Simone (also Bentgrass). At Caves Valley (2021 BMW Championship), he gained over 12 strokes putting to outduel another Bentgrass specialist, Bryson DeChambeau.

Cantlay finished 22nd in The Masters, which was a solid result considering how many elite players struggled that week. He also has two top-ten finishes in his past five PGA Championships. He’s undeniably one of the best players in the field, therefore, it comes down to believing Cantlay has the mental fortitude to win a major, which I do.

Joaquin Niemann +4000 (BetMGM)

I believe Joaquin Niemann is one of the best players in the world. He has three worldwide wins since December and has continued to improve over the course of his impressive career thus far. Still only 25, the Chilean has all the tools to be a serious contender in major championships for years to come.

Niemann has been the best player on LIV this season. Plenty will argue with the format or source of the money on LIV, but no one can argue that beating players such as Jon Rahm, Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Cameron Smith is an unremarkable achievement. Niemann is an elite driver of the golf ball who hits it farther than just about anyone in the field not named Bryson DeChambeau or (arguably) Rory McIlroy.

Niemann is another player who has been fantastic throughout his career on Bentgrass greens. Prior to leaving the PGA Tour, Bentgrass was the only green surface in which Joaco was a positive putter. It’s clearly a surface that he is very comfortable putting on and should fare around and on the greens this week.

Niemann is a perfect fit for Valhalla. His low and penetrating ball flight will get him plenty of runout this week on the fairways and he should have shorter shots into the green complexes than his competitors. To this point in his career, the former top ranked amateur in the world (2018) has been underwhelming in major championships, but I don’t believe that will last much longer. Joaquin Niemann is a major championship caliber player and has a real chance to contend this week at Valhalla.

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