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The Statistical Differences Between a Scratch Golfer and PGA Tour Player

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You might ask: How would I know the differences between a scratch golfer and a PGA Tour player? Well, it is my full-time job to know these type of things about golf. I have been studying the game from a statistical standpoint for 27 years. I created the Strokes Gained analysis website, ShotByShot.com, and work with PGA Tour members to extract clear answers from the Tour’s overwhelming 653 ShotLink stats.

My experience tells me that there is no such thing as an average game, no matter the handicap level. We’re all snowflakes and find our own unique way to shoot our number. With that said, ShotByShot.com’s 260,000+ round database enables us to create a composite sketch of the average golfer at each level. One of the beauties of our averages is that they are smooth across all five major facets so that every individual golfer’s strengths and weaknesses — and we all have them — stand out clearly by comparison.

The Data Used for this Study

  • Mr. Scratch: I averaged the 8,360 rounds in our database that match the zero handicap criteria. In other words, the rounds when Mr. Scratch actually played to his 0 handicap.
  • PGA Tour: The average of the 14,557 ShotLink rounds recorded in the 2015 season.

The Math

The USGA’s Course and Slope rating system does a sophisticated job of evaluating the relative difficulty of our golf courses. I joined my local course rating committee shortly after the new “Slope” system was added. My specific goal was to gain an understanding of how the system works so that I could effectively apply it in my analysis program.

Screen Shot 2016-07-06 at 2.04.31 PM

For the purposes of this article, the Course Rating reflects the relative course par for the scratch golfer. The chart below tells us that the PGA Tour scoring average is 2.25 strokes better than Mr. Scratch. Further, Tour players are playing courses that are 3.2 strokes more difficult. The net result is a 5.45-shot difference between Tour players and Mr. Scratch, but let’s just call it 5.5.

Driving

Screen Shot 2016-07-06 at 2.05.57 PM

The chart above shows us that the biggest piece of the 5.5-shot pie falls into the Driving category, or Distance, which makes sense to me. To play the game for a living, one must be able to hit it straight and far. Even Zach Johnson, with whom I have had the great pleasure of working with for five years, is often considered a short hitter. I contend that he is simply more intelligent and recognizes the true value of accuracy. Zach is averaging 281 yards this year, only seven off of the Tour average. Short? Not by my standards.

The chart below indicates that the driving distance gap between the Tour and Mr. Scratch is 33 yards. The average approach shot distance on the PGA Tour is 175 yards. Adding the 33 yards to all 14 driving holes puts Mr. Scratch’s average approach distance at just over 205 yards. The Strokes Gained value of this added distance is 2.52 strokes (0.18 per attempt x 14 driving holes = 2.52).

Accuracy and Errors Per Round

Mr. Scratch appears slightly better than the Tour in accuracy and errors per round. With added distance inevitably comes some reduced accuracy and more errors. I believe this slight edge would more than disappear if Mr. Scratch were using the Tour’s big-boy tees.

Screen Shot 2016-07-06 at 2.06.49 PM

*Driving errors = Balls hit out of play, penalties, or shots requiring an advancement to return to normal play.

Approach Shots

As you can see by the chart below, Mr. Scratch is slightly less accurate from the distances that account for 80 percent of the Tour approach attempts. I estimate that Mr. Scratch’s reduced accuracy would account for at least two fewer GIR’s per round, at a cost of 1.5 strokes. It is interesting to note that Mr. Scratch incurs an approach penalty with the same frequency as the Tour average (1 in every 5 rounds).

Screen Shot 2016-07-06 at 2.08.31 PM

Short Game

Mr. Scratch leaves his successful short game shots 1 foot farther from the hole. This difference in the range of 7-10 feet is worth 0.08 Strokes Gained. When multiplied by seven short game shots per round it’s 0.56 strokes, but we’ll call it half a stroke.

Screen Shot 2016-07-06 at 2.11.04 PMScreen Shot 2016-07-06 at 2.10.54 PM

I am ignoring the minor difference in errors (shots that miss the green). My theory is that Mr. Scratch attains his excellent scoring level through meticulous short game consistency. The Tour players are so good that they try to get even highest-risk shots close to the hole, confident that if they miss the green they will save the next — which they do 75 percent of the time. In 2015, only 25 percent of the short game shots that missed the green took more than three strokes to finally hole out.

Putting

As you can see from the chart below, Mr. Scratch is slightly less proficient in the ranges that account for the vast majority of 1-Putt opportunities on Tour. Mr. Scratch also 3-Putts 38 percent more frequently than the Tour average. The Strokes Gained impact of these differences over 18 holes would be 0.9 strokes — let’s call it 1 stroke.

Screen Shot 2016-07-06 at 2.12.25 PM

Conclusion

Bottom line, there is a measurable 5.5 stroke difference between Mr. Scratch and PGA Tour players. I have obviously not factored in the immeasurable effect of the added pressure and stress of teeing it up in a Tour event. Anyone who has participated in a PGA Tour Pro-Am will attest to the electric atmosphere and amplified pressure that comes with the experience.

If you want to try to get on the PGA Tour, your handicap needs to be a solid +3. If you want to support a family playing on tour, your handicap should be +5. Much easier said than done, however.

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In 1989, Peter Sanders founded Golf Research Associates, LP, creating what is now referred to as Strokes Gained Analysis. His goal was to design and market a new standard of statistically based performance analysis programs using proprietary computer models. A departure from “traditional stats,” the program provided analysis with answers, supported by comparative data. In 2006, the company’s website, ShotByShot.com, was launched. It provides interactive, Strokes Gained analysis for individual golfers and more than 150 instructors and coaches that use the program to build and monitor their player groups. Peter has written, or contributed to, more than 60 articles in major golf publications including Golf Digest, Golf Magazine and Golf for Women. From 2007 through 2013, Peter was an exclusive contributor and Professional Advisor to Golf Digest and GolfDigest.com. Peter also works with PGA Tour players and their coaches to interpret the often confusing ShotLink data. Zach Johnson has been a client for nearly five years. More recently, Peter has teamed up with Smylie Kaufman’s swing coach, Tony Ruggiero, to help guide Smylie’s fast-rising career.

113 Comments

113 Comments

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  4. William

    Aug 10, 2018 at 12:23 pm

    I would think Scratch players mostly play the same course or just a few courses. They have to be able to record the scores for their numbers. That means they are playing the same course all the time. Familiarity with greens and local knowledge are big in their scoring. . I think this certainly Skews the numbers.

    • William mcdonald

      Dec 4, 2018 at 5:19 pm

      I played a club event n Greg Norman was a competitor all players were amateurs I’m a 4.6 index Norman played at scratch his explanation was pros play at scratch seems ridiculous Is Norman correct

  5. TONEY P

    Jul 30, 2018 at 4:26 pm

    Why wouldn’t a tour average be be closer to par?

  6. Randolph Dewolf

    Jul 31, 2016 at 6:17 pm

    ___123___The Statistical Differences Between a Scratch Golfer and PGA Tour Player | GolfWRX___123___

  7. Richard Bance

    Jul 18, 2016 at 1:26 am

    It is pretty obvious. A scratch player could not make it as a PGA Tour Pro. They would need to be off about +5 or better to have a chance…..I am agreeing with the article…

    • Uno

      Jul 20, 2016 at 3:05 am

      Ian Poulter declared himself a Pro with a regular handicap of 4 and that’s not +4, just 4 and off he went

      • Steven hutchins

        Jan 3, 2017 at 1:40 pm

        Anyone can claim Pro, even the PGA the test is +11 over 2 rounds

  8. Grizz01

    Jul 10, 2016 at 10:06 pm

    I really wish people like the author here would quit taking stats and force facts from them. What is the difference between a scratch golfer and tour player? One guys works a job 40-50 hours a week and tries to squeeze in his golf game, the other does not. One guy has the absolute best of equipment, prototypes, coaches both swing and mental, the other does not. One guy watches his ball sail over the green and he has got to play it, which the other guy has a crowd to stop the ball or some kind of temporary structure to get a free drop from. As to distance, one guy gets rolled fairways which give 10-20 more yards, the other guy does not. One guy gets to play on a course that is brought to be in absolute perfect conditions. The other guy might get lucky and a play that day they cut all the fairways and greens. Oh lets not get into the perfect traps.

    So, let’s swish that around with all those other numbers.

    • mc

      Jul 15, 2016 at 8:14 pm

      Did you see the MASSIVE CROWD of people helping to look for Stricker’s ball in the rough today at The Open? And they only found the 2nd one, not the first! If I had them people, I would shoot 2 or 3 strokes better every round

    • KK

      Jul 20, 2016 at 6:57 pm

      How well do ams do at pro-ams? Must be the full-time jobs holding them back. Pros in golf are pros because of the same reasons LeBron James and JJ Watt are pros: talent and dedication. Circumstances have nothing to do with it.

  9. Andrew Cooper

    Jul 10, 2016 at 3:50 am

    Interested to know where the 255 yard average for the scratch player came from? I’d have put that more like 265-270 yards.

    • satch_boogie

      Jul 11, 2016 at 1:24 pm

      That would be interesting. Could be course length – if you’re playing the back tees you have a longer distance to the landing area than the forward tees have. So the guy on the forward tees might hit it shorter sometimes to keep it in the landing area.

    • Peter

      Jul 11, 2016 at 1:28 pm

      Good question Andrew. We do not capture driving distance in ShotByShot.com for several good reasons. I turned to an expert in the field of high end amateur golf. He has worked with top young amateurs for 25 years and seen many of them try and some succeed at making it on the big tour. I too thought that the average distance should be higher but let’s remember we are talking about a broad average.

  10. Dave

    Jul 9, 2016 at 10:55 pm

    God guys it’s a number in a box. Do you realize that only 1/2 of 1 percent of all the golfers in the world are below a 10 hcp. And scratch is good dam good.

  11. Nofiu Akano

    Jul 9, 2016 at 8:13 pm

    Beautiful article. I love it

  12. Paul

    Jul 9, 2016 at 6:29 pm

    This is very interesting. This topic has been hashed and rehashed many times before. About 13 years ago there were several Top 100 teachers and touring professionals who were asked this very same question. Jim McLean said the difference is between 15-16 strokes. Larry Nelson, senior pro, said the difference is between 12-15 strokes. Anyone who thinks it’s less than 10 strokes is absolutely delusional and out of touch with reality.

    • michael johnson

      Jul 10, 2016 at 6:21 pm

      no. as the stats show: difference is 5 strokes, maybe up to eight to a very good pro.

    • Alex

      Jun 3, 2020 at 6:09 pm

      It’s absolutely 15/16. Greens at 13/14, rough that’s nasty, 7500 yard course, and the fact those guys are green light go if they want to win. It’s not even close, not even a little bit. Pro golfers are a different breed.

      • Ben

        Oct 9, 2021 at 6:50 pm

        Not all the courses play like this. It’s averaged out. They don’t play Kiawah every week.

        Also the greens are absolutely pristine and this puts up averages for putts over 3 feet.

        These guys are obviously talented. But it’s good promotional hype to consider them some kind of different breed. They miss a lot of putts and a scratch player would not find their short game wildly different from their own.

        The article reflects exactly what I have witnessed with my own eyes while playing with mini Tour players who go on to the Tour: a 280 yard drive is way beyond what a regular player (even)scratch averages. I had to work for 2 months to add 30 yards to my drives. After that there was only the occasional pro who hit it further to the point it was noticeable. When you hit the ball 280+ yards you can play golf anywhere. When you can play the rest of the game we’ll and hit it 300+, you need to roll the dice and see if you can make it.

  13. Bigleftygolfet

    Jul 9, 2016 at 11:01 am

    This is a great article!!! I wish more high handicappers would read it so they stop asking “good amateurs” why they don’t play on tour! Everytime I shoot a sub par round in the company of a high handicapper I get asked this question and I tell them I would need to be 8-10 strokes better every day! When I finished college I tried the mini’s for the summer after I graduated carried a +4 Traveling handicap made some money but quickly realized there was a massive ability gap between myself and the people that can do this potentially as a living! I shot many rounds in the 60’s that did not make top 20! And that was on relatively easier “mini” tour golf courses (more similar to what the average golfer plays just from the tips). I did have the opportunity to play in two PGA tour qualifiers on big boy courses and I was happy to shoot a couple over par not making the cut but I quickly realized that my day job would not be golf! I don’t think the average golfer realizes how freakishly good the guys in the show actually are! I took a friend who played for years on the Nike tour (now retired) to a local club and he broke the course record first time seeing the place! That is how good these guys are they shoot sub seventy rounds every time they tee it up at a local course oftentimes with a really good chance of owning the course record assuming it is not already held by a well known tour player!

    Also I would argue that tour level courses setup by the PGA have a scoring rating and slope way above what GHIN allows for! I would say something more akin to 78 / 165!!! And forget about it when talking about a US Open in my prime twenty years ago I doubt I could shoot 75 on a us open course when I carried a legit +4!!!

    Hats off to the author of this article it really helps one appreciate just how amazing and talented these guys are!

    …Now back to my old man 3 handicap $25 weekend nassau! 🙂 This article just reminds me how bad I am at golf!

  14. WP

    Jul 9, 2016 at 6:20 am

    Every time this topic comes up I’m reminded of the fact that Luke Donald turned pro with a tournament +3 hdcp despite the horror stories of the guys in the +6 range that felt they weren’t good enough. Complicated issue and there is no doubt the difference between scratch and tour pro is staggering but I believe once you get to +3 (consistent and travelling) you have the requisite physical skill. After that, are you mentally tough enough to handle pressure, unfamiliar courses, and the inevitable swing of down time; do you have the money to bankroll your ‘learning curve’ on mini tours, etc.

  15. Uncle Buck

    Jul 8, 2016 at 10:32 pm

    Yeah, James hit that one right on the screws. Play a championship course if you ever get the opportunity, and tee your single digit handicap game up, oh, but before you do that, march back another 46 yards on each tee, THEN tee your pearl up! No range finders, just the card. I’ll be at the 19th hole waiting to hear about your alleged 4 hdcp.! I’ll also have an ice cold beverage and a bucket ‘o fries waitin’ for ya to sob into.

    • Jack

      Jul 9, 2016 at 12:16 pm

      Yeah totally. The article didn’t even take into account the tee box differences. You can be scratch even from the white tees. Tournament tees if available on your golf course are so far back most players would add a stroke a hole.

      • Grizz01

        Jul 10, 2016 at 10:10 pm

        Well, there is this thing called course rating and slope.

  16. James

    Jul 8, 2016 at 8:29 pm

    I played torrey pines south off the back tees and it made me appreciate that PGA tour players are freaks.

    • Double Mocha Man

      Jul 9, 2016 at 5:06 pm

      I played Pebble Beach off the middle tees and it made me appreciate that PGA tour players are freaks.

      • Achillesheels

        Jan 19, 2017 at 12:43 am

        I played Rancho Park Par 3 off the mats and it made me appreciate that PGA tour players are freaks.

  17. Jim

    Jul 8, 2016 at 7:44 pm

    Just a fact about golf, it is not just hard, it is very hard……even a 9 handicap playing a different course with 3 strangers can play to a 15 handicap and leave the course telling him/her self they will never post a low score again…golf is tough.

    • Rick

      Jul 8, 2016 at 7:53 pm

      amen to that….how many times Have you a had a good round at your home/usual course and after friends tossing their clubs in the car saying “ya, your some dam sandbagging 15, shooting a 79”, Then 2 days later playing with the men’s club shooting that same old 87 again…next day you go over and play with your cousin with his friends at their course and it is 87 again not that miracle sandbagging 79……golf on any level is hard.

  18. Bob Pegram

    Jul 8, 2016 at 7:17 pm

    Playing in tournaments regularly reduces the pressure factor on the touring pros (or anybody else who plays a lot of tournaments on different courses). It also provides a lot of motivation to practice A LOT!
    As somebody mentioned regarding Tom Kite, there are at least two different kinds of successful players on tour. One kind is like Kite – very consistent and very good – a golfing machine in every tournament. The other kind is very streaky. When they get hot they are almost unbeatable if they can keep it going for four rounds.
    Another factor that may sound odd at first glance is what playing daily does to a golfer physiologically. It tightens up the right muscles and loosens up the right muscles. That makes hitting consistently good shots, consistent contact, distance control, etc. a lot easier. For example, when I play a lot, my loose wrists tighten up, increasing my accuracy and quality of strike. My timing is more consistent. It is easier to maximize distance (and make it consistent) on every shot due to consistently better contact, etc. A lot of short game practice makes chips, pitches, and sand shots around the green easier as well. As several people have mentioned there are few amateurs with unlimited time to play and practice.

  19. Mississauga Jim

    Jul 8, 2016 at 3:07 pm

    I was a squash playing and teaching pro for twenty years. I’m way past my prime now, but this article is poignant. I played for money and ranking points for the national team. The difference between me and a superb club or college player was confidence and experience. Plus I hardly made errors.
    So in golf with so many different courses that’s one factor. Plus I can’t relate to the gallery pressure but I can relate to having to make a cheque to eat. Guys playing on mini tours, I can relate to that. My biggest cheques were only $2,500.00. But average was only about $1,200.00. I did a lot of lessons then.
    Those who say being a tour pro has so many advantages, well everyone you play against does too. You actually get super bored playing tournaments regardless of of your support system. The secret was always rest, not more of anything.
    Have a kid who plays pro hockey and played a ton in the NHL. Same difference. It’s all about not making mistakes and reliability. There’s a saying in pro sports: steady wins. At a very high level.
    And finally very few can handle the pressure. What I’ve seen it does to guys is heart wrenching. That’s why the drugs ( mostly coke) and alcohol. Plus the travel sucks. Hugely.

    • big

      Jul 8, 2016 at 9:47 pm

      People get super bored in other sports like squash or Pro Hockey because that’s played in the same square box, unlike golf. We don’t get bored in golf. The variety of courses and locations and climates and vegetation really keeps us entertained and on our toes.

  20. birdy

    Jul 8, 2016 at 3:01 pm

    haven’t read all coments, but anyone pointed out the fact that it compares all rounds of pga to scratch players rounds that were played to scratch.

    a big difference is tour players bad days are sooooo much better than a scratch’s bad day.

    a 74 bad day for a tour player is still most likely even to or under the course rating, while a scratch’s 79 bad day is several shots higher than course rating.

    take all these shots and now multiply them over 4 consecutive days, and pga guys are 25-40 shots better than mr. scratch if paired up over 4 rounds in pga event.

    • stephenf

      Jul 8, 2016 at 4:32 pm

      That’s it. It’s a lot more a matter of the worst rounds than the best rounds.

      Check out how few bogeys the top half or two-thirds of tour players make on average, and it really gets eye-opening at that point.

  21. Paul

    Jul 8, 2016 at 2:49 pm

    I heard a while back that Jim walker set a tournament at his home course prior to the Presidents cup and played as a +9. I play with + 4 and +5 once in a while. They have both said they are 3 solid strokes away from making money. My friend the +5 entered an amateur tournament where Graham Delete was also playing, he was a +7 at the time. By the way my friend the +5 was also ranked 50th in the World Ameteur rankings a few years back.

  22. stephenf

    Jul 8, 2016 at 2:13 pm

    I’ve seen similar comparisons, but none better than this one.

    There is, of course, that little factor called telling the truth. A lot of guys who say they’re scratch and who report scratch-level scores really aren’t.

    I was a plus-2 when I was playing a lot, with pro aspirations (I did play for money at a lower level, and also taught), but I have to admit chickening out with regard to the big show because I didn’t think I was solid enough mechanically to keep hitting it well for four straight days every week. It wasn’t that easy to hold it together even for the two- or three-round tournaments I was already playing. Some weeks it was gold, and I’d shoot way under par, but too often swing flaws would start magnifying as the tournament went on. Some weeks I played like a plus-5 and would shoot easy 66s and 67s, other weeks it was more like a scratch or 1-handicap, struggling for 71s and 72s, even the occasional mid-70s, which would’ve given me a lot of weekends off on tour. I did hit it pretty long, over the tour average at the time, and I had a short game I would’ve put up against anybody’s. But I just thought the full swing needed some evolution. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe it was a matter of getting scared off by inconsistency when that’s the nature of the game. I still think maybe I was too perfectionistic — maybe should’ve tried it anyway, since players do work things out and have to continue to work things out when they’re out there. Overthinking, maybe.

    Regardless, I can vouch for the fact that even a true scratch player is going to have to get better if he wants to play for a living. It’s not impossible with the right kinds of improvements and training, but I’m saying, you have to be aware of the true standard and at least get into that ballpark. And that’s for the people who are _actually_ scratch players, not the ones who think they’re scratch because they broke 70 once or twice and shoot some 72s and 73s here and there. (You know the guys — the ones who always shoot 79 when they’re playing with you.)

    • Bigleftygolfer

      Jul 9, 2016 at 11:28 am

      Well said, I completely agree with your post I had a similar life story and what makes me sleep better is the thought of I completely committed myself and was not good enough. I can live with that and i would not look at your story as being scared I would look at it as true introspection realizing there was a big gap with your ability to guarantee a living! This is nothing to be ashamed of! I would be lying if I did not dream about the tour everytime I shoot a sub 70 round but usually by the time I post the score and see all of the 75+ rounds in my GHIN I quickly get a dose of reality and instead have a beer at the bar and look forward to my office job come Monday morning!

      Also to support your decision my buddy who made money and a living before retiring playing on the NIKE tour use to tell me if you can’t have a real chance of owning the course record at every local club that you play then odds are you wont make a penny on tour and that includes the nike (now web.com) tours! As I stated in another post this guy broke the record at my local club first time he saw it years after he stopped playing competitively and he never earned a full time PGA tour card he was just a full time A-3 that is how good these guys are! Anybody not believing that the PGA tour guys are ten strokes better than scratch golfers are truly delusional and just trying to support a dream that they can one day play on tour.I would assume that most of these guys denying the greatness of a PGA tour pro can’t even beat their local club pro with regularity.

  23. TB

    Jul 8, 2016 at 1:55 pm

    One key distinction to make is the tour player stats are always calculated at tournaments whereas the scratch golfer typically playing home course (in general) isn’t playing tournament golf…he/she is not stepping on the tee thinking “If i hit two out of bounds off the tee, I still gotta finish the hole”…so BIG difference between tournament golf and playing home course with your buddies scratch golf. That’s why so many golfers at my home course with vanity handicaps shoot their WAD in the club championship and struggle to break 80 putting them all out, taking all penalties correctly, etc. REALLY good article but I concur with several other comments, 5 stroke difference is not really close…I have a hand full of friends who were all-american Div 1 golfers who never could get their tour card…and they’re DAMN good.

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  25. snowman

    Jul 8, 2016 at 12:32 pm

    I’d love to see this analysis for scratch vs 5 hdcp, 10, 15 hdcp.

    • Justin

      Jul 8, 2016 at 1:08 pm

      I’d bet the margin between “scratch” and tour is much wider than scratch and 5. In fact, I would even imagine the margin between scratch and +2 is wider than scratch and 5.

      • stephenf

        Jul 8, 2016 at 2:34 pm

        That’s in line with the idea of standard deviations, and I’d say you’re right.

      • snowman

        Jul 8, 2016 at 3:37 pm

        agree. the Tour Pros are playing a different game.

  26. Greg Guyotte

    Jul 8, 2016 at 12:24 pm

    Let’s not forget a few other advantages pga tour pros have.

    1) Great caddies. Vs. No caddy. Huge advantage getting help reading every putt, with research that already tells you which way is breaking and roughly how much. Information advantage.
    2) near ideal conditions. You won’t find yourself in an unraked bunker, or inconsistent conditions hole to hole.
    3) worst misses often not penalized. The number of free drops tour pros get due to grandstands, tv towers, cables, etc is not insignificant. Not to mention galleries which keep shots in play.
    4) unlimited time to play and practice,
    5) best in the world coaching
    6) all the time you need to make your body the best it can be
    7) equipment companies that put you in the best stuff and have you perfectly fit.

    I agree with most of the comments, PGA tour pros are amazing. However, i think living the life of a tour pro clearly makes you even better than you otherwise would be.

    • Justin

      Jul 8, 2016 at 1:05 pm

      I’m really glad you brought this up, because it’s all true.

      I’m a +2 and a number of scores that are included in my calculation are from courses that I have played only once. I enjoy traveling and playing different courses, but it somewhat penalizes what my actual handicap could be, as I’m playing many of these courses “blind.” If I had multiple practice rounds, a yardage book, and a good caddie, I’d have a decided advantage. Now, I can still shoot under par on courses I play for the first time, but this usually comes from taking the conservative route and playing a course that doesn’t have very many blind shots.

      On that same token, my best round at my home course is 8-under, and my course handicap for that course is +4 (rating 73.1, slope 133). I know all the little ins and outs like the back of my hand and know the breaks on every green. As someone mentioned earlier, people who play the majority of their rounds at their home course will have handicaps that are skewed a little lower than they should be. You have to have a game that travels in order to really know your true handicap.

      However, what people don’t think about is the discrepancy regarding the 2 situations I just mentioned. Scratch players are often penalized vs tour pros when it comes to playing new courses, but they also gain points if they have a home course they play consistently. Golfers who play a good mix of their home courses and other courses probably play to a handicap very similar to what their calculated number shows, while those that always play new courses are probably a little better than what is stated on the card.

      I’m used to thinking in terms of “me” and how I relate to a tour pro and I can tell you for a fact the only difference is time and commitment. I know I could make it, but how “long” it takes to make it would be the question. Most will never have the chance to even try because of the strain it would put on their families and themselves financially. Q-school is meant to be expensive to ward away people who aren’t 100% serious about the commitment and I think that’s a good thing. Time and commitment lead to the overall biggest difference…. consistency.

      I have no doubts I’d be right up there with the longest hitters on tour, and I definitely putt better on faster greens and play better overall on courses that are well manicured. My issue is still and will always seem to be consistency off the tee. One day I’m striping it, the next I’m fighting a hook, and the next I’m blocking every other tee shot out to the right. I have played at least 5 rounds this year where I’ve racked up 5 or more penalty strokes as a result of tee shots only and still broke 75. It’s frustrating, but it’s the game I’ll always have unless I commit time to practice. Sometimes we have to commit more time to our families and jobs and I think in the long run that’s most important. And on that note, I commend these tour players (especially those on web.com and mini tours) for living this life. Not all of them enjoy the security that the top guys do.

      • stephenf

        Jul 8, 2016 at 2:38 pm

        Pretty much what happened with me. I hear ya. (See reply in the Facebook-format questions above to Jim Kruppa, re things that tend to get better with experience and time, versus the true differentiators.)

    • Ben

      Oct 9, 2021 at 7:18 pm

      The Tour and golf in general is:

      1. Promotional. They have to hype it up.

      2.Gaslighting. People will constantly tell you something that your own eyes knows is not true. A +5 handicap can’t beat any Tour pro. You’re not good enough. These people have magical abilities. Oh, and don’t look at the half of the field’s scores that miss the cut.

      3. You have to fake it til you make it. The powers that be will decide whether you are good enough: the media, the golf commentators. Ever noticed how golf commentary is completely condescending to a “regular” tour pro who is leading an event? He’s “hanging in there”. He’s not Phil, so he can never be in the club. Case in point: Koepka. Won majors left, right and center and STILL had his nerve questioned. He can’t get in the club.

  27. Leon

    Jul 8, 2016 at 10:47 am

    Good work on the statistics and analysis. But the difference between a scratch player and a tour guy is not only 5 strokes, but more like +10.

    Just like all the quality comments, if you put the “traveling (unfamiliarity), insane green speed, tough pin locations, stink height of rough, total distance (7200-7400 vs 6600-6800), tens of thousands people watching and live TV broadcast, pressure from both inside and outside (such as sucker media), and some many other factors that a scratch player would not be exposed to during his normal condition. A scratch player will have little chance to break 80 in a PGA or even Web.com tournament, while the pros shot their 60s.

    Just as the Fedex ad says “These people are good”. They are not only good, they are unbelievably amazing.

    • stephenf

      Jul 8, 2016 at 2:44 pm

      Okay, but how meaningful is that kind of comparison (as in, what a local scratch player would shoot _today_ if thrown into the crucible on an unfamiliar course)?

      Seems to me the more meaningful comparison has to do with what the real differences are in the quality of game — what level of ballstriking it takes, how good the short game has to be, how good bogey avoidance is, etc., once the amateur is over the shock of spectators, pressure, unfamiliarity, etc.

  28. Andrew Cooper

    Jul 8, 2016 at 6:11 am

    The 255 yard driving distance for the scratch player is shorter than I would have thought? With tour average clubhead speed around 112mph, a Zach Johnson about 108-110, I’d say most scratch players would easily fall in the 105-110 range. So at 2-3 yards per mph, how do we get a 33 yard difference? Faster fairway conditions?

    • Mongo McMichael

      Jul 8, 2016 at 12:56 pm

      I think you’re on to something with the fairway conditions. They always seem to shave them down for tour events.

    • Justin

      Jul 8, 2016 at 1:16 pm

      I would imagine that data concerning statistics for scratch golfers (outside of raw score) is probably not very reliable. How many people keep track of driving distance? How many people find they hit the ball different distances on the course vs the launch monitor? We also tend to forget that these driving distances include holes where certain players hit less than driver and others hit driver.

      Think of this as an example…

      So far this year, Dustin Johnson is averaging 312.5 yards off the tee. Yet, he routinely hits drivers that carry 320 to 330 yards in the air. If the tour only calculated driving distance on tee shots hit with drivers, the margin between tour pros and scratch would be EVEN WIDER! The tour average would be much closer to 300 yards.

      • Mongo McMichael

        Jul 8, 2016 at 1:42 pm

        Well stated. That’s another excellent point.

      • Andrew Cooper

        Jul 8, 2016 at 3:14 pm

        Not sure about that. Here is Zach Johnson for example in 2016-average distance 281.5 yards, average ch speed 106.5 (fastest 109, slowest 103) from over 50 measured tee shots. Ok a lot of centred hits with good launch conditions, but still that’s a long average off a modest clubhead speed.

        • Jack

          Jul 9, 2016 at 12:25 pm

          He also hits it on the sweetspot most of the time.

          And to respond to the higher level post, scratch golfers are not required to play from the tips are they?

    • OFCCLefty

      Jul 8, 2016 at 1:24 pm

      You’re spot on with the fairways. I’ve played a few tour venues a week or so before events and the fairways are like concrete. I typically drive it around 285-295 and on the firm and fast fairways I averaged north of 315 (when hitting driver). The ball just runs so much. I agree that the rough is really penal, but if you keep it in the fairway, a 7400 yd tour course plays closer to a 6800 yd public course

    • stephenf

      Jul 8, 2016 at 2:48 pm

      Faster fairways matter, but it’s also true that clubhead speed isn’t all there is to long hitting. The better player’s angle of approach is almost always shallower and more efficient, and more from the inside relative to body lines, both of those factors being related, of course (if you get even fractionally outside the right inside path approaching the ball, you’re going to be steeper than you should be). And contact is generally more consistently on the right spot on the clubface. Those factors at any given speed make a significant difference.

  29. KK

    Jul 8, 2016 at 3:43 am

    Scratch golfers average 255 off the tee? That’s LPGA range and LPGA players are probably better in every other category. Levels below PGA pros.

    • Justin

      Jul 8, 2016 at 1:36 pm

      Remember that scratch golfers should be playing the back tees at any course, which probably averages around 7,000 yards for a par 72. On the LPGA Website, it lists the average courses played being between 6,200 and 6,600 yards. So, in reality, the LPGA pros are left with closer approach shots on average, which would definitely boost stats when compared with a longer approach.

      It would be interesting to find out how many scratch golfers are playing the correct tees and also playing courses that are long enough. Courses that are shorter are often rated lower, but for someone who drives the ball straight as a string every time would benefit more from a shorter course than they’d be hurt by the rating going down.

  30. Jack

    Jul 8, 2016 at 3:32 am

    I think visually, when you watch Mark Crossfield play against Euro tour pros, you can see the difference between scratch (I think he is probably a +1 to scratch golfer even though his short game stinks right now). Tour players have an edge in terms of distance, accuracy, short game, and even putting. So tough to be a tour player. You have to excel in all aspects. Driving 280 average is not enough. 300 is better. 320 is not necessary, since most guys who lead the field in distance are not even the leaders. It takes a serious dedication to fitness and training to reach those levels. Gone are the days when players could survive on talent and a beer gut.

    • stephenf

      Jul 8, 2016 at 2:50 pm

      A 280 average is in fact enough, if you’re good enough in other ways.

      And when exactly were the days “when players could survive on talent and a beer gut”?

      • Jack

        Jul 9, 2016 at 12:30 pm

        I think from the 80’s to 2000’s. Tiger Woods pretty much changed golf fitness.

        I think 280 is enough, but it makes it harder overall as regularly it seems it’s the guys averaging 300 winning. The approach shots are just that much closer in a game of a few stroke differences. Even Spieth who doesn’t consider himself long averages 296.

        • Grizz01

          Jul 10, 2016 at 10:14 pm

          Yes, he caused the PGA Tour to start requiring to pee in a cup.

        • kenny

          Jan 6, 2017 at 9:15 am

          Amazing that a golfer can change golf fitness 7 years before his first pro event..

      • Locode

        Jul 18, 2016 at 12:33 pm

        Stadler x2, Lietzke, Daly, Casper, Trevino, Knost, Mayfair, Herron, Petterson, Fat Jack, Bob Murphy, Maltbie, Barr, Blackmar, Zoeller… Just a small example of current and past players who survive(d) on talent and a beer belly.

  31. Jim

    Jul 8, 2016 at 12:58 am

    Pretty much right i played on a european tour setup off same tees as the tour pros ,having walked and scored as marshall for the top pros i saw the reality between them and us.my best score is a 66 and imconsidered long at my club.
    They hit it 3 clubs longer in drives so im hitting a 5 iron in when they were hitting 8 irons.
    They get it up and down from anywhere.
    Their long putting is superb.
    This was my personal experience and this does not factor in pressure which is another 5/6 shots more for amateurs.

  32. Felix

    Jul 7, 2016 at 7:46 pm

    Great article but tough to compare scratch golfers who more than likely have another full time occupation to the guys who have everything at their disposal and only have to worry about getting better.

  33. Dave

    Jul 7, 2016 at 6:45 pm

    Most of the guys I know that are scratch, aren’t scratch every course they go to. Surround those same scratch players with a few thousand people lining the fairway and dead silence when they’re putting and see what happens to their scores.

  34. K dawg

    Jul 7, 2016 at 6:04 pm

    Being a scratch player, I think this is pretty spot on if not a little generous to the scratch player. As soon as you add pressure most scratch players I play against go to water and barely break 80. Especially of the back tees.
    I would add though, I am sure I would play a few shots better per round if I played full time, played perfect conditions, had a full time caddy and a coach on call and had my equipment made by the tour van.

  35. Not quite

    Jul 7, 2016 at 5:37 pm

    As someone who carried a +3 to +4 for a few years, I think you’re still a ways off. Played with guys that couldn’t play nationwide with a +6 or 7 and my college coach who won on Hogan/Nationwide tour and played 9-10 US Opens, but couldn’t make it on tour with an UNREAL short game. These tour guys are serious good. The difference between Pro and Scratch is much larger than Scratch and a 5 handicap. Even if numbers-wise its only 5-6 shots, the quality of golf is in a completely different league. I would think the difference between a +3 and Pro on a Tour course is more than 5 a round.

    • Justin

      Jul 8, 2016 at 1:43 pm

      The biggest difference this article does not discuss is the mental side of things. Some guys just aren’t built for the tour and can’t hack it. If you play with them in a relaxed situation, they play like a superhero, but get them under the bright lights and things change. They are not bad golfers or bad people, it just takes a special type of mental talent to compete at the highest level.

    • stephenf

      Jul 8, 2016 at 2:54 pm

      If you played with guys who were plus-6 or plus-7 and couldn’t play on the Nationwide, they either weren’t actually at that level (all home-course, no competitive play, whatever) or they had some kind of competitive block going on. Anybody who’s at that level for real, on competitive golf courses, has got a game good enough to play for a living. The question is whether they have a head good enough to play for a living.

  36. mhendon

    Jul 7, 2016 at 5:19 pm

    I didn’t need this article to confirm the average PGA tour player is much better than a scratch golfer. I already knew that but I do find it hard to believe the avg scratch golfer only averages 255 of the tee. I’m much longer than that and play with guys all the time on this Am tour I’m a member of that hit it past me.

  37. us

    Jul 7, 2016 at 5:03 pm

    When Scratch player plays there are no spotters on the course to look for errant shots, and he’s not playing for millions of dollars. This study means nothing. But it has to be done.

    • Eddie

      Jul 7, 2016 at 5:19 pm

      You really think the pros gain a bunch of strokes on scratch players because they have spotters on the course?

      • Double Mocha Man

        Jul 7, 2016 at 5:59 pm

        I sometimes lose 2-3 balls a round in the rough just off the fairway. Never happens to a touring pro with galleries, marshals and spotters present. So right off the bat the touring pro has two strokes on me every round.

        • Double Mocha Man

          Jul 7, 2016 at 9:25 pm

          Smizzlers… always enjoy your comments even when they make no sense. Keep an eye on that grammar there, son…

        • Double Mocha Man

          Jul 8, 2016 at 10:57 am

          You’re wrong. I’m a 3. Wanna play for smizzle bucks?

          • stephenf

            Jul 8, 2016 at 2:55 pm

            Yeah, just ignore the snark and keep playing.

  38. Adam

    Jul 7, 2016 at 4:38 pm

    One thing I didn’t see in the comments was the fact that the non-tour players are often not quite as strict with the rules – improper drops, gimmes, etc. It’s amazing how many people’s scores shoot up when they have to count everything, have to go back to the tee box when they lose one in the woods, etc.

    I once played a practice round with guys that were going to play in a Monday qualifier for what’s now the Web.com tour. I was a 6 at the time, and my regular playing partner was a +.4. I remember thinking afterwards that the gap between me and my buddy was much smaller than the gap between him and these guys – and they weren’t even on the AAA tour yet. It’s easier said than done, but the scratch golfer just needs to drive it about 250 and in play, hit most greens and two putt, and miss in good enough spots to get up and down most of the time. Sneak in a couple of birdies to offset a couple of bogeys. Do this half the time and you’re scratch. That’s pretty much what my buddy did. The quality of the shots by the Web.com qualifiers was on a totally different level.

    • Rick

      Jul 9, 2016 at 7:38 pm

      RIGHT ON and the worst thing ever is to get in a blind draw 4 man scrabble (A<B<C<D players) and have an A player that got his 7 handicap not 100% following the rules or playing from short tees or even being selective with his postings….it is called the "REVERSE SANDBAGGER"….and it happens almost as much as the 7 playing as a 12.

  39. Tom

    Jul 7, 2016 at 3:34 pm

    The Percentage Difference Between A Scratch Golfer And A PGA pro.

  40. EagleM.

    Jul 7, 2016 at 2:59 pm

    -3 and -5, right?

    • Alex

      Jul 7, 2016 at 6:26 pm

      no, +3 and +5 means 3 and 5 under, respectively.

  41. ooffa

    Jul 7, 2016 at 2:32 pm

    zzzzzzz

  42. Max

    Jul 7, 2016 at 2:06 pm

    I read an article somewhere that said close to the same thing. It also said that for any given week on Tour the Winner was playing to the equivalent of a +10

    • stephenf

      Jul 8, 2016 at 2:57 pm

      Love to see the methodology for that. A plus-10 most weeks would mean scores in the 24-to-30-under-par range, which…no.

      • Bigleftygolfet

        Jul 9, 2016 at 11:09 am

        Actually not true when you consider the scoring average and slope for a PGA tour course would be a conservative 76/77 / 155+ slope once you consider this the average winning four round score is right in line with the numbers being posted.

  43. Matt

    Jul 7, 2016 at 2:04 pm

    Makes it even harder when by the math you are only suppose to shoot your handicap 24% of the time, so Tour Pros are 5.5 shots better than a scratch player 24% of the time and even better the other 76% of the time.

    The math; Handicap is 10 best out of last 20 scores so 50% and then its the Average Differential of those 10 scores so 25% of the time and then you multiply by .96 so 24% of the time.

  44. Birdieman

    Jul 7, 2016 at 2:00 pm

    Good info. As a +1 that tried mini toiurs years ago, distance and consistency from outside 175 were always what I felt held me back, and this confirms it.

    I think it will be even more so over the next 10 years. Kids just kill the ball now. My 14 year old flies it 300. Even at my peak I hit it 285 with roll. The game is for bombers that play aggressive. Kill it. Aim for the pin. Worry about the rest later.

    • Eddie

      Jul 7, 2016 at 5:23 pm

      Spieth, Sneds, Furyk, ZJ, McDowell, Stricker all find success without killing the ball.

  45. TheCityGame

    Jul 7, 2016 at 1:54 pm

    It is important to note that this isn’t a PGA average against scratch golfer. This is a PGA average against the 10 best of the last 20 rounds of scratch golfers. As you said, ” the rounds when Mr. Scratch actually played to his 0 handicap.” It’s ALL the PGA rounds (good and bad) against the GOOD rounds of Mr. Scratch.

    Still, people aren’t going to believe you.

    This punctures the myth that OMG THESE GUYS ARE GODS!!! That they’re +8’s and +10’s.

    I don’t think teeing it up under “PGA Pressure” has any effect on these guy’s scores, either. Yeah, it might for Joe Schmo teeing it up in a pro-am. These guys got there because they play well under pressure.

    Interesting write-up. Thanks.

    • Chuck

      Jul 7, 2016 at 3:22 pm

      Yes, you’ve made good points that I agree with, and the one I was going to add was this:

      Tour players are looking at a new course every week. They are playing out of hotel rooms and suitcases; flying week to week, and can’t just decide not to play because of a sore back or an nasty argument with a wife or because they just don’t feel like playing that day because it is too hot or too windy or nasty.

      It is a phenomenally difficult task, to be on all the time and to play at that level when the schedule tells you that that is when you play. And almost never get to spend the night of a tournament in your own bed.

      • stephenf

        Jul 8, 2016 at 3:01 pm

        True, but lots of people have jobs that require physical action under difficult conditions. As for the “new course” aspect, that unfamiliarity goes away with practice rounds and repeated years, and they get yardages marked to the inch, not to mention caddies who tend to know the place.

        That’s not to say they’re not skilled. It’s just that they’re not as superhuman as portrayed. They’re highly skilled humans who have developed those skills over time and experience, like anybody who’s really good at a job.

        • Bigleftygolfet

          Jul 9, 2016 at 11:05 am

          No they are superhuman at golf! I have played alongside these guys and to the casual observer one may think there are similarities between a good amateur and a tour player but take my word for it the gap is absolutely 8-10 strokes!

  46. Steve

    Jul 7, 2016 at 1:49 pm

    With the time to practice like a tour player I suspect the scratch golfer’s short game would improve significantly.

  47. Marty

    Jul 7, 2016 at 1:28 pm

    You need to add to your statement about being a +3 to make it on the PGA Tour. You need to be a +3 and play everywhere, not just at your home course that you know like the back of your hand.

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Opinion & Analysis

2023 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am: Betting Tips & Selections

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Here we go again.

After the multi-course American Express and the two-track Farmers, the PGA Tour arrives at the legendary Pebble Beach for this week’s AT&T.

Shorter than the average tour event, the coastline course/s deliver a reasonably simple test for the high-level celebrities and their professional playing partners, but this changes dramatically should any of the famed coastal weather arrive.

Bad enough for those paid to hit a dimpled ball, it can turn an amateur’s enjoyable (and expensive) round into something horrendous like this.

Three players clearly stand head-and-shoulders above the rest, both in terms of quality and world ranking, and they do have figures that justify that – in spades.

Favourite Jordan Spieth is the King of Pebble. His record here is unsurpassed, and he relishes the challenges of this seaside terrain.

However, with no serious turn in conditions, I’m not sure his current game is much to go on. The 29-year-old has missed the cut in two of his last six starts, the best results coming in limited field events at two of the FedEx play-off events and the Tournament of Champions.Not as if Spieth needs to be in form – he won the RBC Heritage last year after a run of mc/35/35/mc, but even a win, runner-up, third , fourth, seventh and ninth, it always feels as if you take your life in your own hands when backing him at 10/1 and less.

Matt Fitzpatrick and Viktor Hovland make up the elite trio, all residing in the top-16 of the world rankings.

Both justify being alongside the Texan at the top of the market, although until last season’s closing sixth place finish, only Fitz’s 12th at the 2019 U.S Open was worth noting from an event formline of missed-cut and 60th.

Interestingly, the Norwegian matched that finish three years ago, becoming low amateur for the second major in a row, and both are hard to argue against.

With combined wins in Mayakoba, Puerto Rico and Dubai, as well as top finishes at various Open championships, conditions suit both equally well. Choosing between them is tough enough, but with home players winning 27 of the last 30 events held here (17 of the last 18) and with doubts about the motivation for playing this week, they can all be left alone at combined odds of around 9/4.

The draw is probably as crucial here as any other event, with Pebble Beach having some of the smallest greens on tour and Spyglass Hill being affected occasionally by similar winds. Make the score at Monterey Peninsula, if at all possible.

Despite the quality up front, the section that includes defending champion Tom Hoge, Maverick McNealey, Andrew Putnam and Seamus Power has equally strong credentials for the title.

Hoge aims to become only the second player to defend this title since 2000 and, whilst playing as well as ever, is no Dustin Johnson, whilst it’s hard to put McNealey in front of the Irishman given the latter’s 2-0 lead in PGA Tour wins, and 3-zip if you count the KFT.

Power ranks in the top echelons of players with form at short courses and is easy to make a case for in an event at which he opened up a five shot lead at one point last year, before finishing in ninth.

The 35-year-old has never been better, now ranked inside the top-30 after a season that included that top-10 here and again at Southern Hills, a top-12 behind Fitz at Brookline, third at Mayakoba and fifth at the RSM. The highlight, of course, was the victory in Bermuda, sitting nicely with his first victory at the Barbasol, that Kentucky event showing links to proven coastal/short course player Kelly Kraft (runner-up here to Spieth in 2019) and Aaron Baddeley and Kevin Streelman, with six top-10 finishes between them at the AT&T.

Rather like the player he beat in that Barbasol play-off (J.T Poston) Power is fairly easy to read, and although the very nature of pro-ams doesn’t suit everyone, the course make-up suits perfectly.

Usually consistent and in the top echelons for tee-to-green, greens-in regulation, and for up-and-down, Power comes here looking to recover from an unusually poor performance on the large Abu Dhabi putting floors. Certainly the figures look awry compared with his 10 strokes gained for tee-to-green and 12th for around-the-green, and it’s easy to see improvement in California, where in 2022 he lay in fourth place into Sunday at the pro-am at La Quinta, as well as a previous ninth place finish at the Barracuda (fifth into Sunday).

He’s the best of the week but I’m also including:

Alex Smalley – We were on 26-year-old Smalley for the American Express a few weeks ago and he was going well until the PGA West (Nicklaus) caught him out, causing a drop into 62nd from 21st place, and close to two of the other three selections this week, as well as Garrick Higgo, who just missed out due to lack of experience here.

The recovery into a place just outside the top-20 was impressive, though, with a final round 63 comprising 10 of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens in regulation, as well as making all his putts under 10 feet.

Those sorts of figures have been expected from the outstanding Duke graduate, who made his PGA Tour debut as an amateur at the 2017 U.S Open. Since then, it hasn’t been plain sailing, indeed he has yet to win an event despite an excellent return to this level in 2022.

Starting with a best-of-Sunday 65 to finish tied runner-up at Corales, he then finished in the top six behind Jon Rahm and co in Mexico, 10th at the Scottish Open and 13th at Sedgefield.

Since October, Smalley has made seven of nine cuts, highlights being 11th at Bermuda and a pair of top-five finishes at the RSM and Houston, all contributors to the tee-to-green stats that see him rank 1/2/6/11/13 for his ball-striking and significant given the test this week..

He couldn’t get it going at Waialae for the Sony but followed up the La Quinta effort with a top-40 at Torrey Pines, when his tee-to-green game was again perfectly respectably ranked in 33rd given the strength of the field.

Runner-up in the Dominican Republic, fourth and 15th in Houston, and with form at Colonial and Bermuda, this looks the prefect test for a player that at least had a look last year, and that the bookmakers simply cannot make their mind up about.

Robby Shelton – Makes his event debut here this week in his second time at the top level, but the former Walker Cup player has enough relevant form to make him of interest, particularly after a sixth place at the multi-course American Express a few weeks ago, his best finish in California so far.

Shelton included Scottie Scheffler and Ben Griffin as play-off victims when winning two of a total of four KFT events in 2019 and 2022, coming here after making eight out of ten cats (yeah, I know) since arriving back on tour in September.

Best efforts are 15th at the Shriners and a top-10 at the RSM, but let’s also throw in a sixth at Mayakoba, 11th at the Honda and a top-20 in Texas.

This is a drop in class, and significantly in distance, from Torrey Pines and I’d expect to see more advantage taken here.

Harrison Endycott – One of the Player To Follow for this season, it’s hard to work out exactly what the 26-year-old Aussie wants in terms of course set-up, but given his heritage and junior career, it’s fairly certain he can play well in the wind.

Having made his way through the grades including a win, two top-10s and two top-20s on the KFT, he wasted little time making his mark at the highest level, finishing tied-12th at the Fortinet in California, a joint best-of-the-day 65 launching him up the board on day three.A month later, Endycott started the Bermuda Championship with a pair of double-bogeys before signing for an opening nine-under 62, the catalyst for another career top-10, and in November he overcame a poor opening round at his home PGA Championship (111th) before flying through the field as the event progressed, finishing a never-nearer 18th behind Cam Smith.

Even the missed-cut at the Australian Open was not devoid of promise, an opening 68 seeing him start the second round in 7th place.

With a pedigree in Australia and a residence in Scottsdale, I’ll take the chance he will find something back in California, scene of the best of three events in 2023 – 22nd at the American Express – when his game showed the all-round prowess it did in Scottsdale – top-11 in approach and top-15 tee-to-green.

Recommended Bets:

  • Seamus Power – WIN
  • Alex Smalley – WIN/TOP-5
  • Robby Shelton – WIN-TOP-10
  • Harrison Endycott – WIN/TOP-20
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Opinion & Analysis

2023 Farmers Insurance Open: Betting Tips & Selections

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Get your bets on earlier than usual this week as the Farmers Insurance Open runs Wednesday to Saturday, the advancement of a day avoiding a clash with the NFL Conference Championship games.

We raise the bar a notch as the tour reaches Torrey Pines, a course used for this (and related) events since 1968, although the current set-up on the South Course now measures almost 1000 yards than the one seen 55 years ago.

Now utilising the easier North Course for one round, players will still need to have their grinding game as the weekend progresses over a course re-configured for the 2021 U.S Open – won by this week’s hot favourite Jon Rahm – and one that has seen the last three winners score no better than 15-under.

As my learned GolfWRX colleague says:

While last year’s winner Luke List was a shock, beaten play-off rival Will Zalatoris certainly fits the bill in becoming the last of a long line of contenders at Torrey that have challenged at the majors.

Patrick Reed, Marc Leishman, Justin Rose and, of course, seven times Torrey winner Tiger Woods, would all be seen as elite in their time, and you can confidently add the likes of runners-up Tony Finau, Adam Scott and Xander Schauffele to those.

Greens change to Poa Anna this week, and with the home course possessing suitably tough greens, players need solid tee-to-green games to remain with a chance down the back-stretch on Saturday afternoon. Forget the pitch and putt of La Quinta and friends, this week is far from a repeat.

You would be forgiven for thinking this is the Woods era, a solid 4/1 shot heading the market.

Tiger he is not, but having won four of his last five events and winning the Farmers here in 2017 and the U.S Open four years later, Jon Rahm carries almost unbeatable status into this week. However, much depends on getting the right draw over the first two days – at the price he can be left alone.

With the trophy likely to go to one of the better fancied players, here’s a chance to select two or three from the next half-dozen and still look at a better return than backing the favourite – and, for me, Tony Finau and Jason Day fit the bill.

Unlike someone like J.T Poston, I can’t seem to call Tony Finau right, but if he is ever going to repay the faith, it is here.

Having raised his game to another level in winning back-to-back at Minnesota and Detroit, the 33-year-old was fancied to go well in Mayakoba. Naturally, he missed his first cut since the US Open in June, subsequently gagging up in Houston, making it three wins in seven starts – not Rahm (or Scheffler of early ’22) but not far behind.

Fancied to do another back-to-back special, Finau then withdrew from the RSM Classic before probably needing the run-out when 7th at the Hero World Challenge. – extremely frustrating but, on face value, continuing a career-best run.

2023 has seen encouragement in both starts, with eight rounds in the 60s leading to a seventh place at Kapalua and a most recent 16th at last week’s pro-am jolly, where he came from outside the top 60 on Thursday and from 34th at the cut mark.

Finau’s tee-to-green game remains of the highest class, ranking ninth in ball-striking over three months and third over six, but it’s now matched by a putting prowess that takes advantage of his constant green finding.

Events may be limited, but over the last 14 rounds or so, Big Tone leads the tour in putting average, beating even the likes of flying Jon Rahm. Sure, you can regard that as a skewed stat, so take it over another 12 weeks and he is in third – remarkable for someone that just a year ago was known for missing the vital ones.

Take the 2021 U.S Open away and Finau has four top-six finishes and a pair of top-20s here, and ignore last year’s missed weekend too – he was in the top-10 after the first round and was simply not at the races on day two.

Finau’s record on poa greens reads well enough – he won the Rocket Mortgage, and has top-10s at Riviera, Winged Foot and Olympia Fields, the latter pair giving credence to the Torrey/majors connection, whilst connecting Memorial form sees him record two top-10s and two top-15 finishes.

Being unconvinced that either Zalatoris’ or Justin Thomas’ games are pitch perfect, TF looks the best challenge to the favourite.

The favourite’s record in California is almost too good to be true, with four wins, seven top-5s and three top-10s but if anyone can challenge that, it’s surely Jason Day, who looks as if he is now fully recovered from injury and personal tragedy.

Winner here in 2015 and 2018, the Aussie also boasts a runner-up, third and fifth place around tough Torrey and an average position of 15th from 14 Pebble Beach outings. He loves California.

Having dropped from world number one to outside of the top-100 in five seasons, the 35-year-old has fought back from adversity to make his way back up the rankings, helped by a pair of top-10 finishes at, no surprise, Pebble and Torrey.

In order to protect what has been a fragile back, the 16-time major top-10 star reached out to swing coach Chris Como, formally an aide of Tiger Woods.

“Going into this year I did some swing changes with my coach, and I feel like those are slowly cementing themselves in there,” Day said on Golf Channel.

“I’m shallowing it out,” Day continued. “The swing has changed dramatically. It took me about a year and half to get the body correct, and the body movement correct until I could actually get into shallowing it out correctly.”

Judged on the latest figures, it seems to be coming together nicely.

Day ended 2022 with four cuts from five, including 8th at Shriners, 11th at the CJ Cup, 21st at Mayakoba and 16t in Houston, and last weekend finished in the top 20 at La Quinta having been third after two rounds.

16th for ball-striking over the last three months, slightly better over six, his top-30 for driving accuracy has led to a similar ranking for greens found. Take that, and any improvement, into an event he enjoys more than most, and we have a winning formula.

Away from the top, it’s hard to get excited about the chances of many.

Having nabbed a big-priced second last week with one of the 12 Players-to-Watch 2023, it is tempting to go back in again on Davis Thompson on a course that may suit even better. However, hitting 14 out of 18 greens at the Stadium Course is a far cry from a debut at Torrey Pines and he may just need the sighter.

Taylor Montgomery calls himself after his fourth top-five in just nine full-time starts on the PGA, particularly after a debut 11th as a sponsor’s invite last year. Prices in the 20s don’t appeal at all against proven and regular winners though, so take a chance on another top finish from the defending champion Luke List.

For someone that believes List is Dye-positive, his first win on the poa greens of Torrey Pines was a bit of a shocker.

I put the 38-year-old up as a lively top-10 bet last week, when the thought process was that this long driver should only need to drive and flip to the greens, but sadly his game was all over the place. However, I’ll take another chance in conditions that clearly suit last year’s play-off victor, a win that came off four straight cuts here that included a 10th and 12th placed finish.

Since the start of the 2022 season, List has 11 top-25 rankings for driving, five for approaches and seven for tee-to-green, whilst it was only a couple of starts ago that he matched the best at Kapalua.

As for the fabled short stick, it’s a case of being with him when he just works better than field average – 6th at Bethpage Black, in two of his four completions at Riviera and in three of five outings at Silverado, all of a  similar grass type.

Players constantly repeat form here at Torrey, so whilst he may not do a 1-2 or, indeed, a 2-1 on the lines of Mickelson, Day, Snedeker and Leishman to name a few, List is very capable of pulling out a finish on the first two pages of the board.

Recommended Bets:

  • Tony Finau Win 
  • Jason Day Win-Top-5 
  • Luke List Top-10 
  • Luke List Top-20 
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Opinion & Analysis

2023 American Express: Betting Tips & Selections

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Last week’s Sony Open saw the unusual occurrence of a top-10 devoid of a name that had played the Tournament of Champions, and yet eventual champion Si Woo Kim won his fourth PGA event, all on Bermuda greens.

Sometimes, like picking the week that a poor putter knocks in 30-footers, it’s just picking the right stat on the right day.

The tour makes the annual return to southern California for the charity pro-am event, where in its 63 history many courses have played host to the great and the good of the entertainment world. And Bill Murray.

For us, concerned with only who might win and at what price, we return to a three course rotation on which one one player in the last 16 years has won in under 20-under and an in an event that has seen four of the last 10 winners start at triple figures, with Adam Long going off at 500-1+.

Put simply, the set-up is too easy to enjoy it too much, players won’t miss many greens, and, as Adam Long said, “you can make a lot of putts because these greens on all three courses are just perfect. So you can make them from all over.”

The front of the market is classier than normally found here, but with the combined price of the top eight, we are asked to take around 4-6 that any of those win. Sure, that’s highly likely, but many of that octet have thrown away winning chances over the last few months, and the obvious man to beat, Jon Rahm, threw his hands in the air last year, calling this a less than satisfactory set-up.

In an event that is worth looking at after the cut – the average halfway position of winners over the last five years is 8th – the suggestion is to play a touch lighter than usual, with just two selections in the pre-event market.

Short tracks that reward consistent tee-to-green and putting efforts see me look for ‘The Real JT’ at every opportunity, and at 60/1 I can’t resist putting James Tyree Poston up as the best of the week.

Winner of the 2019 Wyndham Championship in 22-under, from course specialist Webb Simpson, JT confirmed then his love for Bermuda greens, something he had shown when seventh here and sixth at Harbour Town a few months earlier. The Wyndham, incidentally, home to a trio of wins by Davis Love III, a confirmed Pete Dye specialist.

Fast forward to 2022 and, after a solid all-round performance at sub-7000 yard River Highlands, the 29-year-old comfortably won the John Deere Classic, where he again proved too good for some charging rivals, from tee-to-green and on the dancefloor.

Poston’s best form outside of his two wins is at the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town, another specialist Dye/DL3 track, where he has a record of 3/mc/8/6 and where he has ranked in fifth and seventh place for tee-to-green.

After a solid top-10 at the top-class Tour Championship at the end of last season, Poston comes here after a solid run of 21st at the RSM, the same at Kapalua and 20th at last week’s Sony, ranking 6th and 13th for tee-to-green in both of the more suitable, shorter tracks, all of which have Bermuda greens.

Now teetering on the edge of the world’s top 50, Poston probably can not compete on the longer, elite courses. He’ll need to take advantage of ‘his’ tracks, and, with a 7th and 25th already in his locker around here, this event is most definitely one of those.

I’d like to have been with Andrew Putnam, playing excellent golf, making his last 13 cuts, and holding an enviable course record, but at the same price as last week he’s just left out given the tougher opposition. Top that with a tendency to throw away a weekend lead (Barracuda, AT&T and the RSM just a couple of months ago) and I’d rather be with Alex Smalley who has gone the opposite direction, now trading at more than double his price for the Sony just seven days ago.

The 26-year-old Duke graduate played in both the 2019 Arnold Palmer and Walker Cup sides, finishing with a record of three wins from four at each, before gaining his PGA Tour card when recording three top-five finishes and two top-15s on the KFT, eventually finishing 12th on the 2021 KFT finals lists.

Included in his 2021 season was a 14th at Corales, and he showed that to be no fluke when finishing in the top 15 at both Bermuda and Houston, both with similar greens as he will find this week.

2022 was a big year for Smalley, starting with a best-of-Sunday 65 to finish tied runner-up at Corales, finishing in the top six behind Jon Rahm and co in Mexico, 10th at the Scottish Open and 13th at Sedgefield.

Since October, Smalley has made five of seven cuts, highlights being 11th at Bermuda and a pair of top-five finishes at the RSM and Houston, all contributors to the tee-to-green stats that see him rank 1/2/6/11/13 for his ball-striking.

The second-season player was always on the back foot at Waialae last week, finishing the first round way down the pack after the first round. Cross that out and I’m struggling to see why he’s been dismissed by the oddsmakers for his second attempt at a course that found him ranked top-10 off the tee just 12 months ago.

There is a lingering fantasy around Luke List, whose 11th at the long Kapalua course might indicate a solid run this week. Given his first two wins came at Pete Dye related tracks (South Georgia designed by Davis Love, five time champion at Harbour Town) and Sawgrass Valley (the very name giving away its Dye/Bermuda links) he is clearly one to watch, even if he is simply one of the worst putters on tour.

He may be left behind by a few around this putter-heavy track, but he has a best of a 6th place finish in 2016 and a pair of top-22 finishes over the last two seasons. List should only have to flip wedges to many of these greens, and should he simply finish field average in putting as he did when finding over 11 strokes on the field at Torrey Pines (yes, 11 strokes. Plus 11 strokes) he will land a top-20 wager.

Reccomended Bets:

  • J.T Poston WIN/TOP-5
  • Alex Smalley WIN/TOP-10
  • Luke List TOP-20
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