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Culp's Corner

THE NORTHERN TRUST Preview at Liberty National

by Josh Culp
Updated On: August 16, 2021, 1:54 pm ET

The PGA TOUR heads to Jersey City for the first leg of the 2021 FedExCup Playoffs. 

This event has a rotating host and this year it's Liberty National playing that role. 

As the starting event of the Playoffs there are 125 eligible golfers. As of Monday morning, there is just one golfer taking a pass, No. 8 seed Louis Oosthuizen. He was a pre-tournament WD last week due to a neck injury so he's presumably resting up for the final push of the Playoffs. 

At the end of the week, the top 70 in the FedExCup standings will move on to play in next week's BMW Championship. 

The Course

Liberty National Golf Club is the host this week. We've seen it in competition at the 2009 and 2013 Barclays, the 2017 Presidents Cup, and the 2019 NORTHERN TRUST. 

Laid out by Bob Cupp and Tom Kite, this 2006 design was built on a landfill and was not well-received initially at the 2009 Barclays. 

It got a makeover ahead of the 2013 edition and the players tend to like it better now. 

Some of those changes were just related to the setup of the course. Phil Mickelson had this to say about the changes, "If Augusta had rough and 24‑yard wide fairways, I don't think it would be a very fun or great golf course, and you have the same criticism you have here in '09. Now with the rough and a first cut, I think the subtleties and nuances of the golf course are coming out and it's spectacular." 

Off the tee, strategy will be determined by course conditions. As a par 71 that plays to 7,410 yards, it requires a driver on most of the par 4s unless it's playing firm and fast. We'll need to listen to pre-tourney pressers to get more information on those expected course conditions. 

From there, golfers will deal with water hazards on more than half the holes, 98 bunkers, and small greens (just 4,653 square feet on average). 

That sounds like a tough task and once you reach the greens you have to deal with speedy, undulating bentgrass greens. If you need a visual aide, Webb Simpson said they remind him of Donald Ross greens. 

Overall, it's a pretty tough expected scoring environment that is going to produce a lot of big numbers. The winning scores in past editions hosted by Liberty National have been 9-under in 2009, 11-under in 2013, and 16-under in 2019. If I had to peg the winning score on Monday before the event I would put that guess somewhere between 13 and 17-under. After seeing the calm winds in the forecast, perhaps it plays a bit easier than that. 



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Course Quotes

Sifting through some past quotes, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.

Rory McIlroy: "There’s not much rough out there, anyway, so it’s sort of bombs away with the driver and try to get it up as far as you can and go from there. It’s definitely a golf course that you’re going to have to keep being aggressive on this week." 

Jon Rahm: "I do believe it favors the long hitter. The rough is not very, very thick. We were pretty aggressive off the tee, and you start taking certain lines and hitting drivers everywhere, with a little bit of like a loose attitude knowing that if you miss a couple shots and still have a chance with the rough, it helps out."

Byeong Hun An: "It’s a tricky golf course. You have to be precise with the second shot, especially, not only drivers, because like I said, there are a lot of greens because undulating greens, so you don’t want to miss it in the wrong side."

Brooks Koepka: "This golf course is exciting. I think there’s about six easy holes where you really have got to make your birdies and then there’s about ten tough holes. If you put it in the fairway, you’re not exactly still expecting to make par, so it’s a very tough golf course. You’ve got to position yourself well off the tee and then if you miss greens, the lines around the green aren’t exactly tight, but the grass, there’s no real root system. So you can very easily duff one and if you’re worrying about duffing it, you thin it, and these greens are very — they have subtle slopes to them. So you never quite have a straight putt."

Charl Schwartzel: "The greens have got a lot of contours, so you got to be accurate with your irons, you got to leave the ball in the right places, so it always makes you think. It’s not just a straightforward course where you can hit it and you’re going to be fine. You got to think around it."

Recap: Golfers were able to hit a lot of drivers during the 2019 edition when it was soft. They talk a lot about the tricky greens, putting an emphasis on iron play. 


Correlated Courses

Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, and past performance, here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week: 

Augusta National Golf Club
Muirfield Village Golf Club
TPC Boston
TPC Sawgrass
Quail Hollow

We're looking for courses where you can hit lots of drivers but there is a penalty somewhere along the lines for poorly struck shots. 

We don't have as large of a sample as most weeks but these courses pass the eye test for me. Maybe add in Detroit GC if you want to run with the Donald Ross green complex quote from Webb. 


The Weather

Thursday: Overcast with a high of 78 degrees. Winds at 6 to 10 MPH. 

Friday: Overcast with a high of 80 degrees. Calm winds. 

It's going to be a major relief, temperature-wise, compared to last week in Greensboro. There doesn't look to be any major concerns weatherwise so I think we are in for a fine week with calm winds for most of the week. 

Josh Culp

Josh Culp joined NBC Sports Edge in 2014. The DFS enthusiast from Iowa State can be found on Twitter @futureoffantasy.