Josh Culp

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100th PGA Championship Preview

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

It's Glory's Last Shot. For the final time. 

Next year, this event will be moved to May which means The Open Championship will be the last major of the 2019 schedule. I don't think the Brits will be adopting that same slogan. 

Run by the PGA of America, this event changes courses every year but it's often set up to favor aggressive play. That's one of the reasons why the list of winners is loaded with big hitters like Justin Thomas, Jimmy Walker, Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, and Keegan Bradley, since 2011. Jason Dufner squeaked through to win the 2013 edition for the short knockers. 

With a full field of 156 golfers heading to the Midwest, let's break down the course and see who might deserve to be on our radar this week... 

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The Course

This week's golf course is Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis, Missouri. It last hosted the PGA Championship in 1992 but we've also seen it at the 2008 BMW Championship and a few Champions Tour events since then, as well.

It's a Robert Trent Jones design that was redone by Rees Jones in 2005. We will revisit that connection in the correlated courses section below.

For tournament play this will be a par 70 that gets set up between 7200 and 7400 yards. The scorecard yardage shows 7,317 yards.

The course is a tree-lined layout that has water on 11 holes but during the 2008 BMW Championship it was only hit into on four holes and even then, that was somewhat rare. During that week there were an extremely low amount of big numbers but there also weren't many eagles. I would expect the amount of big numbers to stay relatively low this week (by major championship standards) with the eagles having a chance to increase depending on how easy the "sometimes" drivable par-4 11th plays.

Speaking of that 2008 BMW Championship, it was played shortly after a huge storm. In fact, play was called off for an entire day and they played 36 holes in one day. Because of that, the course played extremely soft and I wouldn't look too much into that leaderboard if you are trying to determine what style of golf it takes to succeed here. During that week there were seven holes where the field averaged less than 280 yards off the tee which would suggest this being a less-than-driver course. That was most likely due to the soft conditions preventing any rollout on the fairways and forcing golfers to hit to the same landing areas off the tee. During media day this year, Justin Thomas called it "a great driving golf course" and said it's definitely going to be a lot of practice on the drivers and 3-woods. He also said there were some bunkers that some of the long hitters could challenge. I think that will give an edge to the bigger hitters, but this also doesn't appear to be a course where you NEED distance in order to contend. 

A big element of the tee-to-green challenge is the zoysia fairways here which generally provide tremendous lies. It was a hot topic last time they were here and we also see zoysia fairways on courses like East Lake, TPC Southwind, and Trinity Forest.

From the fairways, golfers will attack some huge bentgrass greens. They average over 7,500 square feet here at Bellerive CC and there are a few different ways to look at how that will impact play. First, you could say that lag putting will be extremely important since golfers will probably get stuck with quite a few putts from outside 40 feet, over bumps and ridges on the greens. Second, you could say that it puts a premium on approach precision. If you land your iron shots in the proper quadrants then you should avoid a lot of those lag putts and therefore lower your three-putt chances. Personally, I will target the latter by looking at tee-to-green machines but I will definitely consider putting from outside 25 feet as a tiebreaker this week.

If you can attack this course aerially (high ball flight) then you may be able to avoid a lot of the greenside bunkers since most of those bunkers are not snug tight around the greens, but often force golfers to hit 25-to-50 yard type of bunker shots.

Overall, this should be a tough test but should also be set up for aggressive play and I'd expect a winning score in the 10-to-15 under range. UPDATE: As the early-week quotes come in, I would now set the target winning score at 15-to-20 under range.


Course Quotes

Sifting through some past quotes over at the Fantasy Golfanac, let's try to break down the course to see how they will play...
Justin Thomas: "It’s a great driving course, kind of long doglegs that you have to kind of drive it, fit it in here. It’s not like everyone’s playing to the same spot. You can take some bunkers on. But for the most part, it’s going to be a good challenge. The rough was up in May. I’m sure it’s going to be healthy. It’s going to be very hot and humid."
Rory McIlroy: "I did a little bit of practice with JT last week in Florida, and I asked him about it and he said it’s sort of typical PGA Championship venue, and it’s sort of long and the greens are quite big and slopey."
Kerry Haigh: "I think it’s in some ways more enjoyable to play, but at the same time, the large greens, some of the largest greens in championship golf, some 10,000 square feet, and certainly large bunkers, so that combined with the support of this entire community, I can’t wait for the 100th PGA Championship to start."

Tom Watson: "These greens are Robert Trent Jones greens that, they have just all kinds of slopes to them, the greens are really big but they play small. And you have to play a lot of very competent shots to have a good chance at it. The bunkers are very difficult to play out of. "

Jim Furyk: "You know, the penalty here on this golf course is the greens are severe. There’s a lot of slope, there’s a lot going on, a lot of ridges, a lot of swales, huge humps and bumps. The greens are sectioned off into little areas, and being this soft, we can fire at the flags and stop the ball. To be quite honest with you, you can’t get the conditions very firm and fast or the greens wouldn’t be playable in spots to be honest with you. This isn’t a place where you’re ever going to have the greens rolling 13 and firm because you honestly wouldn’t be able to play them. So they’re very, very severe to be honest with you."

Overview: The main attraction is the LARGE SLOPEY GREENS here at Bellerive. That will put an emphasis on ball-striking to the proper quadrants of the greens but good lag putting could also pay dividends. 

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: 

East Lake GC
TPC Southwind
Firestone CC
Trinity Forest
GC of Houston
PGA National's Champion Course
PGA Championship rota

You don't need to use all these courses but these are the ones that caught my eye as potential pointers. 

East Lake is another Rees Jones redesign. It also features zoysia fairways and it plays to a par of 70. 

TPC Southwind and Trinity Forest also feature zoysia fairways and Trinity Forest also has huge greens. 

GC of Houston sticks to the theme of Rees Jones tracks with large greens. 

Firestone CC is a tough (except for last week) par 70 with bentgrass greens, played in the summer against a strong field. 

PGA National is another par 70 with a tough scoring environment. That lines up well with typical PGA Championship scoring conditions.

Lastly, we can look at the entire rota of PGA Championship courses, because they tend to set up their courses in a similar fashion. 

The Weather

Thursday: Sunny with a high near 89 degrees. Calm winds. 

Friday: Mostly Sunny with a high near 90 degrees. Calm winds.

Weekend: Slight chances of storms with temps remaining in the upper 80s. 

I read that this area doesn't get much wind during the summer and that holds true in this week's forecast. It looks to be dead calm for most of the week with nothing higher than 12 MPH on the current forecast, even when looking at gusts. I wouldn't expect there to be much of a tee-time advantage unless we see a storm move into the equation. We'll check back on Wednesday. 

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