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Fantasy Golf Picks — 2023 American Express Picks, Predictions, Rankings and Sleepers

Pat Mayo breaks down the 2023 American Express, making his picks and rankings for the event while previewing the course and key stats.

Pat Mayo and Geoff Fienberg preview the course and run through the odds while making their 2023 American Express Picks.

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2023 American Express: Field

Field: 156 Players
Cut: Top 65 and Ties after 54 Holes
Lineup Lock: Thursday, January 19
Defending Champ: Hudson Swafford

If you thought watching golf was difficult the last two weeks in Hawaii, just wait until you attempt to find your player on the screen at the 2023 American Express. The TOUR is back in the continental US and to celebrate, they’ve decided we need a non-celebrity Pro-Am, with three separate courses, and a cut to take place after 54 Holes. Oh yes, and only have dedicated cameras at one of the courses. Incredible stuff, truly.

Beyond the long days and horrendous TV coverage there’s also no shot tracker/SG Stats outside of the Pete Dye Stadium course. At least historically. Maybe we get lucky and event organizers realize this is at least 1997 and update the technologies at all the courses. Each player gets a crack at each of the three venues the first three days, then the cut will be best 65 scores (and ties) among the 156-player field.

Now there is one benefit to this Pro-am versus the one in a few weeks at Pebble Beach. Outside of Carlton from Fresh Prince, no one has likely heard of any of these amateurs before — unless you spent the early part of the pandemic buying up as many Fortune 500 board of director rookie cards as possible. Point is, we’re not getting cut aways mid-round to Steve, the CFO of Valspar whereas the broadcast MUST show us as much of Larry The Cable Guy as possible at Pebble. I consider this a win.

Now, the actual field? Bananas. The best in the modern history of the event and it’s not all that close, either. Despite not being one of the new elevated events, nine of the world’s Top 20 are in the field: Jon Rahm, Patrick Cantlay, Tony Finau, Scottie Scheffler, Sungjae Im, Will Zalatoris, Tom Kim, Cameron Young, and Sam Burns. Xander Schauffele was forced out of the Tournament of Champions, but he’ll be in the field too.

Sungjae Im, Tom Kim, Brian Harman, JT Poston, Chad Ramey, and Ryan Brehm are all playing for the third straight week to start the year. Conversely, Rickie Fowler, Dean Burmester, Davis Riley, Adam Hadwin, Justin Rose, Sebastian Munoz, Thomas Detry, Joel Dahmen, Danny Willett, Matthew NeSmith, Taylor Pendrith, Erik Van Rooyen, Garrick Higgo, and Jason Day are all making their 2023 PGA Tour debuts.

Thirteen of the past 14 champions have played at least one of the first two Hawaii events to start the year. Since 2007, six of the 16 American Express champions made this event the site of their first win, with Adam Long the last to do it in 2019.

2023 American Express: Key Stats

Strokes Gained: Approach
Par 3s Gained
Opportunities Gained
Fairways Gained

Mayo’s Key Stats powered by FantasyNational.com


2023 American Express: Course(s)

Course: Stadium Course at PGA West (SC)

  • Par: 72
  • Yardage: 7,147
  • Greens: Bermuda
  • Shotlink: Yes

Course: Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA West (TC)

  • Par: 72
  • Yardage: 7,181
  • Greens: Bermuda
  • Shotlink: No

Course: LA Quinta CC (LQ)

  • Par: 72
  • Yardage: 7,060
  • Greens: Bermuda
  • Shotlink: No

2023 American Express: Past Winners

2021: Si Woo Kim -23
2020: Andrew Landry -26
2019: Adam Long -26
2018: Jon Rahm -22
2017: Hudson Swafford -20
2016: Jason Dufner -25
2015: Bill Haas -22
2014: Patrick Reed -28


2023 American Express: Notes

Historically, stacking La Quinta and the Nicklaus Course for single-round showdown provided an easier path to green screens. But over the past few years, the Stadium Course started to play just as easy. Now, while low scores are available at all three tracks, there are far more landmines to cripple your lineup at the Stadium Course with over 90 bunkers and seven holes with water hazards spread across the grounds. In 2021, the Stadium Course had the fifth-toughest greenside bunkers of any course during the season (41.98%), while Nicklaus Course was third-hardest at 40.08%. La Quinta is still likely the best bet for upside as each of the par 5s have an eagle rate of 2+ percent, by far the highest of the three courses.

The forced layups, a common trait of Pete Dye designs, have the Stadium Course posting an average drive of 273 yards — seven yards shorter than the average PGA TOUR event. The Stadium Course also sees the fewest drives over 300 yards during the season at just 10%. As a result, the Stadium Course historically rates among the lowest in hit green percentage on second shots into Par 5s.

Not to say bombers won’t have success in the desert. Rahm, Vegas and Swafford all have victories over the past decade. But, where bombers have a distinct advantage at some courses — much like last week’s Sony Open — the power advantage off the tee is mitigated this week. Hence, Landry, Long, Dufner, Haas, Gay and Wilson all picking up novelty checks in their careers. This has opened the American Express up to extreme long shots winning every other year. However, with this strong of a field, that looks a lot less likely.

With prevalent water and sand at the Stadium Course and an extra round at the Stadium Course, finding the fairway becomes critical, despite not having one definitive prototypical skill set to target. Simply sorting by fairways gained can help guide you in the proper direction, but that won’t tell the entire story. Bombers will inherently see their accuracy increase as they won’t be hitting as many drivers off the tee, and if they are wayward with the big stick, at least they’ll be closer to the hole for an easier recovery if the ball stays out of the hazards.

Since 2020, the field has made birdie or better 27.3% of the time when in the fairway at the Stadium Course, the highest Birdie or Better percentage from the fairway of any tournament. It was the only course that had a Birdie or Better percentage from inside 125 yards greater than 30%. And, if you missed the fairway, as long as you weren’t in a hazard of any kind, it didn’t limit scoring too much. The field averaged 34 feet 11 inches from the rough, marking the closest Rough Proximity of any course. From the rough, players made birdie or better 22.17% of the time on the Stadium Course in 2020.

Scoring on par 5s is essential this week. It’s pretty simple for the entire field, though. Since 2012, scoring on par 5s at the American Express has been the easiest of any event on the PGA TOUR, playing more than 3,000 strokes under par than the next closest event.

Also, because the greens shade on the smaller end, three-putts are rarer at PGA West than most venues. Only one course on the PGA TOUR had a lower three-putt percentage than the Stadium Course (Harbour Town GL/1.32%). Theoretically, this should help the bad putters. But since the greens are smaller, it likely benefits the bad putter who actually has a good short game. Since a lot of those lengthy putts that would normally turn into three-jacks would now just not be on the green.

While the putting surfaces are officially listed as Bermuda grass, the greens are also overseeded with Ryegrass and Poa Trivialis. Historically, they run on the slower side of average; the Nicklaus Course ranked inside the top five of courses with the fewest three-putts in 2019, 2020, and 2022

Of the players in the 2023 American Express field, Adam Hadwin, Patrick Cantlay, Sungjae Im, Andrew Putnam, and Jon Rahm have gained the most total strokes over the past five years.

Of course, it can’t go unmentioned that this is a Pete Dye track. So, here are the SG: Total leaders on Pete Dye courses over their past 24 rounds:

Stats & Info c/o Fantasy National

Quick Notes

More on the Stadium Course

  • Par 4 distance is all over the place
  • 3 measure under 375
  • 2 measure 375-405
  • Other 5 are all over 435

Down the stretch, length and consistency will be important

  • Hole 15: 2nd longest Par 4 (468)
  • Hole 16: Longest hole on the course (600)
  • Hole 17: 165-yard Par 3
  • Hole 18: 3rd toughest hole last season
  • Four of the six toughest holes are Hole 13 or later

Past winners

  • 2022 Hudson Swafford: 6.4 strokes gained putting allowed him to win despite being a negative in bogey avoidance
  • 2021 Si Woo Kim: 2.2 strokes better T2G than anyone else, 5th in Proximity in the 75-100-yard bucket
  • 2020 Andrew Landry: Top 12 in both SG:T2G and SG:P, led the field in Good Drives Gained
  • 2019 Adam Long: Top 6 in proximity gained from 75-100 and 125-150
  • 2018 Jon Rahm: Led the field in driving, 4th best in Proximity Gained from over 200 yards
  • 2017 Hudson Swafford: 5th in both driving distance and good drives
  • Past 6 champions have a combined 1.6 strokes LOST around the green

2022 Notes

  • Six of the top-10 finishers either lost strokes putting or around the green (you just can’t lose in both spots. Joseph Bramlett was the highest finisher to do that and he came in at T-33)
  • Short putts
  • Each of the top-8 finishers gained strokes putting in that 10-15 foot window (six of those eight lost strokes from 20-25 feet and six of them lost strokes beyond 25 feet … four of them lost strokes in both of those categories)
  • Similarly in 2021 … 12 of the top 15 gained in that 10-15 foot range (11 of them lost strokes in at least one of the 20-25 foot or 25+ foot range)
  • SG: OTT
  • Five of the top-6 finishers in SG:OTT cashed top-15 paychecks (Swafford won without doing so, he actually lost ground off the tee, but ran pure with the putter, +6.4 strokes)
  • Nine of the top-13 finishers gained distance (doesn’t have to be much at all, but an edge on the field makes everything a little easier)
  • Nine of the top 15 in 2021 gained distance

Needs

Strong putting from the 10-15 foot range, Strong OTT, above average distance. Who did all of those things in their final 24 rounds of the 2022 season?

  • Scottie Scheffler
  • Jon Rahm
  • Tony Finau
  • Keegan Bradley
  • Kurt Kitayama
  • Keith Mitchell
  • Mav McNealy
  • Cam Davis
  • Michael Gligic
  • Michael Kim
  • Taylor Moore
  • Wyndham Clark

2023 American Express Picks

Tony Finau

Over the past 50 rounds on the PGA TOUR, Finau doesn’t rank outside the top 7 in any of the main SG metrics: OTT (6th), APP (6th), ATG (7th), (PUTT 5th). That’s ludicrous and likely why he’s won three of the past seven starts. Finau is plenty familiar with the PGA West setup with two Top 15s in the past three years, and since we’re not concerned about him winning anymore, this seems like as good as a place as any to jump back on the Finau train.

Cam Davis

Albeit in a limited sample, Davis has fared well on Pete Dye tracks so far in his career, and he has the perfect amount of reps at PGA West combined with solid form to have a breakthrough. The Aussie has never finished worse than T29 at the American Express in three tries, with a T3 in 2021. Additionally, Davis has only missed one cut since last May’s PGA CHAMPIONSHIP — a run of 14 starts. Over the past 24 rounds, he ranks in the top 25 in Approach, Par 3s gained, Par 5s gained and Opportunities gained; and is just one of a handful of players to rank inside the Top 35 in both key putting ranges. Davis is 14th from 5-10 feet and 35th from 10-15 feet — The scoring distances at the American Express.


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Pat Mayo is an award-winning video host and producer of long and short-form content, and the host of The Pat Mayo Experience daily talk show. (Subscribe for video or audio). Mayo (@ThePME) won the 2022 Fantasy Sports Writing Association Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year and was a finalist for three FSWA Awards (Best Podcast, Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year). His 24 FSWA nominations lead all writers this decade and are second-most all-time.

Mayo has been recognized across multiple sports (Football, Baseball & Golf), mediums (Video, Writing & Podcasting), genre (Humor), and game formats (Sports Betting, Daily Fantasy, and Traditional Season Long Fantasy).


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I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is ThePME) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and do not constitute a representation that any particular strategy will guarantee success. All customers should use their own skill and judgment in building lineups. I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above. I am not an employee of DraftKings and do not have access to any non-public information.


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