PGA Championship at Oak Hill Preview
PGA CHAMPIONSHIP AT OAK HILL PREVIEW – We are back at it this week with another preview, but this time it is a little bit bigger because we’re previewing the second major of the year. There are a few storylines that we’ll be discussing on our podcast, Clubhouse Picks, but for now I’ll preview the course and what to expect this week when play actually begins.
Nothing too novel to report in terms of the field. The PGA Championship routinely boasts the strongest field of any major, and this week is no different. 99 of the top 100 in the OWGR will be teeing it up, with only Will Zalatoris sitting on the sidelines as he recovers from back surgery.
If we’re just checking in on our superstars, Jon Rahm and Scottie Scheffler, they are co-favorites at +750. After that, the odds shoot up to the teens for the likes of Rory and Co., so the odds for some high-level talent are actually more enticing than normal.
Of the monster favorites, my inclination would be to go with Scottie over Rahm, but I don’t bet on golfers at +750, so they’re both out of the equation for me from a betting perspective.
The unique thing about this field, and what makes it the strongest in golf is that everyone playing in this tournament is a professional. There’s no open qualifying for this event like the U.S. Open or The Open Championship where amateurs can get in. Likewise, it’s not like The Masters where part of the field is composed of non-competitive seniors and amateur invitees.
One last thing of note: If you see 20 or so very unfamiliar names, they are likely one of the 20 club professionals who qualified via the PGA Professional Championship. Make no mistake about these guys though, they can still play at a high level and there are several among them with experience playing on the PGA Tour, including 2011 Nationwide Tour Player of the Year, J.J. Killeen.
Oak Hill, located just outside of Rochester, New York, is going to be playing at around 7,400 yards, and comes in at par 70. That’s a pretty beefy track for a par 70 and the final few holes are brutes, including the 18th which is a par 4 measuring almost 500 yards.
Spring rain has the rough thick and vicious by all accounts, and the course is probably playing a little bit differently than the PGA of America had intended when it was originally scheduled. When this course was put on the rotation, the PGA Championship was being held in August, but it’s since been moved to May. Shifting the tournament out of late summer and into spring means that it will likely be a little bit softer, and the aformentioned rough will create challenges.
Jason Dufner won at this course in 2013, but it’s since gone through a complete overhaul which saw a few holes changed entirely, and every green complex on the property has been renovated. Thus, we don’t have much to look back at in terms of past performance to guess at what the winner might look like.
The winning score was -10 when Dufner won, and we can assume that the course will likely be more difficult this time around, so don’t expect guys to be lighting up the scoreboard. In the 2013 edition of this tournament, the leaderboard was full of guys who won with precision over power. Dufner, Jim Furyk, and Henrik Stenson were the top three finishers and none of them would be considered bombers by any standard, even a decade ago.
Putting it all together
If anything about the 2013 event holds true for this version of the course, it would suggest that we should shade towards precision over power. That being said, these renovations look like they’ll tend to favor strong drivers of the golf ball more than when this course hosted the PGA Championship a decade ago.
Someone with power, who excels with their irons is probably the most logical place to start building a card. Someone like Tony Finau fits the mold of a golfer I’d like to target this week. He’s been elite in SG: Approach and has traded places at the top with the Iron God, Tom Hoge, for the last six weeks or so. His stats for SG: Off the Tee are good but not elite, so he may fall through the cracks for some people, but the power is more than enough for him to compete.
Scrambling will be important as the greens at Oak Hill are quite small, so everyone will be forced to reckon with them at some point. Likewise, approach out of the rough will be a useful stat as everyone will be missing some of these narrow fairways.
The one stat that I’m not terribly interested in from a handicapping perspective is SG: Putting. Putting is pretty much the least predictive stat in golf (read: it’s really hard to tell when a guy will have a hot or cold week with the flatstick). With these greens being so small, I think it probably benefits players who have been struggling to get momentum with the flatstick, like Scottie Scheffler. Chipping is never an issue for him, so the idea that he’ll be chipping a little bit more often and won’t be faced with longer putts is probably beneficial for him.