In our last article, we looked back on the year that was prior to the hiatus, but here, it’s all about the future. The PGA is set to resume on June 11 at Colonial Country Club for the Charles Schwab Challenge where an expanded field will be in play. The new schedule features a ton of changes, and with a packed tournament lineup well into the Fall, here’s a preview of what to look for in the first few events back.
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RESTART: The New Schedule
Charles Schwab Challenge, June 11 to June 14
RBC Heritage, June 18 to 21
Travelers Championship, June 25 to 28
The first three events on the new schedule all feature venues that have been mainstays on Tour over the last twenty years or so and will provide us with a ton of course history data to look at. First up is the aforementioned Colonial, a classic, tight tree-lined tight venue which normally features lower than average Green in Regulation percentages and Driving Accuracy percentages among the field. Colonial’s collection of longer Par 4’s should put a premium on ball-striking and longer iron play as approach shots from 150-175 have seen the most volume in preceding years, with shots from greater than 175 yards out also comprising a big portion of approaches. This isn’t a venue for bomb and gougers to typically excel at, so look for players who were excelling with iron play, or who have traditionally been good long iron players to excel off the top here.
Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the of the second event back—the RBC Heritage—is a classic Pete Dye design that plays somewhat similar to Colonial in that Greens in Regulation percentages are often some of the lowest we’ll see all year from the field. The venue features some of the smallest greens on Tour and the tight doglegs also means players will have longer iron shots into several of the greens as well. Historically, 175-200 yards has been the most popular range for approach shots here so, again, expect long iron play to be a huge factor.
TPC River Highlands, the third venue we’ll see after the restart, and site of the Travelers Championship, should also play somewhat similarly to the first two. The Pete Dye rebuild does have some more “fun holes” like the driveable Par 4-15th, and a couple of risk-reward Par 5’s, but it still places a big emphasis on mid-to-long iron play than many venues with approaches from greater than 200 yards being the second most popular range from past events. We have seen some longer hitters prosper here over the years with the likes of Bubba Watson, Keegan Bradley and Marc Leishman all finding various forms of success.
All things considered, the first three venues all share quite a few similarities. Players will be looking at heavy doses of longer Par 4’s on tighter, classical set-ups that should emphasize superior iron play and solid ball-striking over pure power.
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FAST STARTERS: Players to Watch
Rory McIlroy: It’s easy to simply think “bomber” when you type the name Rory McIlroy, but the truth is, he’s had a ton of success on a lot of classic venues in the past. Rory beat the field handily last season on Hamilton Golf and Country Club, an older tree-lined Par 70 setup in Canada, and also collected a win at the Pete Dye designed TPC Sawgrass when he won THE PLAYERS. With two of the first three events being played on Pete Dye designs, and Rory also having won his first PGA Championship on the Pete Dye Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, you have to like his chances at picking up a W in one of these first three starts. McIlroy has had some issues with his wedge play this year, as he entered the hiatus ranked just 150th in proximity on approaches from 50-125 yards out, but ranks 5th and 39th in approach proximity from 175-200 yards and >200 yards, respectively. Despite none of the first three venues being overly long, they should all give Rory a chance to lean on his superior mid-to long iron game and provide him an opportunity to pick up a win, a feat he couldn’t quite accomplish in 2020 pre-stoppage.
Patrick Cantlay: Cantlay was just coming off an early season break when the pandemic began, so we admittedly don’t have a ton of data on the now two-time Tour winner to fall back on. Still, the number seven ranked player in the world certainly looked in good form at the beginning of the season, posting a T4 at the season opening TOC in Hawaii and top-20’s at both Riviera and Pebble Beach. Like McIlroy, Cantlay has typically excelled at events which stress solid long iron play and ranked 6th in proximity on approaches from 150-175 yards and 2nd in proximity from 175-200 yards over the course of the 2019 season. He’s also posted solid finishes at many of the venues we’ll be seeing shortly after the restart, posting Top-10 finishes in each of the past three seasons at Habour Town and back-to-back top-20’s at TPC River Highlands in 2018 and 2019. Like Rory, these first few venues all look like solid opportunities for Cantlay to find his footing quickly and I’d look for him to hit the ground running at whichever venue he uses for his return. As of now, his next start seems likely to be the Heritage.
Joel Dahmen: As for a more under-the-radar player to keep an eye on, Joel Dahmen is someone who shouldn’t be overlooked. The American was starting to get hot right before the hiatus began, posting T5 finishes in each of his last two starts, and also posted a scorecard for a 58 in a practice round in early May on his social media account, indicating he may not have lost much sharpness over the break. Still searching for that elusive breakthrough victory, Dahmen is another player who should be keen on these first three venues, and the now 32-year-old has posted top-20 finishes at both Harbour Town GL and Colonial in at least one of the past two seasons. Dahmen currently ranks 23rd in both approach proximity from 175-200 yards and >200 yards, making him a great great fit for these first few venues where players will be challenged from longer out on their approaches on a more consistent basis.
Adam Hadwin: Hadwin was in the midst of an uneven start to the season, even before the pandemic began, as a new child stopped him from attending some early season stops. In that sense, the pause may actually help his chances of gaining on his peers as everyone on Tour will now be faced with a similar type of competitive rust that he was facing prior. The Canadian had put up some great results in the Fall swing though, posting 2nd and T4 finishes in September and October events, and looked solid in cruising to a T26 finish his last time out at Riviera. The Canadian’s mid-to-long iron play though is what really stands out as he sits 10th in approaches from 150-175 yards on the season and finished last year ranked 3rd in approaches from >200 yards, making him an ideal fit for each of these first few venues. Hadwin’s got multiple years of experience playing at all of the first three stops and fits the profile of a player who could surprise with a big week early on in the restart.
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