This week the Tour heads to TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, California, for the PGA Championship. The abbreviated schedule post-COVID Suspension has turned the PGA’s hallmark event into the year’s first Major.
This means fans are treated to the best field in 2020, a who’s who of competitors including 49 of the world’s top 50 players.
If someone is advocating a look at past events held at Harding for a clue as to how it will play this year, never read them again. This golf course will be a completely unique test for players.
I had the pleasure of playing Harding three days before the closure of the course in anticipation of this event, and that round definitely shed some light as to how Harding Park will play for this year’s first major.
The Par 70 track is carded at a little over 7200 yards, but it will absolutely play longer by the standards that players are used to week after week. Golf on the San Francisco Peninsula in the summer will change the dynamic of this course significantly. The sea level Harding Park will be played in temperatures that won’t exceed 65 degrees.
This means players who have been playing post-suspension tournaments in the heat of the rest of the country during the summer will find themselves losing 10-20 yards per club from the numbers they have become accustomed to using. So, when you look at that 7200 number, know it is playing every inch of that, plus more.
Off The Tee
This is simple. If you don’t hit the fairways at TPC Harding Park you will be booking a flight home Friday after your round. While the course favors a right to left ball flight off the tee, it isn’t an end all be all by any means.
More critical is finding the short stuff as the rough, measured at 4+ inches high, will leave players impossible shots into these greens. It is pretty simple: if players are not in the fairway, they will not hit it close to what will inevitably be tucked pins.
The problem? Players will be faced with the smallest fairways they will see all season. Measuring at 20-25 yards wide, there isn’t a comparison of the regular Tour stops that also require a driver due to the length.
If the fairways are fast and firm, they will be impossible as even good drives will carry into the rough after roll. If they play soft and without a roll, it only helps to enhance the lack of distance that makes Harding play longer than it is listed.
It is important to note that while driving will be necessary this week, jumping straight to strokes gained off the tee will not land the proper player. The way the stat is measured does accurately measure accuracy.
It measures proximity to the flag after a tee shot, and hitting it in the fairway is not necessarily a prerequisite for gaining strokes off the tee. When analyzing those who will be successful off the tee, it will be imperative to not only look at strokes gained off the tee but always fairways gained, which will highlight players who may be shorter OTT but feature the accuracy required at Harding with the driver.
On The Greens
The greens at Harding Park are why this will not be one of the tougher events in the PGA Championship’s history.
While on a small scale by Tour standards, they are simple. Most feature moderate back to front undulation with little undulation in general. They are absolutely pure Bentgrass, the favorite of any good putter.
Interestingly, the most difficult green is found on Harding’s closing hole. The 18th is one of the only green complexes that features tiers and undulation.
This will allow organizers to set up some drama with a selective pin placement on a hole that will play as the most difficult on the course.
Around the green is where it gets dicey. The Poa rough can easily swallow a golf ball whole, but at the same time players are suggesting reasonable lies are attainable. None of these guys want this 50/50 proposition, so hitting the rather small greens is imperative.
This Week’s Statististics
I kept it very simple this week. Approach is always the feature stat. I combined strokes gained off the tee and fairways gained in an effort to find those players who are not only long but always fairway finders.
Finally, I gave credence to those who will be able to get up and down from the undoubtedly tough conditions and added scrambling in an effort to pinpoint those short game masters.
Onto the Plays!
Webb Simpson +2800 At MyBookie.ag
Quick! Name the players who have won twice in 2020! Justin Thomas won his second event this year last week, but he was preceded by Webb, who took down the Waste Management Open in Phoenix before securing his 2nd win the second week back off suspension at the RBC Heritage. Webb is simply elite while not being priced that way this week.
He LOVES working the ball right to left, which is an advantage off the tee at Harding Park. His driving accuracy is above average by Tour standards, but his money is made on approach.
Minus a weird blip at Jack’s Tournament a few weeks back, Webb has displayed elite striking, gaining 4.2, 4.7, and 4 strokes on approach in three of his last four tournaments.
Webb’s Abilities With The Putter
The thing I love the most about Webb isn’t even his ball-striking, it is what he can do with the putter. Webb has reinvented himself after relying on the Belly Putter early in his career and has turned into one of the best putters on Tour.
He currently sits 17th in strokes he gained for 2020 after finishing 7th last year and has shown in his two wins this season the ability to make pressure putts on the back nine on Sunday.
It can’t hurt that during his walks at Harding Park, he will have a view of where he won his first and only major at neighboring Olympic Club. Can’t be back for the psyche, right?
Webb should be priced amongst the favorites for the PGA Championship, and I will gladly take a piece at 28/1.
Matthew Fitzpatrick +4500 At BetOnline.ag
It is only a matter of time before Fitzpatrick breaks through for his first career win on the PGA Tour. The 25-year-old already has 5 wins on the European Tour and a United States Amateur crown on his resume and 2020 was going to be his first full year playing with the big boys.
The suspension hampered those plans a bit but Fitzpatrick is rounding into form at the perfect time with a 3rd at Jack’s tournament and a 6th last week at the WGC St Jude.
The backbone of Fitzpatrick’s game is his putter and he should love the smooth greens at Harding Park. Over his last five events, all post-suspension he has averaged almost six strokes gained putting including ten last week.
His Game Is Very Solid
The rest of his game is excellent. While he has shown a little inconsistency striking the ball, he did manage to gain six strokes ball striking in callous conditions at The Memorial, flashing the upside that made him the #1 Amateur in the world at one point.
A week where Fitzpatrick combines solid striking with his incredible putter will be his breakthrough week. Based on recent outings, his form is there to do just that, so I will be taking a piece of him at 45/1.
That is it for this week’s write up. Thank you for reading! I am free all week for any questions and be sure to check out the FORE! Profit Podcast, my full card on Wednesday Afternoon, and my live Q and A Wednesday Evening.
All of my weekly content is available via @jmazzjd on Twitter.