The American Express is not a "designated event" but it'd be hard to know that based on the stacked field that is lined up to play this week in the California desert.
Headlined by Jon Rahm, Scottie Scheffler, and Patrick Cantlay, other notables include Tony Finau, Will Zalatoris, Xander Schauffele, Sungjae Im, and Cameron Young. That is before you even get into the rising stars category of names like Tom Kim, Taylor Montgomery, and Sahith Theegala.
We've seen some longshot winners take home the hardware in recent years but it would be all that more surprising if a triple-digit winner walked away with the win this week, given the strength of the field at the top of the board.
The field is fully loaded with 156 golfers this week, and they'll play alongside an amateur pro-am partner. That means pace of play will be long and the use of multiple courses will be required. In fact, every golfer will get a guaranteed three rounds of action as they play a trio of courses this week before the 54-hole cut is made. The top 65 and ties will then head back out to the host venue, the Stadium Course, on Sunday.
This week's event is played across a trio of courses in Palm Springs.
Stadium Course at PGA WEST (Host Course):
Known as a bit of a sequel to TPC Sawgrass, Pete Dye laid out the Stadium Course in a similar, risk/reward fashion.
The landing areas are pretty generous but stray too far offline and you're likely to find one of the water hazards that come into play on seven holes.
Birdies and eagles are recorded at a high rate compared to the TOUR average but big numbers are also lurking, as you might expect from a Dye design.
The field finds 1.87 double bogeys or worse per 72 holes at the Stadium Course which ranks it just ahead of Augusta National, Bay Hill, TPC Southwind, and TPC Twin Cities in terms of doubles recorded.
For the grass nerds out there, we should look at performance on cool-season turf because the ryegrass and poa triv overseed takes dominance over the dormant bermuda.
Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA WEST:
This course has been on the rota since the 2016 edition of this event. It is a par 72 that sits at 7,147 yards on the scorecard.
The longest par 4 checks in at just 462 yards and three of them play under 380 yards. The result is a lot of short irons and wedges if you are driving it well.
Looking at the par 5s, three of them play under 550 yards so they are accessible to the entire field. You need to either be long or straight off the tee in order to attack. Ideally you have both driving skillsets but either distance or accuracy will do the trick.
Just like the Stadium Course, pros will see dormant bermudagrass that is overseeded with ryegrass and poa triv.
La Quinta Country Club:
This course left for one year due to COVID but it returned last year and will be utilized again in 2023.
Set up as a par 72 that plays to just 7,060 yards, it's also relatively short by PGA TOUR standards.
The field averages a 26 percent birdie-or-better rate at La Quinta CC which places it second easiest behind only Kapalua in terms of regular PGA TOUR stops.
La Quinta CC has tighter fairways and small greens but that is no match for the pros. The setup crew keeps the pin positions very accessible for the amateur playing partners and the pros feast on those easy conditions.
Similar to the other courses, they'll see poa triv on the greens.
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Sifting through some past quotes, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.
Patrick Reed in 2017: "unlike at Q-School, the pins are a little bit more accessible, because you're playing with amateurs as well, they're not going to put pins three paces from the edge, because then you might not finish. So, they put the pins a little bit more accessible, that's why you see a little lower scores. If they were to tuck the pins like they normally do on PGA TOUR weeks, the score would get cut in half."
Phil Mickelson in 2019: "my goal or game plan of playing the Stadium Course is to actually hit drivers and to try to bomb it down there as close to the greens as you can. Even though the fairways are tight in a lot of areas and if I miss fairways, try to have wedges or short irons in and it seemed to play out okay today and I gave myself a lot of good chances."
Hudson Swafford in 2018: "I think you need to hit your irons well here. I think you need to give yourself as many birdie opportunities as possible. Putting is a big part of this event, but the greens are a little tricky to read with the overseed, so I think that iron play is huge here, I think giving yourself as many birdie opportunities as possible."
Many talk about their past experiences at Q-School while Reed explains why it's so much easier to score based on the course setup. The pace of play is slow enough already with amateurs by their side, they try to help speed that along as much as possible through the use of easier pin positions.
Using historical data we can look at overperformance and underperformance at this week's host course and compare that to all of the courses played out on TOUR. Here are the ones that shared a lot of overlap:
TPC Twin Cities
Pebble Beach Pro-Am
The ability to handle slower rounds might translate across the Pebble Beach Pro-Am. The emphasis on driving the ball well likely translate from Scottsdale and Torrey Pines. The risk-reward nature of easy scoring conditions but water lurking translates from the Twin Cities. Last but certainly not least, TPC Summerlin is another desert venue out West with easy scoring conditions.
Thursday: Sunny with a high of 60 degrees. Calm winds around 6 MPH.
Friday: Sunny with a high of 65 degrees. Winds at 10 to 15 MPH.
Saturday: Sunny with a high of 65 degrees. Calm winds around 5 MPH.
There looks to be a chance for gustier conditions on Friday but far too early to lock that in. Definitely keep an eye on that forecast as the week progresses.