When great American golf courses – or just great golf courses in general – are the topic of conversation, one name that always comes up is Pebble Beach. Golf fans of all stripes, from the casual to the most avid, know Pebble Beach – even if they’ve never stepped foot on the property – thanks to years of television coverage of the old “Crosby Clambake”, the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am, which is now the AT&T National Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Between the Crosby, and the five U.S. Opens that have been held there since 1972, the dramatic land- and seascapes of Pebble Beach are familiar territory to millions worldwide.
With fame and acclaim come complications, however – crowds on the course, shuttle buses from miles-distant parking venues, ropes and course marshals funneling the throngs of spectators into specific traffic areas. While it’s still a thrill to be physically present at Pebble Beach when the PGA Tour pros (and in the case of the AT&T, their celebrity amateur partners) are teeing it up, it’s still a filtered, micro-managed experience.
Wouldn’t we all like to roam this great golf course unhindered, walking the fairways (if we choose), picking our viewing spots and seeing the course the way the players do? Of course we would, even without our clubs (and the $495 green fee…). Well, for 41 years that opportunity has existed, in the form of the best-kept secret in golf – the Pebble Beach Invitational.
See Pebble Beach like you have never seen it before
Sponsored for the past fifteen years by Callaway, the Pebble Beach Invitational started in 1972 as the Laguna Seca–Del Monte Hyatt Pro-Am, growing and changing over the ensuing years with sponsors such Lynx Golf, Spalding, Ben Hogan and Merrill Lynch.
The Pebble Beach Invitational is like a cross between the AT&T Pro-Am and an industry golf outing writ large. Though it is played over four days on a three-course rota, with the final rounds played on the home course – just like the AT&T – the Pebble Beach Invitational differs in a couple of significant ways. The amateur players aren’t stars from the worlds of sports, music, television and movies, with a few industry and business people thrown in; they are mostly business people and dedicated amateur golfers with the ready cash and the free time to take a week off in November and come to the Monterey Peninsula to play golf. The most important difference, though, and the aspect of the tournament that sets it apart, is the mix of professional players that take part.
The Pebble Beach Invitational is the only tournament that pits professional golfers from the PGA Tour, the Web.com Tour, the Champions Tour and the LPGA– with a leavening of PGA professionals and mini-tour players – against each other under a length-adjusted handicap system. Graduated tees level the playing field –black for the PGA Tour players, blue for the Champions Tour players, gold for the LPGA pros, white for the amateur men and red for the amateur women – allowing each hole to be played with similar shots by the male and female competitors; on par-4s and par-5s you’ll see the ladies walking past their male competitors’ ball positions in the fairway and pulling the same or nearly the same, club for their second shots as the men are playing from further back.
For spectators, the Pebble Beach Invitational offers a low-key, simplified version of the better-known, bigger-name tournaments. While there are no celebrity amateurs and few really well known pros playing, the Pebble Beach Invitational allows spectators a more intimate viewing experience and plenty of high-quality golf. Forget about 20 minute shuttle bus rides from the CSU-Monterey Bay campus – for the Pebble Beach Invitational, free spectator parking is located at Collins Field, the polo field right next door to the Peter Hay Par-3 golf course, a 5-minute walk from the Pebble Beach Lodge. Admission to the tournament is free, and the usual $9.75 fee to the 17-Mile Drive is waived for the four days of the tournament.
Convenient free parking and free admission aside, the biggest draw for the Pebble Beach Invitational is the unfettered viewing experience the tournament offers – few course marshals and those mostly just there to direct traffic at road crossings within the course, and no gallery ropes (for the most part – the edges of the greens are roped off). In a radical departure from the big tournaments like the U. S. Open and the AT&T, spectators are free to walk either side of the fairways, not just one, and even to walk on the fairways behind the competitors.
No matter how many times you have watched television coverage of the AT&T or a U. S. Open at Pebble, or even if you have attended one of those tournaments, being able to walk the fairways at Pebble Beach gives you a much greater appreciation for the complexity and the genius of this iconic golf course.
Walking the fairway on No. 6, for example, you will gain a much better appreciation for the difficulty of the blind second shot and for the precipitous slope, which looms over the player in the fairway.
At the 8th hole you can sight over the “aiming rock” that sits in the middle of the fairway to allow players to line up their tee shot. Continue walking over the crest of the rise, and you stand at the end of the main fairway and see the 170-yard shot to the green which players are faced with here – an approach that Jack Nicklaus has called “the greatest second shot in golf”.
Walking the fairways on Nos. 9 and 10 you’ll look over the edge of the cliffs that drop down to the beach lining Carmel Bay and get a truer sense of the severity of the slope of the fairways – and wonder how anyone ever keeps a drive in play here.
More revelations await the fairway-walking spectator at the Pebble Beach Invitational as the back nine unfolds: the tricky second shot at the uphill, left-to-right par-4 11th hole, where the green slants away uphill and to the right with only a narrow opening on the left front; the challenge of the last shot into the green at the 14th hole, the uphill par-5 with the most severely sloped green on the course – or maybe anywhere; and finally, the ultimate view at Pebble Beach – the sweeping curve of the 18th hole, with Carmel Bay on the left.
Well-known, and not-so-well-known players mix in the field at the Pebble Beach Invitational
The field in this year’s Callaway Pebble Beach Invitational featured an eclectic mix of players from the PGA Tour, the LPGA Tour, Champions Tour, Web.com Tour and others. The field included such notables as 2008 Masters Champion Trevor Immelman; two-time Pebble Beach Invitational winner Tommy Armour III; 2004 U.S. Ryder Cup team member Fred Funk; local gal Juli Inkster, a native of Santa Cruz, Calif., and a 7-time LPGA major winner and member of the World Golf Hall of Fame. There were also relatively well-known players such as Colt Knost, 2007 U.S. Amateur and Amateur Public Links champion; Anna Rawson, a willowy blonde from Australia who splits her time between the LPGA Tour and international modeling assignments; and Cheyenne Woods, a Wake Forest graduate and two-time All-American who plays on the LPGA’s Symetra Tour – and just happens to have a famous golfer-uncle with the same last name.
Arguably the biggest name in the field was Annika Sörenstam, the retired former World No. 1 who left the professional game at the height of her career to settle down in and start a family. This was Sörenstam’s third appearance at the Pebble Beach Invitational, having played in the 1999 and 2010 editions. In 1999, she came down the final fairway with a chance to win, but lost by a shot to Rocco Mediate.
Sörenstam got her tournament off to a good start the first two days with a 70 and a 69, at Del Monte and Pebble Beach, respectively, but blew up to a 9-over 81 in wet, windy conditions at Spyglass Hill on Saturday. She redeemed herself with a 3-under 69 under sunny skies at Pebble Beach on Sunday, but the damage had been done.
“I just played bad [at Spyglass], Sorenstam said. “I already hit it shorter, I’m about 20 percent shorter than I was, and you can just add the wind on it – I mean it went nowhere for me. It’s just rust and not playing.”
Annika played her final round on Sunday in a group that included Bay Area resident Juli Inkster. Inkster, a Santa Cruz native and graduate of San José State University, holds the distinction of being the only women to have won the Pebble Beach Invitational, which she did in 1990.
Big Break grad Tommy “Two Gloves” Gainey makes it two out of three with a win at Pebble Beach
Coming out on top in this year’s edition of the Pebble Beach Invitational was PGA Tour player Tommy “Two Gloves” Gainey, a one-time factory worker from South Carolina who has just completed his second full season on the PGA Tour. Gainey first came to the attention of the golf world in two appearances on the Golf Channel reality show The Big Break, which he won in his second appearance, Big Break VII, a reunion show that brought back players from the previous six seasons.
Gainey came to Pebble Beach in good form; just four weeks prior to this event he notched up his first win on the PGA Tour when he took the victory at the McGladrey Classic, in Sea Island, Ga. He laid claim to that first PGA Tour win in no uncertain fashion, coming from 7 strokes behind 54-hole co-leaders Jim Furyk and Davis Love III to win by one stroke over David Toms with a final round 60.
Gainey’s somewhat eccentric style of play – he wears two “all-weather” gloves and grips the club baseball-style – held up under the range of conditions the competitors faced over the four days of the tournament. He carded scores of 69-69-70 through sunny but breezy conditions Thursday at Del Monte, light rain Friday at Spyglass Hill, and blustery and rainy conditions Saturday at Pebble Beach – the most exposed of the three courses in the tournament rota. He added another 69 in Sunday’s final round for a 277 total and a one-stroke victory.
Playing in the final round James Hahn, of Alameda, Calif., Billy Horschel, 54-hole leader Robert Streb, a Web.com player from Chickasha, Okla, Gainey had his closest competition in view down the final stretch.
After persevering to post a 2-under 70 at Pebble in the previous day’s poor conditions, Sunday’s brilliant sunshine and calm winds were just what the doctor ordered for Gainey, as he opened his round with a 3-under front side to make up the two-stroke lead Robert Streb had held after 54 holes. Streb, who just earned his 2013 PGA Tour card with a No. 7 finish on the 2012 Web.com Money List, saw the wheels wobble and then spin off on the back nine, starting with a double-bogey on No. 10 that dropped him to two shots behind Gainey. Horschel and Hahn, the other members of the final group, completed their final rounds in even par and 1-over, respectively, and never figured in the chase to the finish.
Just ahead of Gainey’s final foursome, William McGirt and 1996 Pebble Beach Invitational champion Kirk Triplett were making moves, and Gainey, keeping an eye on the scoreboards dotting the course, knew that he would have to stay on his toes to keep ahead of them.
A bogey on No. 10 dropped Two Gloves back to 10-under, one stroke up on McGirt and two on Triplett, but he put the pedal down on the straightforward par-4 13th hole for a birdie, and kept the heat on for another birdie on the par-5 fourteenth, the toughest hole on the course. After that good stretch the golf gods intervened, though, and Gainey hit a rough patch at No. 15 that injected a little doubt into the situation.
After landing his second shot in the right-front greenside bunker, Gainey overcooked his recovery, flying the green by a good 40 yards. Going after the ball with vigor because of its position, lying well down in the lush, damp rough, Gainey gouged a monster divot out of the turf – and only moved the ball about half the distance to the green. Now looking at a strong possibility of a double-bogey that would drop him out of the lead, his second attempt at getting to the putting surface was a beautiful head-high chip that landed about a yard onto the green. His ball must have decided that it had had enough, rolling sure-footedly down to the hole and slipping in for a chip-in bogey.
Another bogey at No. 16, less dramatic, but just as damaging, was the result of an untimely 3-putt, slipping Gainey back to 10-under. McGirt and Triplett had moved up to 10-under by this point, though Tommy wouldn’t know it until he got to the 18th tee and saw the next scoreboard. After a sand-save par out of the front bunker at the par-3 seventeenth, Gainey checked the scoreboard near the 18th tee box. Seeing that McGirt and Triplett were both in at 10-under, he knew that he had to birdie No. 18 to win.
Playing well under pressure is what success in competitive golf is all about, even when the “W” is only bringing home a $60,000 paycheck (1/12th of Tommy’s payday last month for winning the McGladrey Classic, and just a little less than what the five guys who were T-15 at the McGladrey each took home) – Gainey had a job ahead of him. Pebble’s 18th, the iconic oceanfront par-5 that is the course’s signature hole, is a beautiful, left-sweeping swath of green bordering the blue waters of Carmel Bay, but when a player comes to the tee box needing a birdie to win, it’s 548 yards of sheer terror bordered by the biggest lateral hazard on the planet.
Two Gloves, baseball grip, herky-jerky swing and all, Gainey laced a 295-yard drive to a prime position on the right side of the fairway, in front of the pair of trees guarding the spot, setting up an ideal angle for the approach shot – about 230 yards across the corner of the fairway. Taking 3-wood from the spot in the fairway that generations of golfers have striven to reach off the tee at 18, Gainey watched in dismay as his second shot hooked left, toward the long fairway bunker and the seawall that lies between the 18th fairway and the waters of Carmel Bay. Asked after the round about his thoughts as he watched his approach shot to the 18th green heading left, Gainey said, “When I saw my ball headed towards that bunker, I was just hoping it’d get in and stay there.”
Luckily for Gainey, his ball did get in the bunker and stay, and the self-described “pretty good bunker player” was looking at a testing up and down for the win. A deftly-played bunker shot across the opening of the green saw him safely on the putting surface, but with a knee-knocking 6-foot putt standing between him and victory. Stroking the ball firmly – still with both gloves on, as always – he rolled in the winning putt, raising a fist in victory as the ball dropped into the cup.
A few minutes after the winning putt had dropped, at the trophy ceremony beside the 18th green, honorary tournament host Johnny Miller – who has three AT&T Pro-Am titles to his credit and knows a thing or two about winning at Pebble Beach – acknowledged Gainey’s clutch finish, asking the assembled crowd to day:
“That was a pretty awesome birdie there on the last hole, don’t you think you guys? There’s something about winning at Pebble Beach; I don’t care if it’s the Hershey Bar Open, there’s just something about winning at Pebble.”
Miller cited Gainey’s recent success, reminding the fans around the 18th green that Gainey had now won two of the last three events he had entered.
“You gotta be feeling pretty good, huh? ” he said to Gainey.
“I’m feeling pretty happy right now,” Gainey said. “Winning here is just awesome. How could you ask for anything better – winning at Pebble Beach.”
Written by: Gary McCormick
The Wedge Guy: My top 5 practice tips
While there are many golfers who barely know where the practice (I don’t like calling it a “driving”) range is located, there are many who find it a place of adventure, discovery and fun. I’m in the latter group, which could be accented by the fact that I make my living in this industry. But then, I’ve always been a “ball beater,” since I was a kid, but now I approach my practice sessions with more purpose and excitement. There’s no question that practice is the key to improvement in anything, so today’s topic is on making practice as much fun as playing.
As long as I can remember, I’ve loved the range, and always embrace the challenge of learning new ways to make a golf ball do what I would like it to do. So, today I’m sharing my “top 5” tips for making practice fun and productive.
- Have a mission/goal/objective. Whether it is a practice range session or practice time on the course, make sure you have a clearly defined objective…how else will you know how you’re doing? It might be to work on iron trajectory, or finding out why you’ve developed a push with your driver. Could be to learn how to hit a little softer lob shot or a knockdown pitch. But practice with a purpose …always.
- Don’t just “do”…observe. There are two elements of learning something new. The first is to figure out what it is you need to change. Then you work toward that solution. If your practice session is to address that push with the driver, hit a few shots to start out, and rather than try to fix it, make those first few your “lab rats”. Focus on what your swing is doing. Do you feel anything different? Check your alignment carefully, and your ball position. After each shot, step away and process what you think you felt during the swing.
- Make it real. To just rake ball after ball in front of you and pound away is marginally valuable at best. To make practice productive, step away from your hitting station after each shot, rake another ball to the hitting area, then approach the shot as if it was a real one on the course. Pick a target line from behind the ball, meticulously step into your set-up position, take your grip, process your one swing thought and hit it. Then evaluate how you did, based on the shot result and how it felt.
- Challenge yourself. One of my favorite on-course practice games is to spend a few minutes around each green after I’ve played the hole, tossing three balls into various positions in an area off the green. I don’t let myself go to the next tee until I put all three within three feet of the hole. If I don’t, I toss them to another area and do it again. You can do the same thing on the range. Define a challenge and a limited number of shots to achieve it.
- Don’t get in a groove. I was privileged enough to watch Harvey Penick give Tom Kite a golf lesson one day, and was struck by the fact that he would not let Tom hit more than five to six shots in a row with the same club. Tom would hit a few 5-irons, and Mr. Penick would say, “hit the 8”, then “hit the driver.” He changed it up so that Tom would not just find a groove. That paved the way for real learning, Mr. Penick told me.
My “bonus” tip addresses the difference between practicing on the course and keeping a real score. Don’t do both. A practice session is just that. On-course practice is hugely beneficial, and it’s best done by yourself, and at a casual pace. Playing three or four holes in an hour or so, taking time to hit real shots into and around the greens, will do more for your scoring skills than the same amount of range time.
So there you have my five practice tips. I’m sure I could come up with more, but then we always have more time, right?
More from the Wedge Guy
- The Wedge Guy: Anyone can be a better wedge player by doing these simple things
- Wedge Guy: There’s no logic to iron fitting
- The Wedge Guy: Mind the gap
Vincenzi: Fortinet Championship First Round Leader picks
The PGA Tour begins its fall season with a trip to Wine Country as the world of golf patiently awaits the 2023 Ryder Cup which is just a few weeks away. Silverado is a course where plenty of players with varying skill sets can compete, but strong West Coast history tends to be a major factor.
In the past four editions of the Fortinet Championship, there have been six first-round leaders or co-leaders. Of the six, three have started their rounds in the morning wave, and three started in the afternoon. The leading scores have all been between 63 and 65.
As of now, the winds look to be very docile, with speeds of 4-7 MPH throughout the day. I don’t see either the AM or PM wave as having a major advantage.
2023 Fortinet Championship First-Round Leader Picks
Zac Blair +9000 (FanDuel)
First-Round Tee Time: 1.22 p.m PT
A big theme for me this week is targeting players who have had success at both Silverado and the West Coast in general. Blair finished 22nd here last year, and also finished 4th back in 2019. That year, he shot 66 in rounds two and three, showing his ability to go low on this track.
In 2022, Blair gained 3.8 strokes putting and in 2019, he gained 8.6. The 33-year-old seemingly has these greens figured out.
C.T. Pan +9000 (FanDuel)
First-Round Tee Time: 8.23 a.m PT
At the end of the 2023 season, C.T. Pan showed flashes of what made him a good player prior to his injury struggles early in the year. He finished 4th at the AT&T Byron Nelson in May, and 3rd at the RBC Canadian Open in June. He also finished 6th at Silverado back in 2021, gaining 4.5 strokes on approach and 6.6 strokes putting.
A few weeks off may have given Pan a chance to reset and focus on the upcoming fall swing, where I believe he’ll play some good golf.
Joel Dahmen +110000 (FanDuel)
First-Round Tee Time: 7:28 a.m PT
After becoming a well-known name in golf due to his affable presence in Netflix’ “Full Swing” documentary, Dahmen had what can only be considered a disappointment of a 2023 season. I believe he’s a better player than he showed last year and is a good candidate for a bounce back fall and 2024.
Dahmen finished in a tie for 10th at the Barracuda Championship in late July, and the course is similar in agronomy and location to what he’ll see this week in Napa. He has some strong history on the West Coast including top-ten finishes at Riviera (5th, 2020), Pebble Beach (6th, 2022), Sherwood (8th, 2020), TPC Summerlin (9th, 2019) and Torrey Pines (9th, 2019).
James Hahn +125000 (Caesars)
First-Round Tee Time: 1:55 p.m PT
James Hahn absolutely loves golf on the West Coast. He’s won at Riviera and has also shown some course form with a 9th place finish at Silverado back in 2020. That week, Hahn gained 4.7 strokes putting, demonstrating his comfort level on these POA putting surfaces.
He finished T6 at the Barracuda back in July, and there’s no doubt that a return to California will be welcome for the 41-year-old.
Peter Malnati +125000 (BetRivers)
First-Round Tee Time: 12.27 p.m PT
Peter Malnati excels at putting on the West Coast. He ranks 3rd in the field in Strokes Gained: Putting on POA and has shown in the past he’s capable of going extremely low on any given round due to his ability to catch a hot putter.
His course history isn’t spectacular, but he’s played well enough at Silverado. In his past seven trips to the course, he’s finished in the top-35 four times.
Harry Higgs +150000 (BetRivers)
First-Round Tee Time: 1.55 p.m PT
In what is seemingly becoming a theme in this week’s First-Round Leader column, Harry Higgs is a player that really fell out of form in 2023, but a reset and a trip to a course he’s had success at in the past may spark a resurgence.
Higgs finished 2nd at Silverado in 2020 and wasn’t in particularly great form then either. Success hasn’t come in abundance for the 31-year-old, but three of his top-10 finishes on Tour have come in this area of the country.
Higgs shot an impressive 62 here in round two in 2020, which would certainly be enough to capture the first-round lead this year.
Vincenzi’s Fortinet Championship betting preview: California native ready for breakthrough win in Napa
After a three-week break, the 2022-23 PGA TOUR season kicks off in Napa Valley at the Silverado Resort and Spa to play the Fortinet Championship.
Prior to 2021, the event was called the Safeway Open, but the tournament sponsor changed to Fortinet with contract that will last for three more seasons. Although the name has changed multiple times, Silverado’s North Course has been featured on the PGA TOUR since 1968.
The course is a par 72, measuring at 7,166 yards. Silverado features Poa annua greens that can be tricky, especially as the surface becomes bumpier in the afternoon. The tree-lined fairways aren’t easy to hit, but the rough shouldn’t be exceedingly penal. Shorter hitters are in play on this relatively short course, and accuracy will be at a premium.
There will be a re-routing at Silverado for this year’s Fortinet Championship. Ten holes will be played in a different order. Holes 1-7 and 18 will remain as in year’s past. The new finishing stretch – No. 14 (par 4), No. 15 (par 5), No. 16 (par 4), No. 17 (par 3) and No. 18 (par 5). The new 17th was previously the 11th, which is the signature hole on the course.
The field will consist of 155 players. Being the swing season, the field for this event is usually relatively weak. However, there are some intriguing names in the field including Justin Thomas, Webb Simpson, Sahith Theegala, Joel Dahmen, and Kevin Kisner.
- 2022: Max Homa (-22)
- 2021: Max Homa (-19)
- 2020: Stewart Cink (-21)
- 2019: Cameron Champ (-17)
- 2018: Kevin Tway (-14)
- 2017: Brendan Steele -15
- 2016: Brendan Steele -18
Let’s take a look at several key metrics for Silverado to determine which golfers boast top marks in each category over their last 24 rounds.
Strokes Gained: Approach
Historically, one of the North Course’s defenses will be tightly tucked pin placement, so effective shot-shaping and a higher ball flight may be an advantage this week. In order to find success, players need to hit the correct level of the sloping Poa Annua greens.
Strokes Gained: Approach past 24 rounds:
- Chez Reavie (+24.7)
- Sam Ryder (+20.0)
- Mark Hubbard (+17.8)
- Kevin Streelman (+18.3)
- Doug Ghim (+17.1)
Good Drives Gained
Hitting fairways in regulation at Silverado is more difficult than TOUR average, as players have done so in the past at a rate of only 52.2%. While the rough isn’t extremely long here, controlling spin out of the thick grass is much more difficult than doing so from the fairway. In order to find success, players need to hit the correct level of the sloping Poa annua greens.
In 2021, the top eight players on the leaderboard all had a positive week in “Good Drives Gained. The winner, Max Homa was +3.3 in the category and Mito Pereira, who finished third, was +8.3.
In 2022, 12 of the top 13 players on the leaderboard gained in the category including the winner Max Homa (+6.0) and runner up Danny Willet (5.0).
Good Drives Gained past 24 rounds:
- Doug Ghim (+24.4)
- Matt NeSmith (+23.8)
- Russell Knox (+20.6)
- Brice Garnett (+19.9)
- Ryan Armour (+19.8)
Par 4: 400-450
There are six par 4’s at Silverado that are between 400 and 450-yards. It will be important to target players who excel at playing these holes. With the par 5s being fairly short and reachable, the par 4 scoring may prove to be the bigger difference-maker.
Par 4: 400-450 past 24 rounds:
- Beau Hossler (+14.7)
- Max Homa (+12.4)
- Garrick Higgo (+8.5)
- Justin Suh (+8.3)
- Stephan Jaeger (+8.2)
Birdie or Better: Gained
With scores at Silverado potentially approaching the 20 under par range, making plenty of birdies will be a requirement in order to contend this week.
Birdie or Better: Gained in past 24 rounds:
- Nick Hardy (+15.3)
- Scott Piercy (+15.2)
- Ryan Gerard (+14.9)
- Max Homa (+14.0)
- Peter Kuest (+13.5)
Strokes Gained: Putting (Poa Annua)
Poa annua greens on the West Coast can be quite difficult for golfers to adjust to if they don’t have much experience on the surface.
Prior to the 2019 Safeway Open, Phil Mickelson talked about how the type of putting surface is a major factor:
“I think a lot of guys struggle with the Poa annua greens, which is a grass that I grew up playing, so I’m very comfortable on the greens. When you grow up and spend most of your time back east in Florida on the Bermuda, this is a very awkward surface to putt on. The color looks different — it’s hard to sometimes read. But when you’re used to it, I don’t know of much better surfaces than these right here.”
This week it is important to look for the golfers who historically excel on Poa annua.
Total Strokes Gained in category in past 24 rounds:
- Kevin Kisner (+27.7)
- Max Homa (+21.2)
- Peter Malnati (+20.5)
- Justin Suh (+18.5)
- Mackenzie Hughes (+16.0)
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 (25%), Good Drives Gained: (25%), Birdie or Better (20%), Par 4: 400-450 (15%), SG: Putting (Poa annua) (15%).
- Max Homa (+750)
- Doug Ghim (+5000)
- Andrew Putnam (+4000)
- Chez Reavie (+4500)
- Kevin Streelman (+5500)
- Mark Hubbard (+5000)
- Sam Ryder (+7000)
- Brendon Todd (+3500)
- Akshay Bhatia (+6000)
- Cameron Davis (+2200)
2023 Fortinet Championship Picks
Sahith Theegala +2000 (DraftKings):
Sahith Theegala is yet to break out for his maiden PGA Tour victory but is a great candidate for a player who can have a strong fall and take advantage of some weaker fields. The 26-year-old ended his season on a positive note, finishing 13th at the FedEx St. Jude and 15th at the BMW Championship.
I’ve long believed that Theegala’s first win would come on the West Coast. He grew up in California and was a three-time All-American at Pepperdine University, where he became the fifth player to win the Jack Nicklaus Award, Haskins Award and Ben Hogan award all in the same year (2020). Sahith made his PGA Tour debut at Silverado in 2020, where he finished in a tie for 14th. Last year, he finished 6th at the Fortinet Championship.
Theegala is very comfortable playing in California. That is perhaps most noticeable on the putting surface where he gains an average of +0.44 strokes on the field per event on POA, which is more than four times what he gains on Bermudagrass or Bentgrass. The POA greens at Silverado can get especially difficult late in the day, which is a reason why players with a background on them have had so much success at the course. In the past seven years of the event, five winners have come from California.
Theegala is pricey this week and is as close to the top of the odds board as I can remember him being, but that’s the nature of the PGA Tour fall season. It’s hard to find a spot on the schedule that Sahith will have a better chance at winning than this one.
Justin Suh +5000 (PointsBet):
Consistency has been an issue early in the career of Justin Suh, but he’s shown flashes in 2023 of what made him such a highly regarded prospect to begin with. After a few top-10 finishes at the PLAYERS Championship and the Honda Classic, Suh ended the season on a bit of a sour note, failing to finish better than 34th in his last five starts of the season.
Despite the struggles, I’m optimistic about Suh as we begin the fall swing. The 26-year-old made the trip to Crans-Montana, Valais, Switzerland to play in the Omega European Masters, and finished 24th in a decent field. More encouraging than the finish was how Suh hit the ball. He gained 5.24 strokes on approach and hit plenty of fairways.
The 2018 Pac-12 Player of the Year grew up on California golf courses. Suh was a highly decorated amateur golfer with plenty of wins on the West Coast prior to attending USC, where he was one of the best players in the country.
When he’s on, Suh is one of the best putters on Tour, and he should comfortable playing in his home state in search of his first PGA Tour victory.
Akshay Bhatia +5500 (DraftKings):
Akshay Bhatia is still just 21 years old and one of the most tantalizing prospects in the world of golf. The smooth-swinging lefty was able to obtain his first PGA Tour victory at the Barracuda Championship at Tahoe Mountain Club in Truckee, California just a few months ago. The course is just a few hours ride from Silverado and the conditions and course should be very similar.
Bhatia will have no issue making birdies in bunches at Silverado, and the rough shouldn’t be exceedingly penal if he gets loose with his driver.
Bhatia made his debut at Silverado in 2020 at just 18 years old and managed to finish 9th. Since then, he’s gained a great deal of confidence and has refined his game as a professional.
Akshay got engaged this week. He can celebrate with a victory this week at the Fortinet.
Sam Ryder +8000 (FanDuel):
Statistically, Sam Ryder jumps off the page this week. In his past four measured starts, he’s gained 4.2, 5.4, 5.2 and 5.7 strokes on approach and is completely dialed in with his irons. Despite the numbers, he hasn’t managed to crack the top-30 on the leaderboard in that stretch but this is a field that is much weaker than he faced at the end of last season.
In addition to the recent stats, Ryder played some good golf on the West Coast last year. Most notably, he finished 4th at Torrey Pines in a loaded field and also finished 20th at both the Waste Managment Phoenix Open and the Genesis Invitational.
If Ryder continues with his hot approach play, he should be able to contend at Silverado this week.
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