It's time to unwind after a power-packed weekend at Torrey Pines.
The cure for a major hangover will be a dose of TPC River Highlands at this week's Travelers Championship.
Earning the reputation as a well-run event that is played on a course that most enjoy, plenty of stars show up to play this event on an annual basis. That is the case again this week as Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka headline the field with a handful of household names lining up behind them as well.
It's another full field of 156 golfers. After a tighter cutline last week, it returns to the usual top 65 and ties this week.
Let's jump right in and talk about the course.
TPC River Highlands is the star of the show this week. It's a Pete Dye design that is not going to scare anyway away with its length. It's a par 70 layout that plays just 6,841 yards. One of the shorter courses they play all year.
Yet, when you dive into the list of recent winners, Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson have won three of the last six editions while the other three during that stretch were won by shorter hitters (Chez Reavie, Jordan Spieth, Russell Knox). A nice mixed bag from a distance point-of-view.
Off the tee, you can play it conservatively with irons and 3woods or you can get aggressive by keeping the driver in hand and you don't run into too much risk along the way. There is water in play on five holes but the rate of double bogeys is lower than the TOUR average which tells us the water hazards aren't a major concern.
The real test here is on approach. This is a second-shot course and golfers who are elite with their short irons and wedges will rise to the top. We will revisit that more in the quotes section but spoiler alert, golfers talk a lot about how many short irons and wedges they have around River Highlands.
Around the greens, golfers will deal with kentucky bluegrass and fescue rough. It's target length is around 3.5 inches but it will likely seem like a breeze to play out of compared to the brutal Kikuyu they faced last week at Torrey Pines.
With so many short irons and wedges, it makes sense the green sizes are smaller than TOUR average (5,000 square feet at River Highlands). They have to defend the course with tough pin positions. The field usually averages around 67 percent GIR rate so they are still relatively easy to hit, despite the smaller size. As for grass, they will face a blend of bentgrass and poa annua, very common for a course in the North.
As for green speeds, they can ramp them up past 12 feet on the stimp which is on the faster side of the spectrum.
Overall, the scoring environment sits on the easier side of par but usually lands pretty close to that number. With a course that yields so many short approach shots, there will inevitably be a few golfers each day that get in the zone and catch fire. The most glaring example of this was Jim Furyk in 2016 when he fired a 12-under 58 to set the PGA TOUR scoring record.
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Sifting through some past quotes, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.
Rory McIlroy: " It’s quite similar to an event on the European Tour every year in Hong Kong. It’s a par-70, same sort of thing, quite short, you feel like you have a wedge in your hand every hole. But if you don’t hit it in the fairways and don’t put yourself in position, it can be a little tricky. You need to be accurate here and not feel like you can be super aggressive but just sort of reigning that back a bit but knowing that there’s plenty of opportunities and just to stay patient."
Bubba Watson: "Yesterday I added it up after I left the media center. I had three holes that I didn’t have a wedge into it, so three par-3s I had a longer iron, I guess you’d say. "
Chris Stroud: "This course is great for me. I’m not a bomber, so it’s nice to be able to have a lot of short irons into the greens. I even have a note in my yardage book, as long as I’m sharp from 100 yards to 165 this week, I can make a lot of birdies, and I’ve done that so far this week."
Paul Casey: "This is a golf course where the green is relatively small, but they’re tucking the pins away and putting them on some funky little slopes. If you short side yourself, especially if you get over these greens, you’re going to be in a world of hurt. "
Chez Reavie: "Yeah, the golf course is great. You can shape it both ways off the tee; hit every club in your bag from longer irons to short irons. It’s just a test of all your shots. That’s something I like. I’m a shot maker. I like to work it both ways."
Recap: Shot shaping and short irons.
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:
Muirfield Village GC
Copperhead Course at Innisbrook
Pebble Beach GL
We are primarily looking at second-shot courses where you have a lot of wedges or short irons, and the greens can get speedy.
Thursday: Sunny with a high of 78 degrees. Winds at 5 to 10 MPH.
Friday: Overcast with a high of 73 degrees. Winds at 4 to 8 MPH.
It looks like a great start to the week with slightly cooler temps but no rain. There is a threat of precipitation on Sunday but that is still a long way out. Hopefully, that changes as the forecast gets more confident.