A heap of golfers, and fans, already have their minds on azaleas and pimento cheese sandwiches. But, there is one more week to prep.
For some that means rest and for others, it means an appearance at this week's Valero Texas Open.
The VTO has a new spot on the calendar this year, but it's not entirely new. It will play the pre-Masters role this year which it also did back in 2013. There will be a few small changes due to the schedule change but we'll discuss that below.
Previously a 156-man field, the new date also means 12 fewer golfers get to try their hand at TPC San Antonio's AT&T Oaks Course. It will be a 144-man field with top 70 and ties playing the weekend.
You might notice that a good chunk of that yardage comes from the par 5s as three of them play over 590 yards. In general, those are three-shotters for nearly everyone in the field. The TOUR average for Par 5 birdie or better percentage last year was right around 43 percent. The par 5s at TPC San Antonio yield par breakers at 20, 23, 29, and 43 percent. There are no easy buckets here.
In addition to the tough par 5s, there are also four par 4s over 450 yards and three of the par 3s play over 205 yards. Add that up, and it's going to be a course that gives golfers a good variety when it comes to club selection.
Over the last 5 years, this event ranks bottom 10 in eagle rate and birdie rate while also yielding the second-highest amount of bogeys or worse (non-majors). Gamers should expect an incredibly low scoring environment this week.
What makes the course so tough? Off the tee golfers have to deal with Texas winds and driving corridors that are some of the narrowest on TOUR at the 325-yard mark. Small misses are perfectly fine at the AT&T Oaks Course but if you start spraying it then you quickly find a lot of tree/bushes/rocks.
From there, golfers continue to deal with Texas winds as they prep for approach shots into a lot of elevated greens with runoffs/dropoffs waiting to collect errant iron shots.
From a stat perspective, distance can give you a huge edge if you are driving it well (avoiding the native area) but you also need to handle yourself around the greens here. The weather can alter the course fit from year-to-year but things that show up a bunch over the last six years have been driving distance, short game, and bogey avoidance.
For grasses, the course will feature bermudagrass from wall-to-wall but it was all overseeded near the end of October which is nothing new for this event. The greens get overseeded with poa trivialis and velvet bent while the fairways get ryegrass overseed. Something that is different (versus the last few years) is they've overseeded the rough with ryegrass as well to help simulate Augusta National conditions, as much as they can. They haven't overseeded the rough here since 2014 so that will be a bit of a change/relief for a lot of golfers.
Sifting through some past quotes over at the Fantasy Golfanac, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.
Kevin Chappell: "I believe I was third last year in greens in regulation and it’s such a difficult scrambling course because of the wind and how severe some of the runoffs are around the greens. It’s important to get the ball on the green when you can and not necessarily force a shot in there to try to get a birdie look because there’s not many out there."
Adam Scott: "the wind definitely blows in Texas, but I’ve talked about it in the past. I think there are a lot of similarities landscape-wise out here, feel of the golf course, and even down to the crowds and people having a noisy and fun time, very similar to Australian sports fans."
Martin Laird: "This course sets up nice for me. Lot of the tee shots that I feel comfortable with. I like to move the ball left to right and there seems to be a number of tee shots out here if you can cut it it helps."
Charley Hoffman: "That’s this golf course. It gives you plenty of room out there but if you start hitting it unsolid you can find the native area very quickly and, if that happens, you’re just trying to get it back in play and hopefully have a putt for par or make a bogey and get out. Any golf course bogies don’t hurt you. Definitely not out here.
You tend to see guys make a big number trying to pull off miracle shot and I think I played here enough to know if I get in a bad spot, take an unplayable, don’t try to pull off the miracle shot."
Phil Mickelson: "You know, it’s not probably the best place to get ready for the Masters in that it’s very windy and tight. Can’t really unleash drivers the way you want to at Augusta so I probably used other weeks to get ready."
Overview: The theme around here is usually the wind and big numbers. You need to drive it between the pipes to avoid the big numbers. Mickelson talks about how TPC San Antonio is not the ideal prep for Augusta. That sort of goes hand-in-hand with Laird's comments as he says there are a lot of left-to-right tee shots at TPC San Antonio while Augusta is going to ask the opposite. However, there are other aspects of the test here that would get you ready for Augusta National (dealing with the elements while hitting mid-to-long irons, tough around-the-green, low scoring environment, etc.).
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:
The rocky base of the course likely lends itself to the first three correlations. All three are desert courses. Scottsdale and PGA WEST (Desert Classic) also provide similar grass types.
Bay Hill and Augusta National give us longish par 72s with a high rate of doubles or worse. You can't be sloppy if you want to succeed.
Thursday: Partly sunny with a high of 85 degrees. SSW Winds at 6-to-16 MPH.
Friday: Mostly sunny with a high near 86 degrees. NNE Winds at 5-to-17 MPH.
Weekend: Temps cool a bit to the upper-70s/low-80s and Saturday brings a good chance of showers with heavy winds.
There is no consistency across weather forecasts this week. Some call for calm winds all week but others say gusts will be lurking around 15-to-20 MPH all week. Given the history of the weather at this event, I would lean toward the latter. We should plan for wind to be a factor this week.
This event has been known to have a few instances where you can end up on the wrong end of the draw.