From green jacket to tartan jacket, the Masters after party takes place this week on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina.
The field has seen a big boost in strength this year, perhaps benefitting from the worldwide schedule changes that took place in 2019. We have just four events, including the Heritage, before the TOUR heads to Bethpage Black for the PGA Championship.
The field remains limited to just 132 golfers so a rise in star power means less opportunity for golfers playing out of the Web.com Tour reshuffle category. At press time on Monday morning, the reshuffle only goes five deep. Roger Sloan (No. 5 in the reshuffle) is in the field but K.H. Lee sits at No. 6 on the reshuffle and he's currently the first alternate.
There is also no open qualifier for this limited-field event so there won't be another Monday Qualifier hoisting the hardware like we just saw with Corey Conners at the Valero Texas Open.
Harbour Town Golf Links has played host here since the inaugural 1969 edition. It was originally a 6,657 yard test but now plays right around 7,100 yards as a par 71. Plenty of length added over that time but it's still on the short side for PGA TOUR standards.
Built by Pete Dye in the late 60s, this heavily tree-lined layout will often force golfers to let irons and woods (less than driver) off the tee. When you talk about a position-based course, this is one of the first that comes to mind. Even if you hit the fairway you may find your approach shot blocked by overhanging trees.
If you look at shot dispersion patterns then you know that hitting the correct side of fairways is not as easy as it sounds, even for pros with irons off the tee. That means you need some luck on your side this week, or some creativity to work your ball around any obstacles on approach.
If the test wasn't hard enough with tight driving corridors, it gets tougher when you factor in the green sizes. At an average of 3,700 square feet, they are the smallest targets on TOUR. That means golfers will miss plenty of greens this week but if they do land the greens then they likely have a good look at birdie.
Looking at the expected scoring environments, we see this course in the bottom 10 in terms of eagle rate and also the bottom 15 in birdies yielded per 72 holes. It's one of those courses where par is your friend.
As for stats, there are a few different things that pop out. For lots of courses, the stats that pop each year vary based on weather and what not but there are two stats that generally over-index each and every year at Harbour Town, driving accuracy and strokes gained around-the-green. Combine that with strokes gained approach which doesn't over-index versus a normal TOUR event but it remains incredibly important. Those would be the three stats I'd target this week: driving accuracy, strokes gained approach, and strokes gained around-the-green.
Yes, this is one of those rare weeks where driving accuracy pops as a relevant stat.
For grass types, golfers will see bermuda from wall-to-wall. They sometimes overseed but the bermuda is generally out of dormancy by the time this event rolls around.
Sifting through some past quotes over at the Fantasy Golfanac, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.
Jim Furyk: "It calls for a lot of different shots. It’s different than a lot of golf courses we play. I won’t lie to you, my strengths are very valuable here, getting the high, bombing draw and driver isn’t really in my wheelhouse. And there’s not a huge need for that here."
Kevin Kisner: "I just feel like it’s a great shot maker’s course. You can be in the fairway and have to carve shots into the pin. It kind of suits my game. I love to see the picture and try to hit the shots."
Luke Donald: "the guys that can scramble well and have good course management, it’s not a course you need to be a long hitter. Certain holes it helps, obviously, but the long hitters, it’s taking driver out of their hands a lot. So I feel like the playing field’s leveled out."
Sam Saunders: "I’ve always enjoyed golf courses where if you hit a shot into the trees you have an opportunity to curve the ball. And I love that there’s not long rough here. Even if you’re stuck behind some trees you have a chance to peel one through the trees or hit a big high cut or low hook. It makes it fun, because I feel like there’s always an opportunity to recover from an errant shot here."
Wesley Bryan: "It’s not overly long. You have a fair amount of short and mid-irons in out here. The par-3s are really tough. So you’ve got to be really precise with your irons. And traditionally the guy that putts the best out here usually has a lot of success. So that’s one of the strengths of my game and I feel that’s why it sets up pretty good for me."
Overview: The theme is creativity and iron play. You don't need to bomb it off the tee but you need to position it well off the tee. Or else, you need to be a magician from the trees.
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:
Innisbrook Resort's Copperhead Course
There is an obvious theme to the courses this week. These are the tracks where you could, in theory, leave your driver at home and still contend for the week. Just ask Stenson who did just that when he won at Sedgefield CC. Another less-than-driver course in the same region of the country.
Thursday: Sunny with a high near 79 degrees. Winds SSE at 9-to-13 MPH.
Friday: Strong chance of showers/storms with a high near 78 degrees. Heavy South Winds at 20 MPH with gusts up to 35 MPH.
Weekend: Temps stay in the low-70s over the weekend. Precipitation clears. Winds remain steady.
We have a weather situation to monitor here. As of now, it looks like a good chance that Friday could be full of delays or even pushed back to Saturday entirely.