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How valuable is hitting the fairway, really?

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Hitting more than 50 percent of fairways has long been considered a good goal for amateur golfers. The winners on the PGA Tour tend to hit 70 percent. I have long maintained, however, that it is not the number of fairways HIT that matters. Instead, it is the relative severity of fairways MISSED.

Think about it. By the one-dimensional Fairways Hit stat, every miss is the same. A perfect lie in the first cut is exactly the same as a drive in a hazard… or even OB. There is nothing in the 650+ PGA Tour stats about this. In all, there are 60 stats in seven categories that relate to driving performance, but none about penalties! Like PGA Tour players don’t make any?

Let’s see exactly how important the old tried-and-true Driving Accuracy (Percentage of Fairways Hit) really is. To test it, I used two data clusters: the 2017 PGA Tour season (14,845 ShotLink rounds) and my ShotByShot.com database for the average male golfer (15 to 19 handicappers – 4,027 rounds).

For the graph below, I started with the No. 1-ranked player in the Driving Accuracy category: Ryan Armour. He certainly was accurate by this measure, but why did he only rank 100th in 2017 Strokes Gained Off the Tee with a barely positive 0.020?

Next I looked at the actual top-5 PGA Tour money winners (J. Thomas, J Spieth, D. Johnson, H. Matsuyama and J. Rohm), the 2017 PGA Tour average, and all PGA Tour players that missed the cut in 2017. We all know the significant scoring differences between these three categories of players, but it’s difficult to see a meaningful difference in the fairways hit. They’re not even separated by half a fairway. How important could this stat be?

For those that have not tried ShotByShot.com, our analysis includes Strokes Gained and Relative Handicap comparisons. That enables users to easily differentiate between FIVE MISS categories below based upon severity. The final three categories are what we consider to be Driving Errors:

  1. Good lie/Opportunity: One can easily accomplish their next goal of a GIR or advancement on a par-5.
  2. Poor Lie/Opportunity: One could accomplish the next goal, but it will require a very good shot.
  3. No Shot: Requires an advancement to return to normal play.
  4. Penalty-1: Penalty with a drop.
  5. OB/Lost: Stroke and distance penalty, or shot replayed with a stroke penalty.

As we are fortunate enough to work with several PGA Tour players at Shot by Shot, we have access to ShotLink data and can provide those clients with the same valuable insight.

Let’s see how the frequency and severity of driving errors relates to the above groups of players (removing Mr. Armour, as he simply helped us prove the irrelevance of Driving Accuracy). The graphs below display the number of Driving Errors per round and the Average Cost Per Error. Note the strong and consistent correlation between the number and the cost of errors at each of the four levels of performance.

Finally, the average cost of the errors is heavily driven by the three degrees of severity outlined above (No Shot, Penalty, OB/Lost). The graph below compares the relative number and cost of the three types of errors for the average golfer and PGA Tour players. The major difference is that PGA Tour players do not seem to have a proper share of OB/Lost penalties. I found only TWO in the 14,000+ ShotLink rounds. While I accept that the most severe faux pas are significantly less frequent on the PGA Tour, I also believe there must have been more than two.

Why so few? First and foremost, PGA Tour players REALLY ARE good. Next, the galleries stop a lot of the wayward shots. And finally, I believe that many of the ShotLink volunteer data collectors may not actually know or care about the difference between a Penalty and OB/Lost.

Author’s Note: If you want to know your Strokes Gained Off the Tee (Driving) and exactly how important your fairways and the misses are, log onto ShotByShot.com for a 1-Round FREE Trial.

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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.

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Jason

    Mar 19, 2018 at 4:58 pm

    Players know where the boundaries of the shot are, and they aren’t always the boundaries of the fairway. At my course (lots of water, light rough) you’re regularly playing up the side and a good (but not great) shot will find the harmless light rough. Likewise, an aggressive tee shot over a corner might run out of fairway, but the distance saved is worth the small cost of maybe catching light rough. The best pros might not find the fairway as often simply becasue they trust their game enough to take the more challenging line – and know that they can handle a small “penalty” in the form of light rough (and fairway missed stat) if that’s the price. So yeah, fairways hit doesn’t matter, the only thing that matters is the ‘did you hit it somewhere you were ok with standing over the ball’ stat – and I’m not sure how you measure that, except that it probably correlates with good judgement, temperament and good skills. Not sure there’s a stat for it though, and not sure there needs to be.

  2. James T

    Mar 19, 2018 at 10:27 am

    “How valuable is hitting the fairway, really?”

    After Sunday, ask Tiger Woods.

  3. Bruce Hart

    Mar 18, 2018 at 11:01 am

    If I miss a fairway, especially if I’m playing by myself, I may never find the ball which would mean slowing play by going back to the tee (or hitting a lot of provisionals) or just not playing by the rules (which is what I usually do). Sometimes even hitting the fairway isn’t a guarantee because the ball can plug. I have found that bright Volvik Vivid balls can help. When the rough is up, it’s windy and clover are everywhere I can’t afford to spray driver. I’d like to do an experiment where you take a pro and put them on a standard muni course (no gallery, no grandstands, no tv coverage, no spotters) by themselves and see how many lost balls they have. I think the pros play a different game.

  4. CrashTestDummy

    Mar 18, 2018 at 2:14 am

    There still is a premium on good ball striking. Yeah the severity of fairways missed matters, but the best ball strikers will have much less severe missed fairways. The best ball strikers are always at the top of the leaderboards consistently. Whenever their ball striking goes awry they start missing cuts. When they miss putts, they are still making cuts or placing well because they are avoiding bogeys and the big numbers. Bottom line is missed fairways and greens means bogeys and big numbers.

    There should probably be a stat for “strokes gained with missed fairway” or “strokes lost with missed fairway”. That would be a telltale metric for knowing the severity of missed fairways.

  5. James T

    Mar 17, 2018 at 8:05 pm

    Personally, I think Greens in Regulation is far more important to scoring. Rare is the course that has U.S. Open rough that keeps you from going for the green.

    • Tal

      Mar 19, 2018 at 2:24 am

      True, but pure greens in regulation doesn’t tell us why greens were missed. Poor driving makes hitting a GIR more difficult so if someone is driving really well and still hits very few greens, their iron play is probably to blame. Whereas if they are missing greens and their driving is poor, that helps paint a picture as to why.

  6. larrybud

    Mar 17, 2018 at 5:10 pm

    Unfortunately, with shotbyshot, and any other system with user driven data, you’re relying on a data which has zero verification to it (unlike shotlink). In other words, you have no idea how accurate the data is which players have entered that you’re basing your analysis.

  7. Sean Foster-Nolan

    Mar 17, 2018 at 3:05 pm

    I think it depends on the golf course. My home course is littered with hazards and has little rough to speak of. If you miss the fairway there is a good chance you will find a hazard.

    But overall I agree.

  8. Doug

    Mar 17, 2018 at 1:48 pm

    If I miss a fairway there is a 50% chance that my ball gets lost. So I better go for 100% fairway even when that means I can‘t use my driver

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Why golf is 20 times harder than brain surgery

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cactus, Arizona, desert, golf, golf course

For most of us golfers, improving is the great challenge of this game we love. But understand that statistically speaking, golf at the highest level is at least twenty times more difficult than brain surgery.  How do I figure that?

Check this out.

There are over 5,000 brain surgeons in the U.S. earning an average income of $368,000. But only 190 PGA Tour professionals had winnings of that much in 2023. Add to that the 68 LPGA players and five Korn Ferry players who surpassed that figure. So, there are less than 270 professional golfers making more than the average brain surgeon. So, attaining the functioning highest level of golf skill must be almost twenty times more difficult than brain surgery…right?

With that bit of levity behind us (though these are real numbers), let’s talk about getting better at this game that has us captivated. I have never met a golfer who admitted he or she had absolutely no interest in getting better. Quite to the contrary, golfers who are even the least bit serious keep score, because they are at least somewhat interested in seeing those numbers get smaller. So, what better time of the year to make that promise to yourself than right now, as a new year begins?

The pathways to improvement can be widely different, depending on how badly you want to improve your golf game and your scoring. So, just for fun (that levity thing again), I thought I would share my observations about some of those pathways you might consider as your own for the coming year:

The “Wish” Path. This path is the easiest to execute because you don’t have to really do anything different from what you’ve always done. Just spend your time sitting around hoping your golf gets better.  I actually know a lot of golfers like that. They barely know where the practice range is, would never consider a real lesson and step up to the first tee shot with not much more than a half-hearted practice swing. And they wonder why they don’t get better.

I lost my father very early in life, but he left me with many “pearls of wisdom”, as he called them. One of my favorites of his more colorful ones was this:

“Son, just go wish in one hand and s**t in the other one and see which one fills up the fastest.”

The “Hope” Path. I’ll be the first to admit that this game is very difficult to attain any level of mastery.  The golf swing and all its many idiosyncrasies are not easy to ingrain to a level that offers any reliable measure of repeatability. And the golfer who can “self-teach” their way to even a consistent high single digit handicap is a rare bird indeed.

I can’t tell you how many golfers I frequently see on our practice range, banging away ball after ball after ball…quite apparently not working on learning a new position or movement, but just hoping that enough repetitions will allow them to create a measure of repeatability to improve their shot-to-shot consistency and therefore lower their scores.

Newsflash…the old saying that “practice makes perfect” does not apply to golf. Practice makes “permanent” and the more you practice that fundamentally unsound sequence of movements, the harder it will be to “unlearn” them and replace them with swing movements that really work.

With those two “fun” paths out of the way, let’s take a turn more serious and lay out three proven pathways to better golf.

  • Improve your physical plant.  This is particularly important for those of us who are aging a bit faster than we’d like but applies to all of us who don’t routinely hit hundreds of golf balls a week.  The golf swing takes flexibility to execute and our daily routines are the enemy of flexibility.  Most of us spend too much time sitting and not enough time improving our range of motion that a good golf swing requires.  My key to having maintained my skills into my 70s is that I stretch every day . . . maybe not as much as I really should, but enough to still be able to make a full turn away from the ball and back through to a full follow-through.  Even if you do the minimum, it is remarkable what 10-12 minutes of stretching can do for your golf.  I won’t go into detail here because there are tons of good videos, programs and products out there.  Just do it!
  • Learn, learn, learn.  You cannot execute a golf swing until you really understand it.  My father was a Ben Hogan disciple, so I was raised on Power Golf and Five Lessons.  And I was tutored as a youth by my father and our local golf pro.  I just wrote about Learning and Practice a few weeks ago.  Check it out and commit to learning about the golf swing in all its iterations – full swings, pitching, chipping and putting.  With understanding comes enlightenment.
  • Carnegie Hall.  The old adage goes . . . “How do I get to Carnegie Hall??  The answer: “Practice. Practice. Practice.”  But practice with a definite purpose . . . ALWAYS.  As I mentioned earlier, just banging balls is fun, but it’s not practice.  And it won’t make you a better golfer.  When the PGA and LPGA tour players go to the range, they have a very specific thing they are practicing.  It might be a minute little adjustment but watch them if/when you get the chance.  They are not just banging balls one after the other.  Each swing is taken with a purpose and intent, followed by an evaluation of how they did.

So, there you have some levity and guidance to start your year.  Let me know your questions and I’ll do my best to give you sound answers you can bank on.  Always feel free to drop me a line.

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19th Hole

Vincenzi’s Farmers Insurance Open betting preview: Major champs to show their class at Torrey Pines

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The PGA Tour season ramps up this week as we head to historic Torrey Pines Golf Course for the 2024 Farmers Insurance Open.

To many, this event marks the true start of the PGA Tour season as it draws big names and a difficult test, which is something golf fans have been craving after three weeks of low scoring events.

The event will be played from Wednesday through Saturday this week for the second consecutive year to avoid going against the NFL conference championship games so golf fans can enjoy both sports.

Torrey Pines Golf Club (South) is a par-72 measuring 7,765 yards. Golfers will play three rounds on the South Course and one round on the North Course.

The South Course is the far more difficult of the two and features Poa Annua greens. The North Course is 7,258 yards and features Bentgrass greens.

The 2023 Farmers Insurance Open field is a full-field event comprised of 156 golfers. The field is very strong and will include Ludvig Aberg, Jason Day, Tony Finau, Collin Morikawa, Max Homa, Sungjae Im, Hideki Matsuyama, Xander Schauffele, Min Woo Lee, Justin Thomas and Sahith Theegala. 

We’ve back tested past tournaments at Torrey Pines to see which metrics matter this week.

Past Winners at The Farmers Insurance Open

  • 2023: Max Homa (-13)
  • 2022: Luke List (-15)
  • 2021: Patrick Reed (-14)
  • 2020: Marc Leishman (-15)
  • 2019: Justin Rose (-21)
  • 2018: Jason Day (-10)
  • 2017: Jon Rahm (-13)
  • 2016: Brandt Snedeker (-6)
  • 2015: Jason Day (-9)

Let’s take a look at several metrics for Torrey Pines to determine which golfers boast top marks in each category over their last 24 rounds:

Strokes Gained: Approach

Hitting greens will be important due to the difficult around the green areas at Torrey Pines. Strokes Gained: Approach has been the most indicative statistic of top-10 finishers at the course historically.

Total Strokes Gained: Approach in past 24 rounds:

  1. Sam Ryder (+22.4)
  2. Xander Schauffele (+21.5)
  3. Eric Cole (+20.8)
  4. Chez Reavie (+19.1)
  5. Collin Morikawa (+19.0)

Driving Distance

Torrey Pines is a long course, and distance will absolutely be a major factor. Average driving distance is a far greater factor here than your average TOUR event, while driving accuracy is a lesser factor. We are most definitely looking at a bomber’s track this week.

Driving Distance per round in past 24 rounds:

  1. Min Woo Lee (+22.4)
  2. Cameron Champ (+21.0)
  3. Chris Gotterup (+18.6)
  4. Kevin Yu (+15.4)
  5. Callum Tarren (+14.6) 

Strokes Gained: Putting (Poa)

We typically see a lot of golfers play well in this area year after year. One determining factor in the consistent results is whether or not golfers prefer the Poa out West to other surfaces.

Great Poa putters typically play very well in California.

Strokes Gained: Putting (Poa) in past 24 rounds:

  1. Xander Schauffele (+22.5)
  2. Max Homa (+21.2)
  3. Justin Suh (+20.5)
  4. Peter Malnati (+16.0)
  5. Mackenzie Hughes (+15.5)

Par 4: 450-500 Yards

Torrey Pines has a total of six par 4s between 450 and 500 yards on the South Course. To play well this week, golfers will need to outplay the field on these particular holes.

Total Par 4: 450-500 in past 24 rounds

  1. Xander Schauffele (+15.6)
  2. Beau Hossler (+15.0)
  3. Eric Cole (+14.5)
  4. Patrick Cantlay (+12.8)
  5. Sahith Theegala (+12.5)

Par 5: 550-600 Yards

With all four par 5s at the Torrey Pines South Course measuring between 550 and 600 yards, the long hitters will have a major advantage. The course can play difficult, so it’s an absolute must to take care of the par 5s and make birdies.

Keegan Bradley ranked 5th in this range last year and finished runner-up at 60-1.

Par 5: 550-600 in past 24 rounds:

  1. Garrick Higgo (+11.1)
  2. Lee Hodges (+9.9)
  3. Doug Ghim (+8.6)
  4. Alexander Bjork (+8.1)
  5. S.H. Kim (+8.0)

Course History

Here are the 10 best players in terms of Strokes Gained: Total at Torrey Pines South in the past 24 rounds. 

  1. Tony Finau
  2. Jason Day
  3. Brandt Snedeker
  4. Sungjae Im
  5. Justin Rose
  6. Will Zalatoris
  7. Keegan Bradley
  8. Xander Schauffele
  9. Collin Morikawa
  10. Hidedki Matsuyama

Statistical Model

Below, I’ve reported overall model rankings using a combination of the five key statistical categories previously discussed.

These rankings are comprised of SG: App (28%), Driving Distance (22%), Par 4: 450-500 (16%), Par 5: 550-600 (16%) and SG: Putting POA (18%).

  1. Patrick Cantlay (+1000)
  2. Taylor Pendrith (+8000)
  3. Xander Schauffele (+900)
  4. Max Homa (+1000)
  5. Will Zalatoris (+4500)
  6. Sahith Theegala (+4500)
  7. Eric Cole (+3500)
  8. Ludvig Aberg (+1800)
  9. Chesson Hadley (+13000)
  10. Shane Lowry (+5500)

2024 Farmers Insurance Open Picks

(Listed odds are at the time of writing)

Jason Day +3000 (FanDuel)

There aren’t many courses in the world that Jason Day has played better at than Torrey Pines. He won at the course in both 2015 and 2018 and also has four top-10 finishes at the course. In his past 24 rounds, Day ranks second in the field in Strokes Gained: Total at the course.

Day has had a solid start to his season finishing 10th at The Sentry and then 34th in a birdie fest at the American Express. The Australian has come to Torrey Pines and contended in far worse form than he is at the moment and got into contention despite of that fact. 

Putting on the bumpy and fast West Coast POA will be a key this week. Day has putt the ball extremely well at Torrey, including last year where he finished 7th and gained 5.8 strokes putting. In 2022, he finished 3rd and gained 3.9 strokes putting.

Day is currently enjoying one of the longest stretches of good health and consistent play in the past five years or so and is one of the players to beat this week in a historic event. 

Sahith Theegala +4500 (DraftKings)

Sahith Theegala will undoubtedly be a popular bet this week and for good reason. The former Pepperdine star grew up playing on west coast POA and has been fantastic on the west coast in general throughout his career. 

Theegala won the Fortinet Championship in California in the fall similar to how Max Homa won it prior to conquering Torrey Pines. Last year, Theegala finished 4th at the Farmers Insurance Open and was in contention for most of the round on Sunday. He also has plenty of other strong finishes out west including a 3rd at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and a 6th at the Genesis Invitational.

The 26-year-old opened his season with a 2nd place finish at the Sentry prior to missing the cut at the Sony. Theegala has shown consistently that he will show up and play his best at the Tour stops that he is best suited for.

Hideki Matsuyama +6500 (FanDuel)

In an event where a lot of the value on the betting board has seemingly dissipated, the odds for Hideki Matsuyama have drifted to a place where I feel it’s worth taking the chance on the Japanese star. It’s been a rough year for Matsuyama, who’s struggled to consistently play well and has dealt with a nagging neck injury.

The 30-year-old has had some success at Torrey Pines throughout his career and finished third at the course in 2019 and 12th in 2018. He was also able to finish 9th last season despite being in mediocre form, similar to the way he’s playing now. 

The 30th place in his most recent start at the Sony wasn’t extremely impressive, but Matsuyama did gain strokes across the board. He gained 1.7 strokes on approach and 1.2 off the tee, which is encouraging sign.

I’m not sure if we get peak ‘Deki this week, but if we do, he can beat anyone in the field.

Patrick Rodgers +8000 (BetMGM)

Thus far, 2024 has been the year of the Cinderella story. The winners have been Chris Kirk (150-1), Grayson Murray (400-1) and Nick Dunlap (300-1). In addition to the long odds, each of the three players have amazing stories such as Kirk and Murray’s recoveries from personal demons or Dunlap’s amazing feat of becoming the first amateur to win since Phil Mickelson in 1991. 

Patrick Rodgers winning at Torrey Pines would be another remarkable story. The Stanford graduate was once regarded as a can’t miss prospect and even broke Tiger Woods’ win record as a Cardinal. He won the Hogan award and was the top ranked amateur player in the world for 16 weeks.

Things haven’t gone according to plan for the former prodigy, who’s now 31 years old. Rodgers is yet to win on the PGA Tour and has been largely disappointing since turning professional. However, some of Rodgers’ best golf has been played at Torrey Pines. He has finished 4th here in 2017 and 9th in 2020. He’s also showed some encouraging signs of late. He narrowly lost to Akshay Bhatia at the Barracuda Championship late last summer and began his 2024 campaign with back-to-back strong performances, finishing 14th and 24th at the Sentry and Sony Open.

We’ve seen some amazing stories this season, but Patrick Rodgers returning to glory in the state where he was once considered golf’s next big thing may surpass them all.

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19th Hole

Vincenzi’s American Express betting preview: Jason Day to continue to thrive on West Coast

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The PGA Tour heads to California this weekend to play the 2024 American Express.

The tournament is played at three different courses: PGA West Stadium Course, PGA West Nicklaus Course and La Quinta Country Club.

Therefore, each golfer will play two rounds at PGA West Stadium Course, one round at PGA West Nicklaus Course, and one round at La Quinta Country Club. The Stadium Course is a 7,113-yard par 72 that was designed by Pete Dye in 1986. The Nicklaus Course is a Par 72 measuring 7,159 yards. La Quinta Country Club is a par 72 measuring 7,060 yards. All of the courses are short for a Par 72 and typically play easy, resulting in some very low winning scores.

The 2024 American Express field is a full-field event comprised of 156 golfers. The field is the strongest it’s been in recent memory, with some notable entrants to the event including Scottie Scheffler, Patrick Cantlay, Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele, Jason Day, Sam Burns, Tony Finau, Rickie Fowler and Shane Lowry. Daniel Berger will also be making his return to the PGA Tour after being on medical leave since 2022. 

Past Winners at The American Express

  • 2023: Jon Rahm (-27)
  • 2022: Hudson Swafford (-23)
  • 2021: Si Woo Kim (-23)
  • 2020: Andrew Landry (-26)
  • 2019: Adam Long (-26)
  • 2018: Jon Rahm (-22)
  • 2017: Hudson Swafford (-20)
  • 2016: Jason Dufner (-25)
  • 2015: Bill Haas (-22)

Let’s take a look at several metrics for PGA West to determine which golfers boast top marks in each category over their last 24 rounds:

Strokes Gained: Approach

The American Express is another tournament where distance off the tee is not going to be a major factor. With none of the three courses being long this week, strong iron players tend to do very well at PGA West.

Total Strokes Gained: Approach in past 24 rounds:

  1. Xander Schauffele (+24.8)
  2. Scottie Scheffler (+23.7)
  3. Sam Ryder (+22.4)
  4. Erik Van Rooyen (+20.5)
  5. Eric Cole (+19.4)

Opportunities Gained

All three courses this week are among the easiest on Tour. In order to win, golfers are going to have to go very low. Creating as many chances as possible to make birdies from 15 feet and in this week will be crucial.

Total Opportunities Gained in past 24 rounds:

  1. Scottie Scheffler (+40.5)
  2. Chris Kirk (+22.7)
  3. Xander Schauffele (+22.5)
  4. Justin Thomas (+22.2)
  5. J.T. Poston (+22.0)

Proximity 150-175

Approach shots from 150-175 are the most common yardages year after year at The American Express. 24% of approach shots come from this range as opposed to the Tour average of 20.3%.

Proximity 150-175 in past 24 rounds:

  1. Akshay Bhatia (+14.9)
  2. Xander Schauffele (+11.7) 
  3. Sam Ryder (+11.5)
  4. Taylor Pendrith (+11.3)
  5. Mark Hubbard (+11.2)

Strokes Gained: Ball Striking

With small greens, there are very few three-putts in this event. Golfers will need to ball strike their way to low scores with smaller greens than Tour average.

Strokes Gained: Ball Striking in past 24 rounds:

  1. Scottie Scheffler (+41.4)
  2. Erik Van Rooyen (+31.1)
  3. Jhonnatan Vegas (+29.9)
  4. Patrick Cantlay (+29.5)
  5. Xander Schauffele (+28.0)

SG: Pete Dye 

With two of four rounds on the Pete Dye-designed PGA West, it will be important to target players who excel on Pete Dye tracks. Golfers with good history at these styles of course tend to pop up on leaderboards of Dye designs on a regular basis.

Total Strokes Gained: Pete Dye in past 24 rounds:

  1. Scottie Scheffler (+52.5) 
  2. Patrick Cantlay (+47.0)
  3. Xander Schauffele (+41.4)
  4. Sungjae Im (+39.1)
  5. Justin Thomas (+38.4)

Statistical Model

Below, I’ve reported overall model rankings using a combination of the five key statistical categories previously discussed.

These rankings are comprised of SG: App (27%); Opportunities Gained (22%); SG: Ball Striking (22%); Proximity 150-175 (12%); and SG: Pete Dye (17%)

  1. Scottie Scheffler (+650)
  2. Xander Schauffele (+1000)
  3. Patrick Cantlay (+1000)
  4. Sam Ryder (+12000)
  5. Eric Cole (+3500)
  6. Chris Kirk (+3500)
  7. Shane Lowry (+6000)
  8. Doug Ghim (+12000)
  9. Erik Van Rooyen (+10000)
  10. Alex Smalley (+6500)

2024 American Express Picks

Jason Day +3500 (FanDuel)

Jason Day kicked off his 2024 season with a solid performance at The Sentry, finishing in a tie for 10th. The veteran will now get ready for the west coast swing, which has historically been the stretch of the season where Day has played his best golf, and last season was no exception. The Australian finished 18th, 7th, 5th and 9th at the American Express, Farmers Insurance, Waste Management Phoenix Open and Genesis Invitational. Day showed his preference for putting on west coast greens during that stretch gaining 4.9, 5.8, 3.7 and 4.3 strokes putting respectively.

Day doesn’t typically play at PGA West, but he did last year, finishing 18th in his second ever start at the event. He also showed he can win a low scoring event at last year’s AT&T Byron Nelson, shooting -23 for the event. Another reason to believe Day will have success this week is his history on Pete Dye designed courses. In his past 50 rounds, he ranks 4th in the field in Strokes Gained: Total on Dye tracks.

I believe Day will build on his resurgent 2023 and contend in one or more of these west coast tournaments.

Sam Burns+3500 (DraftKings)

Sam Burns has some encouraging history at the American Express. In his four starts at the course, he has finishes of 18th, 6th and 11th to go along with a missed cut. He also has loved the west coast swing, with a 3rd place finish at Riviera (2021), a 6th place finish at the WMPO (2023), and a 7th at the Fortinet (2020).

Sam Burns has been consistent on Pete Dye designs, ranking 8th in his past 24 rounds on Dye designed courses. The fact that he will play two of the four rounds at the stadium course, including the final round, gives me confidence in his chances to win if he gets in contention.

The American Express can turn into a putting contest, and if it does, Burns has the ability to beat anyone in the field.

Tony Finau +4000 (FanDuel)

Tony Finau is another player who’s done some of his best work on the west coast. In 2021, he finished 2nd at both the Farmers Insurance Open and the Genesis Invitational. In total, Finau has seven top-5 finishes on the west coast including the American Express in 2021, where he was narrowly defeated by Si Woo Kim down the stretch.

Finau didn’t start his season well at the Sentry but managed to gain strokes on approach and with the putter. I believe a trip to a course that he’s contended on in the past will serve him well and is one of the most talented players in the field. Finau has also showed that he loves Pete Dye designs in the past, ranking 9th in the field in Strokes Gained: Total in his past 36 rounds.

Although he’s been inconsistent, the win equity Finau offers is too tempting to ignore at this price.

Adam Hadwin +6500 (FanDuel)

Adam Hadwin is the type of player who consistently performs well on his favorite courses on the PGA Tour. The rotation of courses at the American Express certainly fit that description. In his past seven starts at the event, Hadwin has finished in the top 20 five times, including four of those in the top 6.

Hadwin missed the cut at last week’s Sony Open, but he was top-20 in the field in Strokes Gained: Approach in the first round. He’s also shown in the past his Sony Open results don’t translate to the American Express. In 2019, the Canadian was 59th at Sony, losing strokes on approach for the week, and finished runner-up at the American Express the following week.

Hadwin hasn’t won since 2017 and it feels as if he’s long overdue for a win. Three of his seven top-3 finishes on Tour have come at this event. If there’s anywhere that I feel confident that he can get it done, it’s PGA West.

Alex Noren +8000 (DraftKings)

Alex Noren has sneakily played some fantastic golf since the end of the 2023 PGA Tour season. In November, he finished 2nd at the Butterfield Bermuda and 23rd at the RSM Classic. He also finished 3rd at the Shriners in October, which is a course and region that has plenty of similarities to what we will see this week at the American Express.

In addition to the 3rd at TPC Summerlin (2023), Noren also has a 2nd at the Farmers (2018) which ended in a six-hole playoff loss to Jason Day, a sixth at the WMPO (2022) and a 12th at the Genesis Invitational.

The Swede has yet to win on the PGA Tour but has won ten times on the DP World Tour. Noren certainly has the talent to win and is showing signs of returning to the form that made him a Ryder Cup participant in 2018.

Erik Van Rooyen +11000 (FanDuel)

Erik Van Rooyen won in Mexico at the end of 2023 and hasn’t showed any signs of slowing down since. He finished 22nd at the Sentry, gaining 3.3 strokes on approach. He followed it up with an even better iron performance last week at the Sony Open, gaining 4.8 strokes on approach.

EVR finished 6th at the American Express last year despite being in poor form at the time, missing cuts in six of his past seven cuts entering the event. The South African has proven he can win birdie-fests in the past and this is an event where players have consistently won at triple digit odds.

In his past 24 rounds, Van Rooyen ranks 4th in the field in Strokes Gained: Approach and 2nd in Strokes Gained: Ball Striking.

Patton Kizzire +27000 (FanDuel)

Patton Kizzire finished 11th at the American Express last year after a 76th place finish at the Sony Open. He finished 22nd in 2022 and has seemingly begun to figure the courses out if his gradual improvement is any indication.

Kizzire has two top-5’s at the Shriners and a 7th place finish at Torrey Pines in his career, so he’s no stranger to playing well on the west coast. Kizzire has also played well at similar events as Hudson Swafford, who’s won the American Express twice.

A two-time PGA Tour winner, Kizzire is the type of long shot who I believe can pull off an upset if he gets involved over the weekend at PGA West.

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